Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fall Decorating and Homemade Lasagna

Let Fall begin! 

I know it's not supposed to be capitalized, but it just looks better that way.

Big baskets of mums have been installed on the porch, sharing space with the Boston ferns of summer that will continue to hang on until the first frost. I always want to bring them inside to enjoy, at least until the dry indoor heat begins to turn their tender leaves a crackly brown. However, I do not enjoy those greased-lightning lizards that leap out of the ferns the minute I set them inside. When we had cats, they took particular pleasure in slapping a paw down on a lizard's tail, only to find they were more than willing to wiggle free and continue life, sans tail. Sorry ferns - your days are as short as a stump-tailed lizard!

Moving on myself. I've been saving the picture of this gorgeous Fall arrangement my friend, Sally, sent me last year. Simple and elegant, even without the bright oranges and golds we associate with the season, don't you think? When I ran across the picture, I was reminded that it is time to haul out my own box of faux Fall decorations and move the Halloween and Thanksgiving storage boxes to front and center. It won't be long until we'll be needing those pumpkins and Pilgrims!

Here in Southern Illinois, our leaves have been turning brown and falling for a few weeks, due mostly to our bone dry summer, but so far they show no hints of the brilliant red, orange or gold we love so much. I suspect the dry summer may leave us with less-than-spectacular foliage this year. The temperature may have just cooled off this past weekend, but I'm already looking forward to all-out Fall and the joys of the changing seasons -- football games, tailgating, sitting around an outdoor fire and the annual neighborhood block party.

Cooler days mean I can finally be outside without feeling like I'm melting. Of course, this also means it's time to shift gears from light meals with Summer fruits and vegetables to Fall favorites and heartier preparations. Fortunately the growing season around here will stretch out for a few more weeks, so we won't have to give up on the garden or farmers' market just yet. And there are a few bits of color lingering in the garden for some natural arrangements like the bright one above.

I guess I might be rushing the season a bit, but comfort foods are already showing up in my kitchen. Here is the Lasagna I promised a few weeks ago to go with the Homemade Italian Bread. I pulled the recipe out, along with the one for bread, and served it to my reunion committee for one of our working dinner meetings. I made sauce from scratch and used De Cecco thin, no-boil lasagna noodles for the first time. The finished lasagna seemed very authentic and had a nice ratio of noodle to sauce and cheese. The thin, flat noodles were also far easier to handle than the thick, ruffled variety that are oh-so-slippery when wet. Definitely worth trying the next time you make it for yourself.

Lasagna is a true comfort food and actually very easy to prepare. It's also perfect for big-batch cooking and dividing into smaller portions -- bake one for now and freeze some for later. You'll be glad you did!

olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 28-oz. cans tomato sauce
2 small cans tomato paste
dash of Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. oregano
2-3 tsp. white or brown sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Pour some olive oil to cover the bottom of a large heavy skillet or Dutch oven. Add onions and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add onion and minced garlic and cook until meat is browned. Drain excess fat  and return cooked meat to pot. Stir in tomato sauce, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, basil, oregano and sugar. Simmer over low heat for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Season with salt and pepper to taste as sauce cooks. Add more basil and oregano, if needed.

1 large carton ricotta cheese
2 eggs
2 tbsp. chopped parsley
4 cups shredded Mozzarella
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a small bowl, stir eggs and parsley into ricotta cheese and set aside.

2 boxes De Cecco No-Boil Lasagna Noodles
2 boxes lasagna noodles (boil according to package directions before using)

1 large baking or roasting pan
2 boxes of lasagna noodles
1 recipe of sauce
1 recipe of ricotta cheese mixture
4 cups shredded mozzarella

Spoon sauce to thinly coat bottom of lasagna pan. Make Two Layers using ingredients in the following order and then repeating: lasagna noodles (overlap slightly), sauce, ricotta cheese, shredded mozzarella, grated Parmesan cheese. Finish with a final layer of noodles and sprinkle with a small amount of mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Cover lightly with foil and bake at 325 degrees for 35 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake until cheese melts and begins to brown slightly - about 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and remove foil. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Slice and serve.

Lasagna may be baked, cooled, covered and refrigerated. To reheat: cover with foil and place in a preheated 325 degree oven until warmed throughout.

Recipe may be divided into smaller pans and layered in the same order. Wrap tightly with foil and freeze. To bake frozen lasagna, keep covered and bake at 325 degrees until hot in center, then remove foil cover and continue to bake until cheese on top is slightly browned. May take 60-90 minutes to heat completely.


Debra said...

Cora, your recipe is much like one given me by a South Philadelphia Italian friend - & I fear I've lost that recipe & am so glad to have yours! Deewishus!

tami n said...

Hello... I am making this lasagna for Christmas dinner... curious to how many this one feeds, using the pan above? Thank you and Merry Christmas!

Cora said...

@tami n - Sorry not to have seen this comment sooner! That roasting pan full of lasagna is huge. Normally the recipe as written easily will feed 8 people or more, depending on appetites and side dishes.