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Marilyn’s Lasagna

Lasagna

Mmmm Good! Lasagna

Ah, Lasagna! Pasta, yet not quite. It is in a class all by itself: Layers of cheese, sauce, and noodles all fused together to make one beautiful culinary delight!

There are those who make their lasagna with cottage cheese and those who prefer ricotta. Personally, I like the smooth and creamy taste and texture of ricotta. It isn’t as wet as cottage cheese and spreads a little easier and doesn’t leave lumps like cottage cheese does. But, in a pinch, cottage cheese will do. Just drain it very well and run it through the blender to smooth it out, and it will work nearly as well as ricotta.

The ingredients are fairly flexible. The main thing is the sauce, the cheeses, and the noodles. Add meat, spinach, and mushrooms or not. It makes a great lasagna either way.

This makes quite a bit of lasagna. If you are expecting more guests, double the amounts.

Marilyn’s Lasagna

1 lb. lean ground beef
1 lb. good quality sweet Italian sausage in bulk
1 lb. of ricotta cheese (16 ounce container)
2-1/2 to 3 cups of GOOD QUALITY “fresh” Parmesan cheese shreds–My rant: Don’t ruin it and don’t even bother trying to make this with that stuff in the green container that passes for Parmesan. Don’t go cheap on this particular cheese!!
3 cups of shredded Provolone cheese
3 cups of shredded Mozzarella cheese
1 lb. box of lasagna noodles
4 to 5 cups of your favorite homemade or good-quality spaghetti sauce
a splash of wine for the sauce (optional)
mushrooms (optional)
3 TBSP Italian broadleaf parsley, finely chopped (can substitute regular parsley–try for fresh if you can find it)
2 cloves finely minced garlic cloves
1 egg

1. Start browning the Italian sausage until no longer pink–don’t allow it to crisp. Drain well. Follow with the ground beef and brown but don’t allow it to crisp.

2. Add the spaghetti sauce at this point and maybe 1/4 cup of wine (optional). Also add clean and chopped mushrooms (optional)

3. Add 1/4 cup GOOD quality Parmesan cheese shreds. Allow to simmer for flavors to blend.

4. In the meantime, get a big pot of water on to boil. Add about 1 tsp of salt and a splash of olive oil.

5. Once boiling, add the lasagna noodles carefully. Gently push them into the water without breaking and allow space between them. Occasionally stir the pot to keep them from clumping together. Cook until just barely done–to the “very chewy, firm” stage. Just enough to be pliable. Trust me. They will finish cooking during the bake time.

6. Drain well–rinse under cold water, gently separate the noodles if necessary. Set aside.

7. Mix the ricotta, egg, parsley, 1/4 to 1/2 cup of that good quality Parmesan shreds, garlic and blend well.

Now here is the fun part:

In a large baking dish, add some of the sauce on the bottom of the pan–about 1-1/2 cups of it. Spread it around to coat

We will be building 3 layers:

Add the first layer of noodles–you may have to cut them to fit.

Now, add a layer of ricotta mixture, 1/3 of it. “Butter” the noodle layers with it.

Sprinkle generously with 1/2 cup of Provolone shreds add 1/2 cup of Mozzarella shreds.

Add 1/3 of the remaining sauce, spread evenly.

top with 1/2 cup or more of Parmesan shreds

Add the second layer of noodles in the opposite direction. Again, you may need to trim the noodles to fit. Repeat with the ricotta, Provolone & Mozzarella, sauce and Parmesan cheese layers.

The last layer is where we get a little more wicked. After adding the noodles in the same direction as the first layer, the ricotta, cheeses,and sauce, add about 3/4 cup of Parmesan shreds, 1 cup of Provolone shreds, 1 cup of Mozzarella shreds as the final topping. You want to cover the top very thoroughly.

Cover loosely with aluminum foil

Bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes and remove the foil and bake until the top has a nice golden brown crust.

Now, the secret to help this slice into squares without turning into a sloppy mess: Let it rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

Easy Homemade Spinach-Mushroom Ravioli

This year, I’ve promised myself to cut back on meat and make more vegetable-based meals. Not that we are turning vegetarian, but I do think we need to put more emphasis on fruits, grains and vegetables and less on meat.

The challenge is to come up with tasty ideas that will go over well.

Here is an easy homemade ravioli recipe to try:

Easy Homemade Spinach-Mushroom Ravioli

Easy Homemade Spinach-Mushroom Ravioli

Easy Homemade Spinach-Mushroom Ravioli

Using Wonton wrappers makes this a breeze. You can find them in most grocery stores in the specialty section of the produce section or in the international food aisles:

24 wonton wrappers
1 cup low fat or fat free ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/4 cup fresh grated or Parmesan cheese shreds (Please don’t use that nasty stuff in the green cylindrical container!)
1 cup fresh spinach leaves–buy the already washed leaves, pat dry if you do rinse them again.
1 clove crushed garlic
1 tsp. parsley
1/2 cup chopped mushrooms

Egg Wash:

1 beaten egg yolk with 2 tablespoons of water

1. Mix the ricotta, egg, garlic, parsley, and Parmesan together.

2. Chop the leaf portion of the spinach. Discard stems and add the chopped leaves to the ricotta mixture.

3. Saute the chopped mushrooms in a little heated olive oil until softened. Remove with slotted spoon, draining well.

4. Mix into the ricotta mixture

5. Separate the wonton wrappers. Cut each one in half. Brush each half with the egg wash. Set one half of the divided wrapper aside.

6. On the first half, lightly mark across (not through) to mark the half wrapper into 2 squares.

7. Place the prepared filling–a small teaspoon in the center of each marked square.

8. Now, place the other half of the wrapper, egg wash side down, over the top of the first wrapper. Before pinching together, make sure all air pockets are pressed out.

9. Pinch to seal. Cut between the two ravioli and if you have a pastry wheel, cut all edges.  Or after cutting with a knife, use a fork and on all sides, press down to mark the edges.

10. Set aside on a non-stick baking sheet. When all are finished, you should have about 48 average sized ravioli. Refrigerate about the time it takes to set a large pot of salted water to a brisk boil.

11. Remove the ravioli and cook. They are done when they float to the top of the water. Be sure not to crowd them!

13. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain well.

Serve with your favorite spaghetti or marinara sauce, and be sure to sprinkle some extra FRESH parmesan shreds on top!

–Note: If you don’t need to cook all 48 of these ravioli for dinner, use what you need and freeze the rest on the non-stick baking sheet and then pop them into freezer bags. You can add them directly from the freezer to a pot of boiling water for a quick dinner.

If you aren’t “in” to spinach or mushrooms, you can make these with fried and drained, seasoned ground beef or Italian sausage. You can also make plain cheese ravioli. Simply omit the spinach and mushrooms from the ricotta blend.

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