There's-No-Place-Like-Home Lasagna

Here in my new casa in my new city on my new coast, I'm feeling a strange mix of excitement and confusion. Although the mailbox tells me "X" marks this spot where KOD now lives, I've been wandering aimlessly from room to room, looking for things that belong together so that I could quickly connect the dots and start calling this place "home."


A slice of home. (Kim O'Donnel)

And of course, the kitchen is where I began this process of making order out of chaos. By Monday night, we readjusted kitchen cabinets to make room for tall bottles of olive oil and put commonly used pantry items and tools within elbow's reach. We chowed down on a quickie wokful of fried rice, one of our favorites, but on this night, my kitchen and I were still getting to know each other, cordial albeit tentative. For Night Two, something cozier was in order, a dish requiring pots and pans, and maybe even some oven time, so that culinary perfumes could permeate throughout the house and I could officially baptize this kitchen and call it my own.

And then you came to the rescue, without even knowing it, as we riffed on lasagna in yesterday's What's Cooking chat. Here in the Emerald City, the sun was out, but the temps were cool enough to have a few simmering pots on the stove, kind of like an early autumn day on the east coast. Lasagna would be perfect, I thought, and I set out for the supermarket (and got lost, of course).

While tending to two pots -- one for the meat sauce, the other for the wilted Swiss chard -- my friend Leslie stopped by to show Ethan, her six-week-old bambino, his Aunty Kim's house. Shortly thereafter, as I layered the lasagna, Mister MA walked in off the bus, and we got to talking about the day. Within an hour, the lasagna was done, enough time for Becki, our new friend and neighbor, to walk over and join us for a glass of wine. As we tucked into our noodle layers, I smiled, certain that tonight's dinner was just the thing to help me find my way, the culinary equivalent of Dorothy's red ruby slippers.

There's-No-Place-Like-Home Lasagna

The components:

1 cup greens-ricotta filling
2 cups marinara sauce, with or without meat
1 pound lasagna noodles, placed in a pan of hot (but not boiling) water to soften
Approximately 1 pound mozzarella for comfy ooze, plus enough grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for garnish

Greens-Ricotta Filling

1 large bunch Swiss chard, arugula or spinach, stemmed, washed and dried thoroughly
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 chile (or to taste), seeded and diced
1-3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup pinenuts or walnuts (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup ricotta cheese, lightly beaten
Salt and pepper to taste

Method
Prepare filling: Chop greens and reserve half. In a large skillet, heat garlic in olive oil for 15 seconds. Add half of the greens, toss with tongs to coat, cover and allow to wilt about two minutes.

Transfer wilted greens to the bowl of a food processor and puree. Add half of the reserved raw greens and blend to combine. Add nuts, if using, and blend until well integrated. Add chiles, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust accordingly. Add 1 tablespoon of oil gradually so that pesto is somewhere between a sauce and a chutney. Scoop pesto out of food processor and measure out 1 cup of pesto to combine with ricotta cheese in a medium mixing bowl.

Marinara Sauce - With Or Without Meat
1 pound ground meat - a combination of beef, pork and/or veal
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 carrot, peeled and minced
Sprigs of fresh oregano, thyme and/or rosemary
4-6 ounces red wine of choice (optional)
About 1 quart (32 ounces) tomato puree - if using canned, look for one without salt and
Salt and pepper to taste

Method
Heat a heavy-bottomed pot and add ground meat, allowing it to completely brown, at least five minutes. Add salt and stir. Remove from pot and place in a bowl for later use. (Not using meat? Proceed to next step.)

Add oil and heat, then add onions, garlic and carrot, cooking over medium heat, until softened. Add herbs and wine; cook wine until reduced by half. Stir occasionally to minimize sticking.

Add tomatoes and stir to combine. Bring sauce up to a boil, then reduce heat, so sauce can cook at a simmer. Return meat to pot and stir to combine. Cover pot and cook for up to one hour; remove herb sprigs and add salt and pepper to taste.

In a small saucepan, heat marinara sauce until warm. Season with salt, pepper and herbs, as necessary.

Assemble Lasagna
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Spoon enough marinara sauce on bottom of 9x13 dish to cover surface. Place three softened lasagna noodles in dish, side by side, so that they're snug. With a rubber spatula, spread half of the greens-ricotta filling on top of noodles, covering the surface, and add one-fourth of the mozzarella and Parmigiano.

Create a new layer with noodles, and this time, spoon marinara sauce so it covers surface, followed by more cheese.

For the next layer of noodles, add the remaining greens-ricotta filling, then top with both cheeses.

The top layer is 3-4 noodles, covered with marinara sauce and any remaining cheese.

Bake until fork tender and bubby, about one hour. Cut and serve while still hot. Makes 8-10 servings.

By Kim ODonnel |  August 27, 2008; 10:56 AM ET Dinner Tonight , Kitchen Musings
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Comments

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The directions for the Greens Ricotta Filling states, "Add chilies, salt and pepper." I assume you mean, "Add garlic, salt and pepper."

Posted by: Silver Spring, MD | August 27, 2008 12:33 PM

Hey Silver: actually, I did mean chiles, but forgot to add to the ingredients list! it's there now. and of course, chiles are optional...

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | August 27, 2008 12:40 PM

The only thing I'd tweak is the first layer of noodles.

A one-pound box yields enough for me to place eight noodles on the bottom: three snug across, then two to overlap where the three noodles meet one another, and then another three across. It makes for a healthy foundation to help ease those pieces of lasagna out of the pan and onto the plate without sliding all over the place.

Of course, if your pan is large enough to assemble more than three layers of noodles, cheese, and marinara, then adjust accordingly. Happy lasagna leftovers, Kim!

Posted by: Centre of Nowhere | August 27, 2008 1:25 PM

Kim,
I love lasagna but can no longer eat dairy...:( Do you think something similar can be achieved with tofu? If so, what type of tofu?

Posted by: DB | August 27, 2008 1:58 PM

DB: I do think you can muster up something similarly -- with silken tofu for the filling with the greens. As for the cheese on top and inbetween layers, there is soy cheese, and I'm going to let soy cheese eaters share their faves in this space. Most soy cheese is mediocre at best, but there are some out there worth pursuing. I'll let the veterans share their insight!

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | August 27, 2008 2:11 PM

Sounds Yummy!

Posted by: Southern Gal | August 27, 2008 2:30 PM

DB: I sometimes make lasagna with no dairy at all, and it has gotten raves. Good noodles, layered with garlicky greens and then slow-simmered tomato sauce chock full of vegetables (and, if you want, meat or veggie protein), then more noodles, repeat till done. Unless you cannot bear the thought of lasagna without something white, don't bother with tofu.

Posted by: SP | August 27, 2008 3:41 PM

What kind of noodles did you use? People were debating regular vs no-boil during your chat, so I wonder which one you picked. In the pic they look like they have straight rather than curly edges. I find curly ones hard to layer, so I'm interested in trying the same kind. Thanks.

Posted by: DC | August 27, 2008 4:59 PM

DC: I ended up using regular noodles, and they did have curly edges after all. I had no problem layering. Also, instead of boiling, I soaked noodles in a dish of hot (but not boiling) water to let them soften, a suggestion made in yesterday's chat. Seemed to work out quite well.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | August 27, 2008 5:46 PM

I prefer tomatoes in juice not puree because the tomatoes in puree are cooked before canning. I have a lot of difficluty finding San Marzano tomatoes that aren't in puree because of US tariffs.

I would also add some tomato paste to your sauce recipe Kim to give some depth. Add the paste when the onions are almost done and allow paste to cook long enough for it to change color.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 28, 2008 8:37 AM

Lidia adds a nice decorative touch to her lasagna by placing the noodles in such a way that the ends, at least on the last layers, are longer than the length and width of the pan. Then when done, the ends are draped back over the contents. Looked nice.

Posted by: Fran | August 28, 2008 11:09 AM

The title of the recipe kind of reminds me of the movie "Waitress" where Keri Russell's character's pies each had a different name evoking her feeling at the time (I Hate My Husband Pie, Pregnant Miserable Self Pitying Loser Pie etc). Your's isn't as negative though, has a very homey feel. Thanks!

Posted by: U street girl | August 28, 2008 3:51 PM

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