Thursday, September 22, 2005

Left-Wing Herbs

We have been using an adequate lasagna recipe, but because it was nothing spectacular, I was thrilled to run across a recipe for the homemade lasagna favored by Lenny Robinson, the owner of Les Fleur de Lis Cafe in Atlanta (if you feel ambivalence towards Atlanta, please click the link), in a recent issue of the AJC Food Section.

In making this lasagna last night, I learned some elementary cooking tidbits that I should already have known. First, my old recipe used the no-bake noodles, but they were always too firm after cooking. Secondly, the old recipe which called for cooking the lasagna covered, inevitably came out too watery every time, and we would have to serve it with a slotted spoon. This new recipe solves these problems easily, with longer, uncovered, cooking times.

I followed the new recipe to the letter, and it came out so fabulously that The Carnivore and I both went back for seconds AND we're looking forward to eating the leftovers tonight. The beauty of this recipe is in the liberal use of fresh herbs and in the use of eggs in the ricotta layers to help congeal everything. The bread crumbs on top, which I ground up to the finest of textures, created a nice, firm crust-like on top with the last ricotta layer. This recipe took maybe 15 more minutes than my old recipe, but tasted 10 times as good.

  • 1 pound fresh spinach
  • 1 pound ricotta cheese
  • 6 eggs
  • 8 oz Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup fresh oregano
  • 1/4 cup chopped garlic
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • Two 26-oz jars of tomato sauce (I used about 32 oz of plain, unflavored, super-cheap canned tomato sauce)
  • 9 no-bake lasagna noodles
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  1. Blanch spinach and squeeze dry. (I wasn't entirely sure what this meant, and couldn't find information quickly enough in my usual source, The New Joy of Cooking. So, in a time crunch, and because I had a general idea of what blanching meant, I brought a pot of water to boil, tossed in the spinach for about 30 seconds, and then drained the spinach in a colander. I have now researched this online, and according to the Special Flavors website, I was close, but should have left the spinach in the boiling water for about 2 minutes.)
  2. In a food processor, pulse the ricotta, eggs, Parmesan, basil, oregano and garlic. Season with salt & pepper.
  3. In a 9x13 baking pan, spread about 1 cup of tomato sauce. Layer with 3 noodles, leaving a little space between the noodles. Add a layer of the ricotta mixture, then half the spinach.
  4. Repeat another layer using the remaining spinach.
  5. For the top layer, lay down the noodles, top them with tomato sauce and remaining ricotta mixture and sprinkle with bread crumbs.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour.

I like serving pasta dishes with fresh salads, and since I have had recent successes with vinaigrettes (and since I can't ever leave well enough alone), I tried a blue cheese vinaigrette recipe from The New Joy of Cooking that turned out bland and disappointing (but still better than any store-bought vinaigrettes that I have tried). I will continue to attempt new vinaigrette recipes for a while since I have a plethora of them to choose from in my cookbook collection. And this just helps me reach my goal of less packaged foods. If I have my way, I will no longer need to purchase salad dressings.

Fresh is always better.

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