Saturday, January 16, 2010

Grandfather's Lasagna (adultered!)

I was about to make the meat lasagna, well known in my family as the one that was 8 inches tall and served for lunch(!!) on Thanksgiving day when my grandfather was still cooking. At the last minute I discovered that a guest I assumed was a carnivore was actually just a ichthyovore/crustaceaovore! Never take shrimp eating for meat eating. So, I jumped into college mode and adapted the meaty lasagna to a portobello mushroom and spinach one. I think the last, but first, time I made this was in grad school, to host all my artistic peers at my little place near the Rio. The only difference then: I grew my own spinach -and that spinach was fantastic.

The Vegetables

First I heat up a cast iron skillet, add a drop of olive oil and add the sliced mushrooms.

Mainly, I am looking to pull some moisture out.

I love how these look, like handlebar mustachios.

The same for the fresh spinach, but in a saucepan with a teaspoon of olive oil for each batch.

The Cheeses

The fresh mozzarella: I used salted, but I think it's a matter of preference.  I used one pound and this lasagna was HUGE. Cube it, roughly at 1/2 inch.

Then there's the ricotta cheese, which you all know we say like "ri gaw ta." One pound will probably due for normal people making normal lasagna. I added maybe two pounds to my cheese mixture.  Add to this grated pecorino romano, the salty kick the ricotta needs. We go by taste on this, but I could say add a 1/4 to 1/2 pound to the mixture, depending on the quantity of ricotta. Then add the cubed mozzarella to the mixture and stir it up real good. Put the mixture in the fridge until your ready to layer.

Now I bought way too much ricotta. I had some frozen because I planned to make this lasagna a month ago, but I wasn't sure the freezer didn't kill it. So I bought Caputo's store-made at 6.99 a container -a good price considering the container is 3 pounds! I froze the remaining unused ricotta, and with the remaining unused mixture, spread it on some semolina and sunk into fatty heaven.

Incidentally, this is the cheese grater I use for grating the Pecorino or Parmigiano. I never liked the kind that makes the cheese into a powder. Also, I've been trained by family to insist on this simple knuckle scraper.

Pasta Interlude

There are only so many choices of dried lasagna pasta. I used Ronzoni -it was on sale. I've never used the no boil kind -I don't know why. For my embarrassingly large lasagna, I needed three pounds. I use a large stock pot, 2/3 full of water, salted, with a drop of olive oil. Get that water boiling real good. Cook the pasta till near done, but not al dente like you expect of your pasta dish -a little harder, because it will cook in the oven some.

I remove the lasagna strips from the water with a spoon and a slotted spaghetti spoon, putting them in another nearby pot. I leave the cooking water in the pot, get it up to boiling again, and put in the next batch. Repeat until all three pounds are done. Of course, normal folks who use a pound or pound and a half, will not need to repeat.

After the pasta is removed, let it cool a bit (some will water rinse cool, but I don't). I lay the strips on a plate or cutting board flat just to keep them handy for the layering.

The Layering

I start will a little olive oil rubbed on the pan (in this instance a fairly hardy aluminum pan, doubled, from the corner store). A drop of sauce, made previously, is added to the pan too. Then I lay the first layer of pasta, twice. All pasta layers are double, covering the seams from the layer immediately below. Lengthwise, crosswise, no one cares -go crazy.

On top of the first layer I lay the spinach and globs of the 3 cheese mixture. I add grated Parmigiano  because, well, why stop with three cheeses? Incidentally, I cannot show you the whole pan because it is too large!

After adding another two layers of pasta, I add the mushrooms and some sauce. I don't want a sloppy lasagna, so I emphasize keeping the water out of it. For this reason I don't add too much sauce because it's mostly water and because sauce can be added later at the plate. I also do not mix my sauce with the cheeses because I believe (maybe wrongly) that the sauce will turn the cheese quicker when stored in the fridge. Lasagna doesn't have a long fridge life, for me two to three days at best. Freeze for long term storage.

Add another two layers of pasta, gently pressing down with a wooden spoon, and repeat until the layers have overflowed their banks. On top, I slice some more mozzarella, thinly, and lay it across the final layer. I add some sauce. I cover the pan with some aluminum foil and place in the oven at around 275 degrees and cook for about an hour. If you like crispy edges, take the foil off in the last 15 minutes. Cut and serve.

If this were a meat lasagna, it would be filled with something we call fennel meat -which is basically a beef meat loaf filled with fennel seeds, and pork, which can be loin or even country ribs. Both are cooked prior, in tomato sauce (I cook it in the oven, but mom does in a pot), cooled and cubed and layered much like the spinach and mushroom. You can use this sauce for your lasagna, since clearly you're cooking for carnivores.

Any recipes you see here, and others added by friends, can be found at The Meal Husband in the side bar.


  1. Do you have leftovers? When can I come over?

  2. I do, frozen. With a lasagna this big, I ought to! I'll reheat for you anytime you're in town, although I think you prefer the eggplant:).


If I do not respond to your comment, it is only because I am having trouble doing so...