Friday, March 16, 2018

Lasagna for Jesus

I was at it again today in the kitchen. This time it was "Easy Lasagna."

I'll provide the original recipe, then with my own changes.

The original recipe -- which I multiplied four times, to make four dishes -- is as follows:

1/2 lb. lasagna pasta
2 lbs. hamburger meat -- I used a mixture of 3:1 ground chuck to sirloin
2 onions chopped*
32 oz. pasta sauce -- I used several jars of Rao's sauce
1 tsp. oregano
1 lb. cottage cheese -- I used ricotta, plus egg
2 cups shredded mozzarella -- I increased this to 3 cups

The reasons for my changes? I like to use a little better meat, and ricotta is traditional and I like it better. For the four pans, I used three eggs; a whole egg for each pan would have been fine. I added the mozzarella because I ran out at the end!

First step was to boil the water. And somewhere I learned that the water should be heavily salted -- so it tastes like the sea, I was told. While that got boiling, I browned the meat and the onions. I had to use two large pans.

Meanwhile, of course, I opened up my other packages, including the pasta, so it would all go in at once. I used two full boxes. (I've heard of people just laying the uncooked pasta in the pan, but that seems awfully risky to me.)

The noodles went into the water, then I watched the meat brown. Thankfully, it all finished about the same time. If the pasta gets finished too soon, it starts sticking to itself while it's sitting; although, now that I think about it, I guess it could have sat in the water. But the thing is, I used the same strainer for both the meat and the noodles, and so I wanted to strain the noodles first.

After draining off the pasta, I set that aside on a cookie sheet to cool. Then I strained the meat and onion mixture; I saved the drippings, because that won't all be fat; I can use that broth for some mushrooms I'm going to fix on Sunday.

Then the meat and onions were mixed together with the sauce, plus the oregano. It would have been nice to cook the sauce a little, to get the oregano integrated, but I cheated. I'm hopeful that it will do its thing without my help.

The original recipe called for the cottage cheese to be added to this mixture, which would have made things a little easier, but I didn't want to do that.

Next comes the build: a layer of pasta, then the meat sauce, then the ricotta and egg. I decided one big layer of ricotta would be all right; it's hard to do it otherwise. Then some mozzarella. Repeat. I was a little heavy on the mozzarella, so at the end, I had to run over to the grocery next store (really: it is next to the church!) for more. Some parmesan cheese would have been nice, but this recipe didn't call for it, so I decided to leave that aside.

Why did I make so much Lasagna? This is for St. Remy's "Casserole Crusade." Twice a year, we make casseroles or other dishes and freeze them, and then they are taken to nearby soup kitchens. I try to make four of them each time. Two is about as easy as one; and it's not that big a jump to four. Plus, I don't have children to keep track of, so I figure I can do this. And I tell everyone I'm doing it, as a challenge.

Finally, my attitude is, if I make something like this, I make it the way I'd want it for my own table. So I decided not to skimp on any ingredients.

How did it taste? Pretty good. The sauce was actually a lot meatier than I expected, and moreso than I think is traditional. I think it would turn out very nicely if the meat were cut by a third or even half, and then adding in more ricotta and sauce. For commercial sauce, it was good. I went online the other day to see what ready-made sauces are most highly rated, and Raos came out on top in one or two stories I found. As I needed five jars (they were 24, not 32 ounces), I had to mix different flavors. I ended up with marinara, tomato-basil and arrabbiata (i.e., spicy). I was concerned about the heat, but the mixture was not too hot.

And, yes, I know it's Friday in Lent; however, I have it on good authority that tasting something with meat in it does not violate the discipline of abstinence or fasting. And, yes, it was just a small taste, not a bowl!

Now it's all in the freezer, to be dropped off on Sunday.

Oh, and by the way, if you want to replicate our "Casserole Crusade" in your parish, here's what you do:

1. Find out what the area soup kitchens need and make sure they can accept what you bring. If you can't deliver immediately, you'll need a place to store them until they can be delivered.
2. Get your pastor on board.
3. Get a bunch of aluminum baking dishes, plus foil lids. Each lid needs a label, on which there is a line for the recipe and the date. We end up gathering about 350-400 casseroles each time.
4. Prepare a page with recipes and instructions, including how to freeze and when and where to drop off. Make photocopies.
5. Each pan gets a copy of the recipe. These are stacked and brought to church for sign-up days.
6. Prepare an announcement for the parish to run in the bulletin, and for the priest to read at Mass. (Tell him about my challenge! It works!)
7. On a given weekend or two, the announcement is made, and volunteers in the back of church pass out the casserole pans, with the recipes and lids. We ask people to write down their names and how many they took.
8. For the drop off, you will want some volunteers who can run to the cars and take the casseroles. That makes everyone happy. Then deliver as decided upon in step one.

This is something even a small group of volunteers could organize. If you have questions, put them in the comments.

* Just as I typed this, I realized I used about half as much onion as called for, but it seemed fine.


rcg said...

This is one of my favorite recurring posts. I think I was the one who told you that our parish puts the pasta in uncooked. It seems to work OK since we haul ours to St VdP and no one ever complains. Your sauce idea reminds me of my aunt who puts loads of herbs and spices in the store baught sauce. We always laugh about her recipe.

rcg said...

UPDATE: this year we will make sandwiches. Apparently EVERYONE is making lasgna. 🤣