LASAGNA

LASAGNA

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: moderate
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Lasagna

The first time I saw lasagna prepared, it was at my friend Scarlett’s house in the mid-1990s. As she pulled all those noodles from the boiling water and placed them neatly on waxed paper, I was impressed and intimidated. Was there not an easier way?

As it turns out, there is. Dry noodles can actually be layered with the sauce in the lasagna pan. I use canned crushed tomatoes for their predictable moisture content. It not only guarantees that the noodles will cook to al dente, but that the dish will set up to the desired level of firmness.

WHAT YOU NEED WHAT TO DO WHY
4 cups (16 ounces) freshly shredded mozzarella Prepare; set aside, covered. If preparing Fresh Pasta, do so now; set aside. Freshly shredded has a smooth melting texture.
1 pound Italian or hot pork sausage, containing fewer than 78% fat calories Meat sauce: Preheat an empty 5-quart tri-ply stockpot over medium heat until water droplets dance across the surface when flicked from your fingertips (2-4 minutes). Add sausage and break into marble-sized pieces with a potato masher. Brown, stirring occasionally with a bamboo spatula (15-20 minutes). More than 78% renders excess fat. A bamboo spatula’s edge offers good coverage and is gentle on cookware.
3 cups (12 ounces) diced white or yellow onion Add to sausage and sauté, stirring occasionally, until translucent (4-5 minutes).

Tip: With onion on its side, cut off and discard both ends. Cut in half from pole to pole; peel off any layers that look dry or tough; discard. Place cut sides down and slice to 1/4-inch, holding the pieces together as you work. Cut across slices to dice.

Holding slices together reduces exposure to eye-irritants.
3 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon Italian herb mix
(basil, parsley, oregano)
Add to the pot along with the herbs; sauté just until fragrant (1-2 minutes).

Tip: After separating a garlic clove from the head; cut off the root end. Place the broad side of a chef’s knife over top; strike with your fist or palm. Release the skin and discard. Cut in half, place cut sides down; rock the knife over top to mince.

Garlic burns easily and so it is added after the onion.
72 ounces canned crushed tomatoes Stir into the pot to deglaze (release the tasty browned bits). Bring to the boil over medium-high heat; promptly reduce heat to hold at a simmer (195-205°F) while preparing the ricotta mixture. Deglazing uses liquid to release tasty bits from the pot.
15 ounces ricotta cheese
2 ounces (1/2 cup) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon Italian herb mix (basil, parsley, oregano)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Ricotta mixture: Whisk all together in a 3-quart bowl until uniform in color and consistency. Set aside.

Position an oven rack just below center; preheat to 350°F “Convection” (verify with an oven thermometer). Meanwhile, assemble lasagna.

Ovens often run hot or cold, or preheat slowly.
14 ounces dry lasagna noodles or Fresh Pasta lasagna noodles In a 4-quart capacity 9×13-inch square edged baking dish or stainless steel roasting pan layer the following:

3 cups meat sauce
5 noodles (break off parts that are too long)
1 1/2 cups ricotta mixture
3 cups meat sauce
1 cup mozzarella
5 noodles
1 1/2 cups ricotta mixture
3 cups meat sauce
1 cup mozzarella
5 noodles
3 cups meat sauce

Aluminum is reactive with acidic foods, such as tomatoes, which causes unpleasant grey discoloration.
Uncooked noodles absorb excess liquids and are easy to handle.
With the bottom of a spatula, evenly press surface to submerge noodles and eliminate air pockets. Evenly sprinkle the last 2 cups of mozzarella. Noodles not submerged harden under oven heat.
1 teaspoon Italian herb mix (basil, parsley, oregano) Sprinkle evenly over mozzarella. Place dish/pan over a sheet pan and bake until a skewer inserted in the middle penetrates all layers with just a hint of resistance (38-40 minutes). Rest 20 minutes before serving. Resting allows noodles to finish absorbing excess liquids, firming the dish.

Testing Notes: Most lasagna noodles come in a 16 ounce package with 18 noodles. If using an 11×14-inch pan, 6 noodles can be used for each noodle layer.

MUSHROOM MARSALA WITH PENNE PASTA

MUSHROOM MARSALA WITH PENNE PASTA

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
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Mushroom Marsala with Penne Pasta

This is so satisfying.

One of the things I love about this recipe is its versatility. It makes a lovely entrée or a sumptuous side, and it even steps in as a sauce when the pasta is omitted.

Sometimes I add chives for a boost of color. A little green just makes a more lively presentation.

WHAT YOU NEED WHAT TO DO WHY
1 1/2 quarts water In a 3-quart tri-ply saucepan bring pasta water to a rolling boil over high heat (6-8 minutes). Turbulent water helps prevent gummy pasta.
2 tablespoons finely diced shallot (if a substitution is required, use 4 teaspoons minced green onion, white part only, plus 2 teaspoons minced garlic) Meanwhile, prepare and set aside.
Tip: With shallot on its side, cut off and discard both ends. Cut in half from pole to pole; peel off any layers that look dry or tough; discard. Place cut sides down and slice to 1/8-inch, holding the pieces together as you work. Cut across slices to dice.
A shallot looks like a tiny red onion. Its flavor is a cross between onion and garlic, and its texture is so fine that it virtually disappears into the sauce during cooking.
8 ounces button or crimini mushrooms, sliced Set aside.
Tip: Brush off any soil from mushrooms with a pastry brush. Cut in half from top to bottom, place cut sides down and slice to 1/4-inch.
Washing mushrooms makes them slimy.
4 ounces dry penne Add pasta to the now boiling water; briefly stir to separate the pieces. When boiling resumes, reduce heat to hold at a low rolling boil until pasta is al dente (as per package). Strain thoroughly, return to the pan and cover with a lint-free dishcloth. A cloth keeps pasta warm and moist without holding in excess cooking heat or steam.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter Meanwhile, circulate butter in a 12-inch tri-ply sauteuse/everyday pan over medium heat to evenly coat the base. As it begins to foam (2-3 minutes), add mushrooms in an even layer. Cook until browned and liquid is released, turning just once half way through with a bamboo spatula (6-8 minutes total). Mushrooms cooked undisturbed brown nicely. As they brown, they will give up enough moisture to keep them from burning. A bamboo spatula offers good coverage, and is gentle on cookware.
1/2 teaspoon thyme or marjoram
1/4 teaspoon tarragon
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon roughly ground black pepper
1/32 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Sprinkle seasonings and shallots over mushrooms. Cook until fragrant (about 1 minute).
1/2 cup Marsala (sweet, fine) Drizzle 1/4 cup over mushrooms, let half evaporate (30-40 seconds). Drizzle remaining 1/4 cup, let half evaporate again (60-90 seconds). Unnecessary stirring hurts mushroom texture.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
Gently stir butter into the mushrooms to melt. Gently stir in the cream just until fully incorporated (20-30 seconds). Add pasta to the pan and gently toss until evenly coated. Serve in shallow serving bowls. The final hit of butter and cream give beautiful body to the sauce.

MUSHROOM MARSALA STEAK
If serving these mushrooms as a steak sauce, substitute starting the pasta water with heating the grill. Start searing the steaks on the grill while the sauteuse pan is heating. After the Marsala evaporation, follow with a drizzle of jus (French for “juice”) from the resting steaks; finish sauce as directed. Note: For a greater quantity of sauce, increase Marsala by 1/4 cup and heavy whipping cream by 2 tablespoons. Plate the steaks; spoon sauce attractively over top in a diagonal. Garnish with fresh chives for a livelier presentation.