LASAGNA DINNER – RECORD BREAKING PREPARATION!
My Stepdaughter was scheduled to come over our house for a belated Birthday Dinner Tuesday Night, but Monday afternoon at about 3:45 Tina called and said she had forgotten that she had concert tickets for Tuesday Night and that she was working all the rest of the week. (She works 12 hours day in the Emergency Room of our local hospital) Could she come over tonight instead? She had requested Lasagna for dinner along with Chocolate Cake for dessert. My plan was to spend most of Tuesday baking and cooking and I was going to make home-made pasta for the Lasagna.
Well, plans got shifted dramatically. Fortunately, I had done the shopping for dinner on Monday except for the Lasagna Noodles which my husband went out to buy. At 4 in the afternoon I started cooking Lasagna (usually an all-day project) for dinner at 6:30. Here is how it went.
This was going to be Mushroom Lasagna and I had purchased 4 different kinds of Mushrooms for it. We had:
Crimini (Baby Portobello
I put on a big pot of Water so that it would be ready when my husband returned. I then diced an Onion and started sautéing in Olive Oil in my Dutch Oven.
While the Onion was sautéing, I cleaned and sliced the Mushrooms. The Brown Crimini were first. While they were sautéing, I then cleaned and sliced the Lobster Mushrooms. The Lobster Mushrooms are named, not because they taste like but Lobster, but look like Lobster Meat. These Mushrooms are somewhat denser and tougher than the Brown ones and need to cook for a bit longer.
Next came the White Mushrooms and then the Oyster. Again, the Oyster are named for their appearance. They have the shape of an Oyster and when growing are clustered together almost like Oysters do in the Oyster bed. I did salt the Mushrooms while they were sautéing. Salt not only adds flavor but tends to pull out the excess moisture from the Vegetables.
Next I crushed some Garlic and added it to the Mushrooms. To this I added some Marsala Wine and cooked it on high heat to reduce it down to just its flavor. To all this, I added 2 cans of Crushed Tomatoes. You want to use a good quality of crushed Tomatoes (or use fresh and crush your own). Lesser quality Tomatoes will be watery and you want to avoid this. I turned the heat down to simmer and let it cook while I prepared the rest of the ingredients. The time now was about 4:45. At the end of the cooking period I added some fresh minced Basil. Fresh Herbs should always be added at the end so that they do not lose their flavor.
Usually I will make a Béchamel Sauce (White Sauce) as a vessel for the Ricotta Cheese but today I did not have time, so I just added two Eggs to 1 lb. of Cheese and thoroughly mixed them in.
Then I shredded the Parmesan Reggiano and cut up the Mozzarella. Usually I will chop the Mozzarella in the Food Processor but the Cheese I had purchased this time was sliced, but sliced too thickly so I had to cut it up into small pieces.
The Water had come to a boil and my Husband had returned with the Pasta. I put a good portion of Salt into the Water (this was a big pot) and added the Pasta. Salt not only adds flavor to the pasta but also helps to increase the temperature of the water and therefore shorten the cooking time. This particular Pasta took about 10 minutes to cook. I recommend using Italian Pasta for all your Pasta dishes, unless you prefer to make your own which in that case is the ‘best’.
While the Pasta was cooking I washed the package of Asparagus that I had purchased and cut off the bottoms to save for Cream of Asparagus Soup. I then placed them in a oven-proof baking dish and sprinkled with Sea Salt and Olive Oil. Over this I added a package of Beech Mushrooms, diced Tomatoes and African Blue Basil Leaves. You can use any kind of Basil. The African Blue has small leaves and does not need to be snipped or crushed to use. I covered this with Aluminum Foil and set it aside to put in the oven when the Lasagna was half-done.
Next I drained the Pasta into my largest Colander and rinsed it just enough to keep the pieces from sticking together. Next oiled my Pasta Baking Dish and started assembling the Lasagna. First came a lengthwise layer of Pasta which was then topped with the Ricotta Cheese Mixture. Next came a layer of Sauce topped with Shredded Parmesan and Mozzarella.
On the next layer the Pasta was laid cross-wise (this makes it easier to cut the Lasagna when serving) with a layer of Ricotta, Sauce, and Parmesan. The next layer repeated the first except that no sauce was added. Layers one & two were repeated with Mozzarella being on top. I could have gone another layer but there were only four of us for dinner and I didn’t want to have too much left over.
I then set the Lasagna aside to prepare the Salad. The time now was 5:15.For the Salad I had a mixture of different types of Organic Baby Salad Greens. Added to this were diced Home-Grown Tomatoes & Cucumbers. The dressing was a Balsamic Vinaigrette which was added just before serving.
Since this was a Spur of the Moment Dinner, Appetizers were re-heated Vegetable Tempura from the night before (Mushrooms, Carrots and Home-Grown Asian Egg Plant.
The Bread that was served was an Olive Bread that I made from leftover Pizza Dough. Purchased Olive Salad was spread on the Pizza Dough that had been rolled out to a thin rectangle and then rolled up Jelly Roll fashion. It was baked at 400 degrees until the bread was well-browned. About 30-40 minutes.
Dessert could not be the Chocolate Cake that was planned for today, but we did have Chocolate Brownies that I had made the day before and since this was the cake version of Brownies, they worked perfectly for dessert.
Out Beverage was home-brewed Iced Tea. All in all, in spite of the short time notice, dinner turned out very good and everyone loved the Lasagna, especially my Step-Daughter for whom the meal was made. I figured this could be a rehearsal for a Cooking Competition Show in which the contestants have a limited amount of time to prepare their dishes. Watch out guys! I may give you some competition!