Lasagna

On October 27, 2015, in Featured, Recipes, by Chris Baccus
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Growing up with an Italian mother, well 3/4 Italian and 1/4 French, made for some pretty amazing meals that a young boy never could truly appreciate. However, there was one dish my mom was famous for: Lasagna. It was a staple of the holidays at our home. She definitely took a lot of pride making it for family and guests and people lavished their praise.

As I grew older and as my own taste matured too, I came to appreciate what a great lasagna takes to perfect. Many restaurants and home cooks try to make this classic dish and fail.  There is too much sauce, they use sub-par ingredients or there are too many extras spinach, mushrooms and meats that it all becomes too complex and loses the perfection of a simple lasagna.

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Mine is different than my mother’s, not because I think less of her’s; rather, I wanted to do my own take on this dish.  For me it is all about using the best ingredients.  Since moving to Los Angeles, that hasn’t been too easy with some failures in finding the key ingredient – fresh ricotta cheese.  Fortunately, I finally found a rich and creamy ricotta that is sold by Laurent Bonjour’s Cheese Corner found Saturdays at the La Canada Farmers’ Market.

I also make a homemade pasta sauce that I lightly blend with a hand mixer. You can use two jars of your favorite pasta sauce. I recommend Mario Batali’s marinara if you do not have time to make your own.

The sauce, ricotta, and a quality Parmigiano-Reggiano have the most impact in my opinion. I haven’t found much difference when it comes to the pasta noodle or even with the mozzarella you choose.

Lasagna
Serves 4-6

1 lb lasagna noodles
4 cups basic red pasta sauce
1 lb fresh ricotta cheese
3/4 lb mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
2 Spicy Italian sausages, cooked and crumbled
or 1 bunch spinach, washed and rough chopped lightly sauteed)
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Preheat oven at 35o degrees.

Cook the noodles for about 6 minutes in boiling  water. Do not overcook. You want the noodles to be soft but still firm. Drain and set aside.

In a bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, 1/4 cup Parmesan, parsley and the oregano.

Spread a layer of sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 13 lasagna pan. Add a layer of noodles.  Spread ricotta cheese mixture over noodles. Sprinkle some crumbled cooked sausage (or chopped spinach) over ricotta cheese mixture. Add a thin layer of pasta sauce and sprinkle with mozzarella.  Repeat this process two more times. Finally add one last layer of noodles and then add a layer of pasta sauce and mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle top with the remaining 1/4 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Cover the lasagna with foil and cook in the oven for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, remove foil and cook uncovered for 15 minutes more. Finally remove from oven and let it rest for 10 minutes. Cut and serve.

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An Appreciation for Home Cooking Begins at Home

On April 26, 2013, in Family, by Chris Baccus
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I was reading an interview with food author Michael Pollan earlier today. He did an interview with Grub Street NY as part of the promotional tour for his new book Cooked. The interview talked a lot about Pollan’s experience with food through his family and mostly from his mother.

This got me thinking about my own personal experience with food, especially the early days.  I grew up in the late 1970s and 80s when the growth of convenience food was taking root as more families moved to two-income households and family meals cooked by mom was becoming less and less of a normal thing.

In our house it was still the norm. My mom stayed at home. Mostly that is when my parents weren’t separated or later divorced; though, by the time of the divorce I was 16 and I was pretty much done being raised by my parents. The last part of “living at home” was with my grandparents, but that’s a whole other story, and yes home cooking continued at grandma’s house too.

Back to the food.

With a stay at home mom and one who was half Italian and half French, a home cooked meal was pretty much every night.  We had a lot of typical things from the 1970s and 80s so it wasn’t some locavore, sustainable farming exercise.  There were a lot of canned vegetables, especially corn and green beans but I never minded. I loved both and would in fact come home from school sometimes and eat a whole can of corn that I would cook then add a  little butter to it.

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Still there were issues of Gourmet and Bon Appetite magazines that arrived in the mail from time to time.  This was both good and bad. I recall one dish my mom used to make that I never liked, though I do now. She made a ground beef and rice stuffed bell pepper.  She might as well have served me calf’s liver and boiled brussel sprouts.

So there were definitely moments when I could’ve done without Gourmet magazine’s influence, but for the most part home cooking was instilled into what we did at home as a family.

My mom also became known for a particular dish that to this day comes up in family conversation – lasagna. “Barbara’s lasagna” is legendary.  I have the recipe on an index card in my recipe folder; though, I’ve gone my own way with it and make mine in a similar though different manner. Still I’m sure side-by-side my mom’s would win.

387715_2806650369933_124449867_nIt’s that pride that comes from making a stellar dish that eventually made me love cooking. Without a home where that happens, one misses what the joy of cooking is really all about. It’s not about it being a chore; though, yes it can at times feel that way. No it’s about making that dish your family and friends love. Everyone lit up when lasagna was made or another favorite family dish, goulash.  No one ever gets excited when some pre-packaged convenience food from the freezer is thawed and heated up.

Some things have changed with time and it’s a bit different in our home. We mostly buy from local farms and what we can’t find there we buy organic.  It’s also maybe once every 3 months that we have a canned vegetable. We have raised our boys on eating fresh fruits and vegetables with every meal so our kids eat tomatoes, bell peppers, green beans, carrots and just about every kind of fresh fruit.

Home cooking is fun; it’s memorable, but most of all it’s an important family experience I did eventually come to appreciate more and more as I carry the tradition on today with my own family.

Thanks mom.

 

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