I love making Italian food, it's my passion. I have an Italian soul. I love everything about it, the sight, the smells, and the end result...the taste!! But some Italian dishes are daunting in their preparation, and time consuming. Through collaboration with a friend, I've found a way to take lasagna, one of my favorites, and give it the simplifying touch that can put it on your dinner table in less than an hour.
12 lasagna noodles (I always cook a couple extra in case any of them tear or "mess-up" so you may want to cook about 14) cooked according to package directions.
1 1/2 c. ricotta cheese
chopped chives, about 2 T.
chopped spinach, about 3 T. (if you're going to use frozen spinach, squeeze ALL of the water out, with paper towels, when you think you've got it all, squeeze some more)
1/2 c. chopped onions
1 clove garlic, minced very fine
1/2 pound gr beef or sausage
1 small jar of pasta sauce (your favorite marinara)
3/4 c. heavy cream
8-12 ounces of mozzarella cheese (depending on how "cheesy" you want it, we like ours with a lot of cheese)
1/2 c. parmesan cheese
drain pasta noodles (you can place them on wax paper so they won't stick together.
saute minced garlic and onions in pan together with gr. beef (or sausage). Use a large, deep fry pan for this. Once meat has been browned, add pasta sauce. Cook over medium heat until bubbly.
Mix together ricotta cheese, salt, pepper, chives (or spinach--this is according to which flavor you're going for--spinach gives it a milder flavor)and italian seasoning. Spray a 9x9 baking dish with Pam and take each lasagna noodle and...lying the noodle flat, spoon about a tablespoonful of the ricotta mixture onto the noodle. Roll it up and place it in the pan, do the same with each noodle until gone.
Take the heavy cream and add it to the bubbling sauce. Stir well until the mixture has turned a lovely pale red shade. Pour this mixture over the top of the rolled up noodles and cover with the mozzarella cheese. Bake at 375 for about 20 minutes until cheese is melted (if you like a darker, crispier crust you can leave it in for 30 minutes). Top with parmesan cheese.
Ricotta cheese tends to be rather "flat" tasting, so salt to your taste, in fact taste it and add more seasonings if you like..according to yours or your family's palate. This dish serves from 4-6
A nice variation is to mix spinach and chopped salad shrimp (or even cooked chicken) into the ricotta (same seasonings of salt and pepper, your choice on whether you add the Italian seasonings or not) and then roll those into the noodles and top with an alfredo sauce. (You would, of course, then leave out the ground beef/sausage and the heavy cream.) Makes a completely different dish, a completely different flavor, but essentially the same recipe. Go ahead and experiment, and make the recipe your own. Cooking is supposed to be an adventure!
Today's food quote: "Happiness is a bowl of cherries and a book of poetry under a shade tree" Astrid Alauda
Today's cooking term: mozzarella--Italian cheese made of pasta filata which pulls into strings when heated to between 96 to 98 degrees. A commonly used cheese in all Italian dishes.
Recommended cooking tool: cheese grater. There are many types of cheese graters available. Cheese freshly grated tastes much better (and is much less EXPENSIVE) than cheese bought already grated. My personal favorite cheese grater (I use it at LEAST once a week) is a hand held one that has a handle you turn to grate the cheese. They are very commonly used in Italian restaurants. I purchased mine from Pampered Chef (an AWESOME place to buy cooking tools) but they can be found at many kitchen shops as well.