This year I've also made a lot of lasagnas. I know that spending last year sans oven bore a hole in me that could only be filled with casseroles, gratins, quiches, and baked gooey pasta. I really started to crave all things roasted or baked, especially if said dish had a golden brown crust. (I guess the NY Times is with me on this one, too!) I remember making some recipes work on the stove, but it was never the same. Lasagna was the first thing I made in our new apartment and I'm sort of stuck on it. It has endless variations and I always seem to have the main ingredients on hand. Plus, we have a tiny little oven that fits a tiny little pan so the 2 of us don’t have to eat it for days.
About a year ago, Paul and I went on a little ski vacation with some French friends. It was their show; we just tagged along. It was the first time we had had someone French cook for us and I was happy to eat some really traditional French fare. The first night was Endive and Ham Gratin, which is cooked whole endives wrapped with a slice of ham and covered in béchamel sauce. Wow. I remember a potato omelet with salad one day for lunch, and crepes at some point, too. I remember the lasagna most because it was so unlike anything I'd tried. Ground beef was mixed with some bottle tomato sauce and ketchup (it was a little sweet and that's why). This was layered between the sheets of pasta and the whole thing was covered with...can you guess? Béchamel. Oh, and swiss cheese. It was a French lasagna if I could ever think of one; all that's missing was the poached egg on top.
I think American-style lasagna is normally quite tomatoey and sometimes there is an acidic quality or just a flat taste to me. Also, I realized that when I buy ricotta cheese here there aren't the following choices: whole-milk, skim-milk, part-skim milk, sheep's milk...whatever. It's just ricotta. I'm assuming it is the normal whole milk kind because it tastes so much better. It has a smooth texture vs. the weird grainy texture of part-skim. Okay, cheese rant finished. I’m going to also avoid going into a long spin-off on how buying groceries in the States is like carrying Guilt reincarnated around on your shoulder who mutters, “choose the fat-free one…” for every single item imaginable while you try your best to reach around it so you can “choose the real food” instead. I swear it’s like a big test to see if you can find the actual food products. Maybe it’s just me. Okay, I’m really done.
Here's my recipe for my "what I make when I don't know what else to make" dish. I'm at peace with the bottled sauce thing, because this is also an "I want to eat before 10 pm" dish. I decided to leave out the ketchup, though.
Lasagna alla Megane
12 Barilla no-boil lasagna sheets
1 ½ cups ricotta
1 egg, beaten
½ cup grated parmesan
1 jar Barilla olive pasta sauce (my favorite!)
3 T. flour
3 T. butter
2 cups milk
2 red onions, thinly sliced
2 red, yellow or green peppers, sliced
Fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced or shredded
1 cup sliced mushrooms, leftover chicken, beef, or chopped spinach, etc
Stir together ricotta, egg and ¼ cup parmesan in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Sauté onions and peppers together in a little olive oil over medium high heat until done to your liking. Add mushrooms or other leftovers if using. Stir in olive sauce and combine. Remove from heat.
Melt the butter in a saucepan. Whisk in flour to make a roux. Cook 3-4 minutes without browning the flour. Whisk in milk gradually. Bring the mixture to a boil and keep whisking. Once thickened, add salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Pour some béchamel on the bottom of an 8x8 baking pan. Place 2 lasagna sheets in the pan. Layer 1/3 of the ricotta mixture and then the veggies on top of that. Sprinkle with some parmesan and a ladle of béchamel. Add 2 more pasta sheets and repeat layers. To finish, place the last 2 sheets of pasta on top, cover with béchamel sauce and top with mozzarella and sprinkling of parmesan. Bake at 200 C/400 F for 30 minutes.