With winter holidays coming up, most of us are attending and/or hosting quite a few gatherings.
So it seems like the perfect time for me to share the coveted family recipes for my favorite make ahead meal: Lasagna, baby green salad and tiramisu. Okay, so the recipe for Tiramisu is mine, the salad doesn’t even (really) require a recipe and the lasagna is my mother’s spin on the Italian classic. She may not be Italian (not even a little) but the critics (my father’s family, my husband, my siblings, myself) agree, her lasagna is amazing. It’s actually hilarious that here I am living in Europe, having visited Italy on numerous occasions, searching out cottage cheese in specialty shops to make my Mom’s version of lasagna (which my husband prefers to the Italian versions made with ricotta, and the Spanish versions made with fluffy bechamel gravy) Lasagna can be time-consuming to prepare but it’s well worth the final result, just ask all the people that didn’t slave over a hot stove, they’ll tell you. If you’re in a serious hurry there are a couple of tricks you can use to simplify the process, that I’ll explain in the tips at the end of the recipe.
Mom’s Lasagna Recipe (Serves 8 if no one goes overboard)
- 8oz no-boil lasagna noodles
- 16oz cottage cheese
- 12oz grated parmesan
- 16oz shredded mozarella.
For the sauce:
- 1/2 lb lean ground beef
- 1/2 lb ground pork or pork sausage (no casing)
- 1/2 large green bell pepper, diced (seeds and veins removed)
- 1 cup diced button mushrooms
- 1/2 medium white or yellow onion, diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp Oregano
- 1 tsp Basil
- 1 tsp Rosemary
- 1 tsp Sage
- 28 oz tomato sauce
- 14 oz stewed tomatoes
- 1/4 cup dry red wine
- 1 tsp red pepper flaks
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 13X9X2 oven-safe pan. I use glass, mom uses metal. I don’t notice a big difference.
- large skillet
- large pot (3 Qt or bigger)
- large colander
- wooden spoon
- chopping knife and cutting board.
First thing’s first, make your favorite pasta sauce. Sauce from scratch makes a big difference in the quality of your lasagna. At my and my mom’s houses, that means rich, thick vegetable and meat ragu. Oregano, basil, rosemary, red pepper flakes, bell peppers (I prefer green), onions, garlic and mushrooms cooked in a mixture of ground beef and pork and mixed with tomato sauce and a splash of red wine and then further cooked down, so the sauce isn’t too “green” or “young” tasting.
To Make My Favorite Sauce:
- Brown the ground beef, pork, spices, diced onions, peppers, mushrooms and garlic in a large skillet.
- Drain the grease from the meat.
- Put meat and vegetables in your sauce pot.
- Add tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes and red wine. Leave to simmer on low for at least 30 minutes. An hour or more is best.
- Place a layer of no-cook lasagna noodles in a deep rectangular pan. Spread a thick layer of sauce over the top.
- Spread a layer of cottage cheese over the top.
- Sprinkle with Parmesan.
- Repeat until the pan is full–the top layer should be sauce and cheese, not pasta.
- Cover with foil or baking paper (be careful it’s not touching the top of the dish, it will get stuck) and cook in a 375ºF oven for 40 minutes.
- Uncover, add grated parmesan and mozarella to the top. Cook for 5 more minutes or until the mozarella and parmesan are melted.
- Serve right away or reheat at your gathering. Lasagna keeps and freezes very well and is a great thing have on hand and get out for company.
Lasagna recipe modifications for eaters with dietary or time restrictions:
- Make this recipe faster by buying your favorite canned sauce ( I don’t recommend pesto), grated cheeses, and no-boil lasagna noodles.
- Make this recipe gluten free with gluten-free lasagna noodles
- Make it vegetarian by making a meatless pasta sauce
- Make it vegan with vegetable sauce and non-dairy cheese or skip the cheese and add pine nuts.
- Make it lower fat by substituting lean ground turkey for the beef and pork, and using low-fat cheeses.
- Make it higher fiber by using more vegetables in your sauce, substituting whole-wheat lasagna noodles, or eggplant and zucchini slices for traditional white noodles. Note, if you substitute eggplant and zucchini for noodles, your sauce should be thicker, as the eggplant and zucchini will bring their own liquids to the mix.
Recipe for Baby Green Salad
- 16oz package of baby greens
- paper-thin sliced white onion, if desired
- 1/4 lb cherry or grape tomatoes
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp balsamic vinager
- pinch of salt
- pinch of freshly ground black pepper
- Buy one 16oz packages of baby greens and a fourth of a pound of cherry or grape tomatoes and put aside for the day of your event.
- Halve the cherry tomatoes
- Toss the baby greens with the tomatoes, and 1tbsp extra virgin olive oil, tsp balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste, if desired.
Since Lasagna is such a rich main dish, I try to keep the sides to a minimum. A simple green salad seems to combine better than pretty much anything else with the cheesy-tomato excess that is lasagna–better than salads with creamy sauces (Caesar) or feta cheese (Greek).
If you can buy the lady fingers already made, tiramisu is super-easy and can be made a couple of days ahead of time or frozen per internet sources, although I haven’t tried it personally, so can’t vouch for the results. Although, come to think of it, at a lot of restaurants I’ve been served slightly frozen tiramisu….. There are lots of recipes out there, and everyone’s got their preferences. I prefer Tiramisu to be lightly, not overpoweringly sweet, and not to work with raw eggs, as I worry about making someone sick. So here goes:
Recipe for Tiramisu (Serves 8)
- 4 cups marscarpone
- 2 cups whipped cream
- 2 tbsp kahlúa or sweet coffee liquor of your choice
- 6 oz ladyfingers (cookies, not body parts)
- 1 cup strong espresso
- 2 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder.
- Whip marscarpone with kahlúa and whipped cream until thoroughly mixed. Put in the refrigerator.
- Dip lady-fingers in the espresso briefly, and line the bottom of a 12X8 dish (or similar) with them. You can use a round dish, but you’ll have to break ladyfingers—and it’ll get messy.
- Cover the lady fingers with a thick layer of the marscarpone filling.
- Sprinkle with a tsp of unsweetened cocoa powder.
- Repeat steps 1-4.
- Cover the pan and refrigerate for at least an hour.
- Tiramisu will keep and be visually appealing for 1-2 days. After that it tastes fine, but sometimes the cheese on top starts to crack.
- For a quick fix, whip some fine sugar into the marscarpone filling, and serve with one lady finger in cocktail glasses or dessert bowls.
- To make it gluten free, use gluten free lady fingers if you can find them, or use the above trick, and substitute the ladyfinger for a gluten free cookie or pastry of your choice.
- Even simpler, serve the whipped filling as Tiramisu-mousse in your best glassware with some fresh raspberries or chocolate covered coffee beans for garnish.
- Cutting out caffeine or alcohol? Substitute decaf espresso, and coffee-flavored syrup for the liquor.