I don't know about where you live, but here in Berlin there is no sign of spring yet. Sure, all the snow and ice melted a few weeks ago - but the temperatures are still stubbornly hovering just above freezing and we are seeing little snow flurries every time the sun disappears (whimper). This has been a seriously brutal winter - for people all over the Northern Hemisphere - and I for one decided I needed more good hearty comfort food to see me through its final weeks (we'll just forget everything I said before about a diet).
I think when it comes to comfort food, Lasagna might be the king. It is hearty and filling, oozing with cheese - just the perfect combination of simple flavors and ingredients. Even the lengthy preparation of Lasagna is somehow cathartic and soothing to me. The smells of simmering marinara, sizzling meat, and sauteing onions and garlic fill the house - then once it goes in the oven add to that the smell of bubbling parmesan and mozzerella cheese. Everyone will start to gather to the kitchen, only to finally come together around the table and fill their bellies to complete satisfaction. There is nothing better.
After a meal like that, I always feel warm and cozy and a little sleepy. Snuggle up on the couch with a good movie and falling asleep is the perfect dessert. My dreams will be filled with sunny summer days relaxing in biergarten's by the Spree sipping a cold banana Weizen - that is coming soon enough (I hope!) - but for now I might as well enjoy the last cold days of winter with some warm comforting food.
1 lb mince meat - pork and beef mix (450g hackfleish gemischte)
4 cups Simple Marinara Sauce
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1/2 large onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped, plus 5 or 6 whole leaves
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 Tbs dried oregano
1/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
salt and pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 or 2 glugs Red Wine
2 cups fresh grated parmesan cheese (or thereabouts, I don't measure it exactly)
250 g fresh Ricotta cheese (about 1.5 cups)(you could easily use more in this recipe if you like more creaminess in your lasagna)
1 largish ball fresh Mozzerella cheese, sliced thin (you want like 8 to 10 slices)
1 small tomato, sliced into 6 slices
12 to 16 whole wheat Lasagna noodles, prepared to package directions (if not fresh - someday I will get myself a pasta roller and make my own).
First, brown the meat. Heat a 12-inch skillet over high heat. Add a wee bit of olive oil then add the meat and stir around. You want it to get brown and yummy - not to steam or boil - so it needs a big, hot pan so as not to crowd. Once it has gotten nice and browned/seared (not necessarily cooked all the way through) turn the heat down some and let it cook until its mostly done. Add a few glugs of wine and stir, scraping up all the tasty brown bits from the pan. Remove from the heat and set aside.
In a large saute pan or casserole (it needs high sides), heat a few tablespoons of Olive Oil over medium heat. Add the carrots, celery, and onion and saute, stirring occasionally, until the onions become translucent. Add the garlic and dried oregano and cook until all the veggies are just soft. Add the meat and stir to combine, then add the Marinara sauce and nutmeg and stir well.
Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for a good 20 or 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the fresh herbs and around 2/3 cup fresh grated parmesan and stir (if you substitute dried basil and parsley though, add it at the same time as the dried oregano). Taste and season with salt/pepper as needed.
Season your Ricotta with salt and a good amount of fresh ground black pepper. Preheat your oven to 375 F/190 C. Now assemble the lasagna in a large casserole dish (like 9x13 inches - can be smaller if the sides are higher).
First, put a small amount of the bolognese sauce in the bottom of the dish so that it is just covered, then place noodles over the top - break or trimming the noodles to fit the pan. Spread about 1/2 the ricotta over the noodles, then grate parmesan cheese over the ricotta. Add another layer of noodles, then a good amount (like most) of the sauce. Next, another layer of noodles, then ricotta. For me, this was the final layer - but continue making these layers until you have your last layer of ricotta and a small amount of marinara left over. I then spread my remaining amount of marinara over this top layer of ricotta, then placed the slices of Mozzerella over that. Then I arranged slices of tomato and the basil leaves over this. Grate and fair amount of parmesan over all of this, sprinkle with some olive oil, and cover with tin foil.
Bake, covered, for around 20 minutes - the cheese on top should all be melted and the sauce should be bubbly. Then remove the foil and cook uncovered for another 30 to 40 minutes more, until its all quite bubbly and the cheese is browning on top. Let cool for a few minutes before cutting.
This makes around 6-8 decent sized servings.
I heart film. - A little over a year ago I bought a Canon Ae-1 and last week I found the first roll of film I shot on it and finally had it processed (Its been a crazy year ...