11.05.2006

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 App├ętit 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
2 eggs
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.




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14 comments:

AnnieKNodes said...

Nice piece, Lia. And I'm referring to both your writing AND the lasagna. Can't wait to make it!

Daniel said...

This lasagna is truly very good and I have to say that cooking it with a team was fun. That's a great way to spend 2 hours!

Lia said...

Thanks so much Anne. I hope you make the lasagna sometime. I feel like it's right up your alley!

Anonymous said...

I want to make this for thanksgiving! In addition to turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing, coleslaw/garlic salad, green beans...am I being too ambitious???
- Kellie

Lia said...

Kellie, maybe a little, though you could always make this a few days before. It tastes even better the next day. If you're coming home for Thanksgiving this year, I hope I get to see you!

Judith said...

While this may sound sacrilegious to any meat-eater, I am going to try this recipe without the meat to see how it works as a veggie lasagna. It sounds delicious.

Anonymous said...

that is great to know, adam and i will be in LA and it turns out we are going to a bit potluck dinner so i think we will make this!
- kellie

Lia said...

Judith, the recipe doesn't call for too much sausage and since the arugula pesto is pretty powerful, a meatless version might be delicious! Let me know how it goes.

Kellie, I'm so glad you're going to give the recipe a try! Let me know how it turns out.

Anonymous said...

how did the veggie versions come out? I'm having a wine tasting and need two different versions-one for veggies. What's the verdict?

Lia said...

Anonymous: You could definitely make this lasagna without the sausage and it would taste very good. Maybe substitute portobello mushrooms?

Anonymous said...

Will give it a try or porcini. Will report back tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

The veggie eaters loved it with mushroom. I tried both and can say that the sausage complements the arugula with a savory edge. I would add more sauce between the layers next time as my set up time was extended due to wine ratings! Also, maybe more mozarella between the layers to get the pesto to feel creamier in the mouth. All these comments are minor, however, as my guests LOVED the dish. With the pear cardamon cake for dessert, yowee, it turned out well. You saved my day as Sunday morning I was without a novel approach to the lasagna I wanted to make. I'll be back for more ideas! Thanks Lia

Lia said...

I'm so glad everyone liked it! I'll have to try it with mushrooms myself, some day! I'd love to hear more about this pear cardamom cake for dessert, by the way..

Ginger said...

I can't even look at the pictures without my stomach grumbling... Need another occasion for that lasagna. Has it really been since sex and the city finale on 72nd st?

I prefer to eat it than to make it but will give it a shot....

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