Kitchen Physician

Yesterday I made myself a pan of Spinach Lasagna.  The recipe is one I memorized from a Girl Scout cookbook I bought from the local troop in a small town somewhere in Mississippi.  I loved the recipe because it doesn’t require you to cook the pasta.  This gives it a much more sturdy texture and a lovely bite.  It holds together firmly.  I use what I have, but you can always substitute what you have.   Remember when chopping vegetables to keep them on the smaller side so you get an even taste of them through the dish.

I start with 2 lbs of ground meat.  Sometimes it’s hamburger or ground turkey.  Sometimes is pork sausage and beef hamburger – whatever ground meat I could find.   Vegetarian crumbles work as does any ground meat as long as you saute it lightly to give it a little browning.  This helps with texture.  Use the 6 qt.  pot for browning the meat, and add in finely chopped chopped onion, garlic, sweet peppers, as well as your dry spices:  Onion, Garlic, Italian Seasoning, ground black pepper.  Stir over medium high heat until the onions are clear and the meat is cooked completely.  Add in a can or two of spaghetti or tomato sauce and a can of diced tomatoes with the juice.  You want it to be a little more on the sauce side so the noodles will soak it up and cook.

In a mixing bowl, add in 16 oz of cottage cheese.  I find the small curd texture works better than the large curd.  Add a cup of shredded mozzarella cheese and mix.  Stir in about 16 oz of chopped spinach.  I’ve used frozen or fresh as well as broccoli, courgette,  carrots, green onions, parsley, cilantro and fresh herbs.   Fresh or frozen vegetables still have all their starches and sugars lined up and they’ll retain their texture through the baking process.  Stir in one slightly beaten egg (helps glue it all together) and some chopped parsley, as well as some italian seasoning.  It’s better to err on the side of caution with dry spices.  Start by shaking a little bit in your hand, then smell and taste it.   I use about a tablespoon of italian seasoning in both the cheese and the sauce.  (EDIT:  Originally I said “Heat the mixture through” here – I did not mean the CHEESE mixture.  I meant the sauce.  do NOT heat the cheese mixture prior to baking.)

In the 13×9 pan, ladle enough sauce on the bottom of the pan to cover it then place a layer of uncooked lasagna noodles over it, breaking noodles where needed to fit (noodle breaking is an artform learned in self study over many many years)  Add a layer of the cheese mixture, spreading it gently over the dry noodles.  Place another layer of noodles and liberally spoon the meat sauce over them.  Another layer of noodles, pressing down gently but firmly to  remove air bubbles.  If it starts to squish up between the noodles, you’re pressing too hard.  You just want to work the spaces out and fill in the unsauced places.   Add the rest of the cheese mixture, another layer of noodles and the rest of the meat sauce to fill the pan to the edge.  Cover with aluminium foil, place the baking pan on a cookie sheet, and bake @ 350 F  for 50 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes.  Carefully remove lasagna from the oven and sprinkle another cup of grated mozzarella over the bubbling sauce on top, along with some grated parmesan cheese.   Let it sit and rest for about 10 minutes, then cut and serve.

It’s difficult to mess up lasagna – seriously.   It’s difficult to mess up any dish if you’re paying attention.  Cooking is like life – You can stick with the recipes others give you or you can get bold and throw things in a skillet with wild abandon.  I’ll tell you this – the best night’s sleep are with a full stomach.

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Pearl Manhattan

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