Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Jen's Hot Damn Delicious Lasagne™

So, like, the only recipes I ever seem to post are things you can make in a 13" x 9" pan that are casserole-ish. Or lasgane-ish. And I guess this is because it's really the only thing I can make... a lasagne or a casserole or a variation on that, which makes sense, because what are we talking about, basically? Carbs and cheese. Which means that almost any way you spin it, it will be delicious. Seriously, every once in a while I might make something that doesn't fall into this category of "put stuff in a baking dish and throw it in the oven," but not very often.

Right quick, let's talk lasagna vs. lasagne. One thing I find says well, in the US it's lasagna and in the UK and Italy it's lasagne. But I also find that lasagne is plural for lasagna. So though part of me prefers what seems like the simplicity of lasagna, I am going to go ahead and stick with what appears (based on my limited web research) to be more correct.

The title of this dish comes from my pal, Stephanie, because she's a big fan of this dish and said this is what it should be called. So who am I to argue with her? She ate it for dinner thrice in one month and also for breakfast the following day on each occasion so she knows of what she speaks.

I should say at the start that for best results make this 24 hours before you plan to eat it. That's part of the magic. If you don't it's still gonna taste good, but if you want it to specifically be Jen's Hot Damn Delicious Lasagne™, pop a beer or pour a glass of wine (because this is what I do when I cook) and relax and leisurely prepare this the night before you plan to wow your guests with it.

So really, first get yourself a beverage. Here's what I went with the last time I made this:

You want to start with sauce. This is very important because this is your foundation. The flavor of your lasgane is coming from the sauce. Well, and cheese, too, but the sauce is muy importante, as they say in Mexico, where no doubt, lasagne is super popular. If you are all like

a) super culinary
b) super Italian
c) super fancy
d) all the above

then you might make your own sauce. And if so, more power to you. I am none of those things so I start by cooking the meat I will use with my jarred sauces. My favorite for this recipe is Chicken Sicilian Sausage with Fresh Tomatoes and Romano Cheese from Trader Joe's (and I forgot to take a picture of the package but at the Pinole store you can find it against the back wall with the rest of the sausages and burgers and meats and whatnot), heretofore to be referred to as TJ's since almost all my ingredients come from there.

Squeeze the goodness out of the casings, and yes, this part is kinda nasty and looks gross like this:

but it's how you git 'er done. I cook it over a medium-high heat, constantly working it with a wooden spoon to break it up. This part's a little labor-intensive but it's the best way I know to get my sausage the way I want it. After like... hmmm... 20 minutes, maybe, it should look like this:

Dump it out of the pan onto a plate lined with paper towels. You want to sop up some of that grease. Take a paper towel and just wipe down your pot. Into the pot pour the sauce you want to use. These are the ones I love, and of course, they're from TJ'S:

Take a paper towel and try to sop off more grease from the top of your sausage pile, then add that to your jarred sauce. I also added these items:

I would say add these to your taste, of course. I went with two tablespoons of garlic powder and one tablespoon of red pepper flakes (and then next time I made it I went one and one and it was still good, so go figure).

Heat the sauce over medium heat. As soon as it starts to bubble a little, turn the heat to low. Let it simmer for as long as you can. It's going to be good whether you do it for five minutes or thirty, I swear it will be, but this might be time to get another beer and put your feet up and just let it go. It will look like this:

Now you should pull out your noodles and cheese. No, I did not skip boiling my noodles because I NEVER BOIL MY NOODLES. EVER. Boiling noodles is for suckers. I'm half kidding about that. I heard Mario Batali say on The Chew that he finds it to be an integral part of making lasagne, and while I love him and his orange clogs I don't agree. It's not just because I'm lazy, either. But yes, the fact that I'm lazy means that I will never ever again boil noodles for my lasgane. If you think this is sacrilege, then by all means, boil your noodles but I can't tell you how that works if you assemble this a day in advance as I'm telling you to do, just keep that in mind. And really, skip the boiling this one time if you're gonna make my version.

So let's talk about cheese... you can really use whatever you want. Well, Kayla asked if we could use American cheese and I said no. I said if you only remember one thing your mother told you, have it be that we don't use American cheese in lasagne. However, you know, even that could work if you wanted to do like a cheeseburger-type of lasagne, I suppose, but for our purposes I would say no. I used lite (and I say "lite" because this is what the packaging says) white Cheddar, lite provolone, and lite Muenster, all sliced and from TJ's.

Now to start layering. Do a layer of sauce, I always like to start with sauce.

Now a layer of noodles. As you can see, it does not matter if they are pretty:

I used the no-boil noodles from TJ's because it's what I had but you can really use whatever kind of noodles you like (they do NOT have to be no-boil).

On top of the noodles do a cheese layer. This, also, does not need to look pretty, to wit:

I was trying to make it so that when someone took a bite they got at least two different cheeses. So it was pretty much Muenster on one layer, filled in with provolone, and white cheddar for the next, filled in with provolone. (The next time I made this dish I did muenster on the bottom and tore pieces of provolone and Havarti in half for the top layer, so every bite had those three cheeses plus the Gruyére [by the way, I literally just learned how to make an e with an accent mark over it and I'm pretty pumped] on top. I know, genius.)

So after cheese I did more sauce, then noodles, more cheese, more sauce, then ended with a little bit of shredded cheese. Ideally, I'd use something with a little bite, like Gruyére, as I've done that before and it was super good. But I didn't have that, and I did have pepper jack, so as random as that sounds I put a little of that on top, and also some Parmesan.

Cover it with foil and stick it in the fridge. When you're ready to cook it, hopefully the next day, pull it out and keep it at room temp for a bit... How long you do this isn't too important. The last time I made it I actually had it out for a couple of hours at least, because we were busy drinking beer and snacking. But you know, try to let it sit out for like 45 minutes at least. Preheat the oven to 375. Keep the foil on and cook it for 45 minutes. At that point, pull off the foil and put it back in for another 15. When it's done, it will look like this:

Let it rest for a bit after you take it out... this part is gonna be hard because it will look and smell really, really good. But really, let it rest for like 15 minutes at least.  Then dig in and ENJOY!

Here's the recipe, in case your eyes glazed over during all my rambling.

Jen's Hot Damn Delicious Lasagne

1 package of TJ's Chicken Sicilian Sausage with Fresh Tomatoes and Romano Cheese
1 jar of TJ's Puttanesca sauce
1 jar of TJ's Three Cheese sauce
1 tablespoon of red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons of garlic powder

TJ's no-boil lasagne noodles... as many as you need to cover 2 layers of a 13" x 9" glass dish, 6-8, probably

lite white Cheddar or lite Havarti
lite Muenster
lite provolone
(all sliced from TJ's)
shredded cheese (something with a kick, like Gruyére), about half a cup
Parmesan cheese, the kind in the can is what I used but if you can be fancy and shred some, even better

Remove sausage from casings and cook over medium-high heat until browned, about 20 minutes. Drain and sop up excess oil with paper towels. Return to the pot and add both jars of sauce; cook over medium heat until they just bubble, then turn down to low so it can simmer, for at least 5 minutes or so but longer is better. Layer a 13" x 9" pan with sauce, followed by noodles and then cheese, repeat, ending with sauce and shredded cheese on top. Cover with foil and refrigerate over night if possible. Bake while covered with foil at 375 degrees for 45 minutes or so. Remove foil and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes. Let it rest for 15 minutes before serving.

Please let me know if you wind up making this. Or what you think about lasagna vs. lasagne. Or what kind of cheese you like to use. Maybe you'd like to talk about your feelings regarding American cheese. Whatever, I'd love to hear from you!