Saturday, December 3, 2011

Lasagna and the "F***ccccckkkk" moment

I don't make lasagna often, because I'm not in the habit of feeding an angry mob (nothing quells an angry mob better than heaping helping of lasagna). However, the bigger half has been working double shifts lately, and I have a feeling that he'll be most appreciative of a savory baked saucy, meaty, cheesy pasta dish. Plus, there will be plenty of leftovers for him to take a bit to work, and that'll save him from eating cheap take out or worse, fritos upon fritos upon fritos.
So, I started out with a recipe from Anne Burrell, who I've adored since she's been only that sprite of a sous chef for Mario Batali on Iron Chef America. Since she's matured into other TV shows, and as simple or as fancy, whatever the dish she sets out to make, it always looks like something pretty darn decadent and delicious.
Simmering tomato sauce
For my own tomato sauce, I started out with two double sized cans of whole plum tomatoes, as well as another smaller can of the same kind of tomatoes. What can I say... they're what I had on hand, and I want leftover sauce to freeze for a later date even after I'm finished with the lasagna. At 11 am, I chopped up four cloves of garlic, and a whole onion, and let those cook with about two tablespoons of olive oil in a large dutch oven. When those turned translucent and had cooked down nicely, I added about a quarter cup of red wine. Then it was time to rip up the tomatoes. Not sure why, but I always rip up each tomato with my hands and drop them into the sauce. I also use the juice from the can, adding as the tomatoes cook down. So every half hour, I check for salt and pepper levels and give the low simmering sauce a stir. The sauce cooked for about four hours, and because I wanted a smoother sauce, I went ahead and gave it a good whirl with an immersion blender near the end. Nothing like a home cooked sauce to elevate any pasta dish. Seriously, ragu sucks. Prego sucks too.
Sweet Italian Sausage
Sauteed Mushrooms
Sauteed Kale with Garlic
Ricotta and Parmesan Filling
While the sauce cooked, I went ahead with 90 percent of Ann Burrell's recipe. That's right, frying up the Italian sausage, then separately the mushrooms, and because zucchini is no longer seasonally available, I went for some flat leaf kale, which I picked up from the Kimball Fruit Farms stand at the Dewey Square Farmers market. I also prepared her cheese filling with 2 cups of Narragansett Creamery ricotta, a chiffonade of basil, 1 cup of grated Parmesan, 2 eggs and a little salt. Oh, and of course, I also parboiled a box of lasagna noodles.
Layer of sauce, followed by noodles
Layer of cheese filling plus noodles
Sauce, meat, mushrooms, kale,
followed by layers of cheese/noodles
Baked up lasagna
Time to build the castle. A layer of sauce, layer of pasta, layer of the cheese mixture. Another layer of pasta, sprinkling of sausage, mushrooms, and kale, and then a heaping layer of mozzarella cheese and a sprinkling of grated Parmesan. Another layer of pasta and cheese mixture, and then another layer of sauce, sausage, mushrooms, kale, mozz and parm. A final layer of pasta, sauce and the remaining mozz and parm. Cover with foil, and into a 350 degree oven for an hour and 15 minutes. Uncover the foil, and cook for another 15 minutes. Let stand for twenty minutes to cool.
Tha f*ck is this?!
Man, what a lasagna day. It literally took all day to buy and build and make the sauce and then bake. But while it was baking, I happened to look down in the trash bag before taking it out. And here's the "oh f*ck" moment. I was using some kind of gluten free, dairy free mozzarella cheese substitute. WTF! When I went to the store this morning, I actually looked for those round mozzarella balls so that I could grate them myself. When I didn't find those at my little grocer, I picked up a pre-grated packet of what I thought was mozzarella without a second thought. When I brought it to the register, along with the rest of my dairy fest, the lady asked if I had seen the other mozzarella. Hell, she even walked me over. I saw that the pack she showed me said "skim milk" and thinking that I wanted a full fat version (sue me... I'm an asshole that didn't know mozz is made with skim milk), I turned the real mozzarella down. God damn, I am a FOOL!
Bah. Lasagna with fake cheese.
Would have been great with
real cheese. 
Now the real test will be to see if the taste is that bad. And the verdict? Well, after a few bites, you could definitely notice that something was off. The cheese didn't stretch the right way. Hell, the way it melted even looked a little funny. I could have just kept my mouth shut, because it was good. But I knew the truth, and so I went full disclosure on the bigger half. He said he thought something tasted a little weird, and that the lasagna would have been bomb had it not been from the weird cheese. Ugh. I could chalk this up as another reason to severely dislike vegans, and their prominent display of fake cheese next to the olives and sun dried tomatoes. But I'll take the fall on this one. I didn't read the full label of "Mozzarella Style Shreds." Boooo.
The lesson here is to always read the full label of your ingredients, and feel free to use this recipe, but please, dear friends, stay dairy rich, and go for the real mozzarella.

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