Thursday, February 11, 2010

For the Love of Lasagna- part 1 of 2- the all day sauce

Sorry this has taken so long to post, I guess I just ain't as young as I used to be... this should take you 2 days to complete ( not including grocery store day) , it took me 3 days not including the store or the fully day I spent in bed from over doing it or the 2 days of recovery after I needed. (I need to stop being so stubborn and learn to ask for help.. still working on that one..LOL)

I don't claim in any way that this recipe is original as I am sure it isn't in many ways .
It was given to me by my Grama Grace and Aunt Margie ( two of the best cooks I have ever known) and I have added my own touches as I am sure my daughter will through out time.

Lasagna is a dish that is as diverse as the personalities and taste of those even in our own families, let alone our communities and the world beyond. In other words every cook has thier own way to make lasagna. We all learn things from those who have made it before us and add or subtract as our tastes and the tastes of those we are making it for change.

Many have a lasagna recipe rooted deep in the family cooking history while others have only recently discovered it. You may have a heart worming or funny family history story of how lasagna came to be part of your families menu , or how you your self fared on that 1st attempt and all that went wrong and just right.

Lasagna for love? Maybe, as in my case, it was got you noticed by your sole-mate. The fact that I could make lasagna over an open camp fire and it taste like oven-baked -- well lets just say he looked my way and we never looked back ;) .

My Grama use to say that lasagna was one of those dishes that are a gift of both self and love.
... it wasn't till years later that I would realize the truths of such a statement. I think one of the truths of that statement is that it's not important how much time you take out of your day to make or do something special , but rather how much laughter, joy, love - aka intention- and attention you put into doing that task.

the ingredients: I normally make my sauces in the summer months when ingredients are fresh from the, garden , farmers markets, and/or road side stands. But this is February, and we live in a rule area which means you take what you can get at the winter market. I will put in parenthesis what I prefer to use when it differs from what I actually used here.

This makes enough sauce for 2- 9"x13"x3" glass casserole dishes of lasagna , you can use enough to make one pan of the lasagna and freeze the rest for a later pasta dish, or do as we do and make both pans, letting all unused portions sit in the refrigerator covered until the next day ( or they are well set) and wrap them in individual serving sizes in parchment/freezer paper and plastic cling wrap then place in large freezer bag to store them ( or send it over to friends or family). These can be reheated either in the microwave or place a few pieces in a casserole and re heat in the oven till warmed through.

Ingredients: ( not in order by usage)

Olive oil
9 pound tomatoes ( I prefer a Roma-Brandywine-Rutger's mix)
you can also use 3 pounds fresh 4- 14/15oz. cans diced
tomatoes -and 1 15 ounce can tomato sauce)
1 small can tomato past ( or 3/4 cup home canned past)
3 small to medium yellow squash
3 small to medium zucchini ( or 1 old fashioned large, pealed and chopped to 1/2 inch square use 3 cups)
2 whole bulbs garlic
1 medium sweet onion of choice ( I like wala-wala washinton
onions here)
2 medium green bell peppers
1 large red bell pepper
1 pound slices button mushrooms
2 pounds ground Italian spiced meat( I prefer Italian style pork
sausage hot or mild)
3 Long Black Pepper corns ( you can skip this if you cant find them)
Gray Sea Salt ( or kosher salt)
Fresh basil, oregano, thyme, sage, marjoram, rosemary, savory,
(I will address the amounts below Fresh versus Dry)
1/2 cup Good red wine ( I prefer a cherry or Lambrusco wine)
32 ounces Beef Broth
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 medium-small egg plant
15 ounce container of whole milk Ricotta Cheese
2 to 4 cups Parmesan cheese ( fresh grated)
12 cups Mozzarella cheese ( 3 4-cup bags but I prefer Fresh
about 1 cup Chedder cheese ( I prefer sharp, but mild is fine too)
cottage cheese ( small curd)
1 egg
2 boxes lasagna noodles
The Sauce
First roast the Garlic bulbs

preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
remove the outer "paper-y" skins and
cut just the tips of each clove off but leave the bulb whole. (use both bulbs - if a clove falls off, just tuck it back into it's spot in the bulb)

Place each of the 2 bulbs in to a separate piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle olive oil ( about a teaspoon) over the whole bulb. Pull the foil up over the the bulbs tightly and twist the top closed.

Place then in the oven for between 10 and 20 minutes ( til they are soft when pressed lightly.
when they are done, leave them wrapped in the foil but let them cool completely.

Tomatoes, some people choose to peal them and some don't. I so prefer them pealed for this dish.

Plunge them into boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds ( some times it takes a bit longer)

roll them around in the water a bit so the skin gets loose on all sides

( I use a wooden spoon)

Remember you don't want to cook them , just loosen thier skins

remove them from the boiling water and plunge them immediately into cold water so they stop cooking and they are easier to peal

Let them rest a min or so to bring down the temp then drain them

From this point, you will want to be absolutely sure your hands are clean -even under your nails! (cause your gunna use them a lot if you chose my method. )

The skins should slip away easily , but if they don't you can use a knife to help peal them . The tomato peel in this photo is a pretty good peal, but the less of the red flesh that sticks to the skin the better .

Over a medium to large bowl, to collect all the juice, and with both hands, hold the tomato with the bottom up and press your thumbs down through it to open it up like a flower. ( Careful! don't squirt your self in the face.)

This will also help you to remove the seed pockets more easily if you so choose ( I don't bother with it.)

Tear the flesh way from the stem end placing the flesh of the tomato in the bowel and discarding the stem end(core)

Next chop the onions
Slice 2 zucchini ( or 2/3rds), and 1 yellow summer squash in to 1/4 rounds and break each round into 4 parts with your hands .
Break the bell peppers ( both the greens and the red) open, remove the seeds and tear them into about 1/2 to 1/4 inch sized pieces.
(Note: I was taught to use my hands for these tasks as a safe way to let a child(me) help in the kitchen, but with my disability now,I
find this "old way" serves me well. )

In the bottom of your favorite roaster over medium low heat , add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and let it Just reach the smoking point. Add the onions and let them cook just till they are translucent. Next add all the other veggies ( tomatoes, yellow squash, zucchini, and bell peppers) give them a toss to mix well and to coat them with the oil. Remove them from the heat. Cover with Aluminum foil and place in a 350 degree F. oven for 30 to 45 minutes.
Then remove them from the oven and leave them covered until
they are needed.

Lets talk a little about Long Black Pepper which comes from south - south east Asia and was the first to reach Europe. Long Black pepper has a bit higher heat than black pepper and adds undertones of sweetness that ring a bit of cardamom--like in flavor.
To use long black pepper , break or crack it in half and "float" it like a bay leaf to be removed later .
Here is a link to a really good article if you are interested in further reading about long pepper : Aidan Brooks :Trainee Chef (his blog is awesome by the way!)

Lets talk about the other spices.
I make my own "Italian Seasoning" from herbs in my garden that contains all the herbs listed below.. BUT when I can get them fresh, organically grown I prefer them to dry even in the winter month.
If your recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of fresh and you must use dry, then reduce the amount to 1 teaspoon . and it works in reverse if converting from dry to fresh.
so here is the herb mix amounts in Dry (=fresh)
Marjoram 2 teaspoon (2 tablespoon)
Thyme 2 teaspoon (2 tablespoon)
Rosemary 1 teaspoon (1 tablespoon)
Savory (summer) 1 teaspoon ( 1 tablespoon)
Sage 1/4 scant teaspoon ( 1/4 scant tablespoon)
Oregano 3 to 5 teaspoons (3 to 5tablespoons oregano)
Basil, sweet 3 to 4 teaspoons (3 to 4 tablespoons)
mix all the dry herbs together and set aside, and leave any fresh
separated and set them aside for.

Next is the meat. ( if you choose to use meat)
The sausage I choose is either the locally made(photo) or I use a brand called Poor Folk, but just use your favorite brand. Remove the sausage from the casing if there is one, so that is it loose meat ( like ground hamburger before it's pattied up)

I use a dutch oven for this next step so that the pan is big enough to hold all the meat .

heat the pan over Low heat till just warmed then add the the Long black pepper and 3 tablespoons Olive oil . You may have to tip the pan to one side to keep the long black pepper submerged in the oil .. it will take about 5 minutes or more to impart the flavor of the long black pepper to the oil. ( but that's ok because the smell is Heavenly) .

Remove the long black pepper and bring the oil up just to the smoking point and add the meat.

cook the meat thoroughly!

For this next step you can remove the meat from the pot, but I just push it off to one side, ( don't drain it .. this is where a lot of your flavor it and it will be cooked into the sauce over time)

to the oil in the pan add 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour . and whisk till well blended .

Next mix the meat into the rue and let it cook "dry" then deglaze with by adding 1/2 cup wine mixed with 1/2 cup beef broth and stir well.
mix in 1/2 the herbs and remove from the heat letting the heat of the meat some what wilt the fresh herbs and pull some of the flavors out of the dry ones.

Remove the foil ( careful of the steam in side so you don't get burned)

this is a 20 quart pot
Place in the roasted vegetables, sausage mixture, squeeze in the roasted garlic gloves, tomato paste, salt, the rest of the beef broth and 6 cups water. Bring this Just to a boil and reduce heat to simmer.

simmer this on a low simmer stirring very frequently so it doesn't scorch or burn for 6 to 8 hours. ( must reduce to half or just over half so your lasagna isn't watery)
Remove from heat and cover to cool till temperature.
About 2 or 3 times after the sauce has simmered at least 2 hours, take a potato masher to it. Yes, a potato masher this is how we did it before the days of the food processor. I admit I do prefer the texture I achieve with the potato masher when I want a hearty, chunky sauce. But for a smoother sauce you can wizz this in the food processor or blender in batches. (this is also a good method to hid the veggies that get pushed aside;)

When the sauce is cooled mix in the other half of the spices . Seal in air tight containers and refrigerate or go on to making you lasagna. You can also freeze this in 2 equal batches for later use.

The sauce does need to rest before you make the lasagna to give the herbs and all the flavors a chance to blend .

Part 2 of this recipe will use the whole milk Ricotta Cheese, Parmesan cheese, Mozzarella cheese,
Cheddar cheese, cottage cheese , egg, mushrooms, 2 yellow zucchini, 1 ( or 1/3) green zucchini, and lasagna noodles ( and what ever else I forgot to list here).


  1. Mmmm, tomato sauce. I've never heard of long black pepper, I'm intrigued.

  2. i now have a find long black peppers! i had never even heard of them and that surprises me! this looks very good. i was just telling my kids that it is time for lasagna and tiramisu. i will give this sauce a try. did you see my post on lasagna? i put a thin layer of ham in mine for added flavor! can't wait to see the finished recipe.

  3. goodness talk about some good home cooking... can not wait for the second part

  4. Hello all!
    In part 2 I put a link Frontier Co-Op which is where i find my long black pepper.

    Jaz , no, I hadn't, till now, your Halloween Lasagna Looks like it is to die for! I will try this one !

    I hope part 2 isn't anticlimactic for any one.
    Bright Blessings all
    Ma Fey