Friday, September 30, 2016

A Meaty Lasagna with Spinach, Eggplant and Red Pears

Lasagna is one of my favorite meals to make because it’s rich, fulfilling and complex.  There are so many different ways of preparing it, lasagna screams noisy food.  Preparation can take a while to make if it is good but a large lasagna can last for several meals.  The basic lasagna recipe calls for layers of pasta, interspersed with tomato sauce, and melted cheese but with a few more added ingredients a lasagna will come alive. 

The tomato sauce is the most important part of a good lasagna.  I believe the sauce is noisier if it is made fresh but it can also be store bought and meat can be added such as sausage, chicken or as I prefer grass fed ground beef to liven it up.  The beauty of a lasagna is that many different vegetable and or fruits could be incorporated into the recipe without throwing it off.   I add local fruits and vegetables such as spinach, eggplant, pears, or apples to add subtle flavor and textural elements to the sauce.  My other secret ingredient in tomato sauce is adding a little unsweetened cocoa powder for richness and color.  Tomato sauce is often best when cooked the day before and allowing extra time for the flavor to develop before using.   

To prepare the sauce start by small dicing a large yellow onion.  Dial in the stove top burner to medium high heat and put a large sauce pot preferably with a thick insulated bottom to ensure even heat distribution on it.   Add ¼ cup of olive oil to the pot when it’s hot and sauté the diced onion with one tablespoon of minced garlic until translucent and then add 16 ounces of grass fed ground beef.  Continue cooking, stirring until the beef is broken up and browned.  Peel and chop two carrots, two stalks of celery and four button mushrooms then add them to the pot.  Reduce the stove top heat to medium and continue stirring with a wooden spoon to avoid anything burning to the bottom of the pan.  Once the carrots have become tender add 72 ounces of diced tomato and 12 ounces of tomato paste.  Set the burner on low heat and simmer the sauce for 1 hour while it reduces.  Stir in 2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon of sea salt and 1 tablespoon of savory herbs including thyme, parsley, and oregano.  In a food processor puree and pulse the thick sauce to help break down any large pieces.  Cool down the tomato sauce in a separate container surrounded by an ice bath.   

Heat up a cast iron pan on high heat and add ¼ cup of olive oil.  Medium dice two Thai eggplants and two red pears.  Sauté the eggplant and pear until tender and brown along the edges. Set the pear and eggplant aside until ready to use. 

Prepare 1 pound spinach by blanching it in a boiling pot of water for 1 minute.  Remove the spinach from the water and place it in a bucket of ice water to preserve its color.  Squeeze out the excess water from the spinach and reserve until ready to use. 

In a large bowl combine four cups of all-purpose flour, 4 teaspoons salt, 4 tablespoons olive oil, and 8 eggs.  Form the dough into a ball and press it flat on a smooth surface.  Use extra flour to dust the surface so the dough will not stick.  Using a rolling pin flatten the dough to 1/8 inch thick.  Using a knife cut strips 13 inches long and 3 inches wide.  Cut 9 or 12 strips depending on how many layers of pasta you want in the lasagna, I usually do four layers.  Chill the pasta in the refrigerator separate the strips with pieces of parchment paper until ready to use. 

Grate 1 pound of mozzarella cheese, reserve half of it and combine the other half with ricotta cheese. 
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Use a 9” x 13” glass baking dish and ladle a layer of tomato meat sauce on the bottom.  Cover the sauce with three strips of pasta.   Spread of the eggplant and pears over the pasta then cover it with a layer of ricotta cheese.  Cover the ricotta with another layer of pasta.  Spread out the spinach and cover it with a layer of ricotta cheese.  Add a layer of pasta over the ricotta and then cover it with another layer of meat sauce.  Cover the meat sauce with a layer of grated mozzarella and minced chives, oregano, and thyme.  If you have meat sauce leftover, reserve it and serve it on top of the baked lasagna.   

Cover the lasagna with tin foil.   To avoid the foil sticking to the melted cheese, place a skewer straight up out of the lasagna to hold the foil up.  Bake for one hour but remove the tin foil 15 minutes before removing the lasagna from the oven so the cheese gets golden brown and bubbly.

Tomato Sauce Ingredients
72 Ounces of Diced Roma Tomato
12 Ounces Tomato Paste
1 Large Yellow Onion
36 Ounces Ground Beef
2 Celery Sticks
2 Carrots
4 Large Cremini Mushrooms
1 Tablespoon Minced Garlic
¼ Cup Olive Oil
2 Tablespoon Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1 Tablespoon Oregano, Thyme, and Chives
1 Teaspoon Salt

Lasagna Filling
1 Pound Spinach
32 Ounces Ricotta Cheese
1 Pound Mozzarella
2 Large Pears
2 Long Thai Eggplants
¼ Cup Olive Oil

Pasta Ingredients
4 Cups Flour
8 Eggs
¼ Cup Olive Oil

4 Teaspoon Salt

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