A wee while ago we traveled down Route 66 from Chicago to California. We did not get to eat any lasagna on our travels. Because no-one wants any lasagna other than Mama’s. I am going to part with my old family lasagna recipe. I have no photos of the dish itself as it is very hard to make it look pretty. I like my lasagna saucy. So instead I will show you some of the service stations we found on the way across the country via as much of Route 66 as we could find. Then you have something to look at as you are cooking.
We live a stone’s throw (well a long throw with a very good arm and just the right stone) from Route 66. In fact I am going to get my hair done in a little hairdressers ON Route 66 this morning. What? You thought I was a natural blonde. Oh that is so kind! But no, my blonde needs a little chemical encouragement. My Friend who is a natural blonde says it is blondes like me that give real blondes a bad name. Really! How unkind! I have to point out that she would be saying this in her NZ drawl, as she tipped her natural blonde head back, to tip a lively East Coast Sauvignon Blanc down her tipply throat. I love that girl!
lasagna! Take your time. One of the secrets to this recipe is long cooking of the sauce. Then a lovely settling cook in the oven once constructed. So a rainy afternoon is perfect. The rain is not madatory to the taste but it does help!
1. One large onion, and one small stick of celery sliced and diced and slowly, slowly cooked in butter until transparent. Then add two cloves of garlic finely sliced and toss for about 30 seconds,with a tiny bit more heat, until they are fragrant.
2. Add one can of dark red kidney beans, washed. Quickly toss about in the onions and garlic. I love a good toss in a recipe don’t you? It is fun to bounce food around in the pan. Remember the three second rule if anything hits your perfectly clean floor!
3. Add two cans of good Italian tomatoes or your blended summer sauce. A couple of fistfuls of basil. And a chilli to taste(without its seeds unless you are quite, quite crazy). This is not meant to be spicy. Then cook stirring often for at least an hour and a half. Reducing until it gets thicker.
4. Add one medium sized chopped zucchini. Once the zucchini starts to soften begin to stir and lightly pound with your potato masher. Mash up some of the soft beans and zucchini into the sauce this helps the sauce thicken. Make sure your beans are soft before you play with the masher though.
5. When you are almost done add a jar of tomato conserva or a little tin of tomato paste. Not yet though. Your sauce may catch on the bottom of the pot once you do this so be careful. And half a teaspoon of sugar. I do not know why but the tiny bit sugar has to be in there. It is tradition. Of course lots of pepper and salt to taste.
While your lovely sauce is simmering after Step 3. Make your pasta. Zap your little internet wand, click on the word pasta and go over to Bartolini Kitchens and grab his recipe. It is very very simple and very very tasty. You know how I like simple and tasty. But really I was at the kneading stage is seconds!! Well, it felt like seconds but you know how time flies when you are having fun. After your dough has rested, been rolled and cut into sheets and when your sauce is good and saucy. Time to construct your lasagna.
Now be kind to yourself. If you do not have ricotta, use cottage cheese. If you do not have egg plant use thawed, drained frozen spinach. If you hate both use mushrooms (pan fried in nothing until moisture evaporates.) I think I am saying just use whatever veg you have on hand, that you love to eat, that will hold its form but become soft in the cooking.
To construct your lasagna. Spoon a generous layer of sauce into the base of your greased DEEP dish. Always start with sauce. Then a sheet of lasagna pasta. A layer of sauce, sheet of lasagna, layer of egg-plant (sliced, dried and lightly fried in olive oil, drained) or spinach fresh or frozen. Layer of sauce, sheet of lasagna, layer of ricotta or cottage cheese, layer of sauce, sheet of lasagna, layer of eggplant, or spinach and then sauce and lasagna until finished. You get the picture. Start with sauce and end with sauce the rest you can make up. Leave enough space at the top so the mixture can bubble in the oven without making another mess! My oven is a fright if I forget.
Grate your fantastic homemade cheddar, or a nice sharp tasty one from the store, mix with a handful of breadcrumbs and pile on top. Make sure the cheese mixture covers your lasagna, think of it as a lid to keep in the moisture!
Pop into a medium oven, and cook for about 30 – 45 minutes or golden brown. Serve with a big herby green salad.
Note: Make more sauce than you think you need because you always need more! Any leftover sauce goes into the freezer.
Now I had better go and try to drag a brush through my hair before I go to the hairdressers. You know how that is!!