My Mom, leftovers and a lasagna
When it comes to food, my Mom and I are exactly alike. We never skip breakfast. We bring homemade salads to work. We have large recipe collections—a bulging accordion file for me and a closet containing every issue of Gourmet and Bon Appétit since 1997 for her. We like to cook by ourselves. And we love leftovers.
After a dinner party ten years ago, my Mom froze a batch of homemade arugula pesto for future use. A few months later, she swept it on pasta noodles topped with tomato sauce, hot and sweet Italian sausage, and a mixture of mild mozzarella, sharp Romano and velvety ricotta. The contrasting flavors made each bite complex, but it was the bursts of heat from the peppery pesto and hot sausage that I liked best. And whereas other lasagnas always seemed too dry, this one's saucy consistency begged for fat slices of bread.
Just a few weeks after she came up with the recipe, Polly-O announced a New York Searches for the Perfect Lasagna contest. My Mom entered and never one for modesty, confidently claimed that she was going to win. The oversized $5,000 check from Polly-O still hangs in her kitchen today.
When I needed to raise money for a half marathon I ran a few years ago, friends forked over $40 for an open bar and a couple slices of her award-winning lasagna. In college, I had a small role in a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. My Mom drove a few hours to see me deliver my lines and afterward, the whole cast, still in costume, devoured the two lasagnas she brought along with her. Every year when Daniel and I throw a Brazilian BBQ, someone always asks, “Is your Mom bringing her lasagna?”
It took ten years before I tried to make the lasagna myself. The first time, I didn’t realize how long it really took and was still making the homemade arugula pesto when guests arrived. Annoyed, I remembered my high school French teacher telling my entire class about her frustrating experience with the recipe. “It says 1 hour and fifty minutes. It took me the whole day!”
When I made it the second time, two weeks ago, I did something my Mom and I both don’t usually do: I asked for help in the kitchen.
Amanda and I gave the bunches of arugula a good whirr in the food processor with a bit of basil, olive oil and pine nuts. Jeff expertly chopped an assortment of fresh herbs that give the lasagna such a bright, fragrant flavor and Daniel nursed the sausage and sauce. Together we scooped and slathered all the ingredients on top of no-cook noodles and just about two hours later, we sat down with our sloppy, oozing slices.
It might not be my Mom's perferred way of preparing her lasagna. But when making it myself, this will have to do.
Arugula Pesto and Sausage Lasagna
Prep time: 1 hour
Cooking time: 50 minutes, plus standing
½ lb each, sweet Italian and hot Italian sausage, casing removed, crumbled
1 medium onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, divided
2 cans (28 oz. each) Italian-style crushed plum tomatoes
1 cup dry red wine
¾ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley, divided
¼ tsp crushed red pepper
2 tsp salt, divided
1 tsp black pepper, divided
1 ½ cups grated Romano cheese, divided
½ cup pine nuts
4 cups arugula leaves
2 cups fresh basil leaves
¼ cup olive oil
2 T lemon juice
1 container (15 oz.) whole milk or part-skim ricotta cheese
1 lb lasagna noodles (18), cooked, drained (we used no-cook noodles which worked just fine)
1 lb whole milk or part skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
Brown sausage in large skillet on medium-high heat; drain. Add onion and 3 of the garlic gloves, minced; cook 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes, wine, ¼ cup of the parsley, red pepper, 1 teaspoon of the salt and ½ teaspoon of the black pepper. Simmer on medium heat 15 minutes. Stir in ½ cup of the romano cheese.
Place remaining 3 cloves garlic and pine nuts in food processor container fitted with steel blade; cover. Process until finely chopped. Add arugula and basil; process until smooth. Slowly add in oil in thin stream until blended. Add lemon juice and ¾ cup of the romano cheese. Set aside.
Mix ricotta cheese, eggs, remaining ½ cup parsley, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Stir in arugula mixture; mix well.
Spread ¾ cup of the tomato sauce on bottom of 2 greased 13x9-inch baking dishes. Top each with 3 lasagna noodles, 2/3 cup of the ricotta mixture, 1 cup of the tomato sauce and 2/3 cup of mozzarella cheese. Repeat layers 2 times. Top with remaining romano cheese.
Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before serving. Makes 2 13x9-inch lasagnas with 8 to 10 servings each.