Can Lasagna Really Be Too Cheesy?
Lasagna is the perfect comfort food to make for these cold Woodbury nights... but can a lasagna ever be too cheesy? Apparently someone thinks so.
My husband and I have had a longstanding argument about lasagna.
Every week, when I write out my grocery list and we discuss what we want to have for dinner, I always joyfully suggest lasagna. Typically he grumbles and nervously shifts from side to side and changes the subject.
I’ve tried asking him if he just doesn’t like lasagna. "No it’s not that."
Then, I’ll ask if he doesn't like my lasagna. “No, yours is good."
And usually he’ll leave the conversation with: “I just don’t feel like lasagna this week, let’s have something else."
So when it was his birthday last week and I asked him what he wanted for his birthday dinner and he said “lasagna” I almost lost my index finger while chopping an onion. I knew something was cooking—and it wasn’t going to be my lasagna.
The lasagna recipe I always use and always love is on the back of the Barilla lasagna noodle box. It’s the no-boil lasagna recipe, which has ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses, a few eggs and some spaghetti sauce.
The only thing I change to the recipe is that instead of using all ground beef, I add half a pound of Italian sausage. The recipe is not too complicated and everyone I’ve made it for has really liked it (or so they’ve said) so I’ve never bothered to find a new recipe. After all, it's lasagna—isn’t all lasagna basically made up of the same concoctions of noodles, sauce, and meat?
I know there are embellishes to be made to your basic lasagna: fresh basil, oregano, and a nice aged parmesan will make a big difference. But even if you’re short on time and just make a simple lasagna it’s still good food.
For Christmas this year my husband bought me a new cookbook. It’s called the French Laundry Cookbook. The French Laundry is a world famous restaurant in Napa Valley and the chef/proprietor is Thomas Keller—celebrity chef crush to many foodies. The restaurant has been called “the most exciting place to eat in the United States” by Ruth Reichl in The New York Times.
The cookbook is an impressive 200 pages filled with beautiful photographs of the kind of food I would make in my "food porno" day dreams. Truthfully, there are a few recipes in the book that I probably would never make even if I had the time—things like Offal aka organ meat. I guess I’m a culinary weakling in this area, aside from my fondness for liver pate. I get a little grossed out by the thought of eating brains and animal cheeks.
I’m sure offal can be a wonderfully satisfying cuisine, and although I feel my palate has gotten a little more sophisticated over the years, I haven’t advanced to the organ meat level yet. I’ll let you know when I do.
Back to the lasagna. So my husband found a recipe for lasagna in the French Laundry Cookbook that he wanted me to make for his birthday. I was totally up for it and super excited to make it because I’ve been craving lasagna since 2007. I made the recipe below—with a few minor tweaks—and it was wonderful.
Honestly, it wasn’t all that dissimilar from my back-of-the-box Barilla recipe, but the small differences made this new recipe really memorable and delicious. I can’t say that I’m going to totally stop making my Barilla recipe, but I think this new one is a keeper and if it means I get to eat lasagna more often, then I’ll be happy. Marriage is all about compromise right?
At the end of all of this, I did finally find out what my husband doesn’t like about my Barilla lasagna: it’s too cheesy. Too cheesy? How can too much cheese ever be a bad thing? I guess I’ll just have to add this to my long list of things I’ll never understand about my husband. I’ll leave that topic for another article.
Eric’s Staff Lasagna
Sauce: 1/2 cup olive oil, 1.5 cups minced yellow onions, 2 tablespoons minced garlic, 1/2 cup tomato paste, 8 cups cut-up peeled tomatoes (I used 2 cans whole tomatoes), 1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano plus 2 tablespoons fresh basil
Filling: 16 oz container of ricotta cheese, 3 large eggs, half cup fresh parsley, salt and pepper, 1 lb lasagna noodles, half pound mozzarella cheese.
Directions for the sauce: Heat oil in large heavy pot. Add onions and garlic and cook for 4-5 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook for 10 minutes until it turns a vivid orange color. Add the tomatoes and stir until combined. Complete the sauce on the stove top. Simmer for about an hour to an hour and a half on low heat. Make sure to scrap the bottom to prevent scorching. The sauce is done when it is thick and chunky and reduced to about a quart.
Directions for filling: In a large bowl, whisk together the ricotta and eggs until blended. Add the parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well. Meanwhile, cook noodles in a large pot of boiling salted water. I put in a little olive oil in the water to prevent sticking. Drain noodles and let them cool.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Assembling the lasagna: Spread a think layer (about a cup) of sauce over the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch pan. Place a layer of noodles in the pan, overlapping them a little. Spread half of the ricotta mixture evenly over the noodles and top with another layer of noodles. Reserve 1 cup of the remaining sauce and spread the rest of the sauce over the noodles, completely cover them in sauce. Arrange another layer of noodles on top and cover with the remaining ricotta mixture. Top with a final layer of noodles and spoon the reserved sauce over them. Toss the grated mozzarella with salt and pepper (adds a little extra flavor) and sprinkle it over the top.
Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the mozzarella is a spotted golden brown and the lasagna is hot inside and out.
Optional: Add 1 lb Italian sausage to the recipe. Kowalski’s has all-natural fresh Italian sausage in the meat department. It comes in hot and mild depending on preference.