The holiday got into full swing with Pauline's tree trimming party. We had Christmas coming out of our ass with caroling (hint, do not have Pauline set the pitch), tree trimming, and hot spiked cider. We alternated singing secular (Jingle Bells) and sacred (Away in a Manger) ending in an off key but lusty version of Santa Baby. Somehow she was able to fit 25 people into a her apartment. Good conversation abounded. On the menu was a cheese platter with grapes, chevre, maytag blue cheese, and pepper jack; a salad with mixed greens (one of the best innovvations for home cooks), more bleu cheese, candied walnuts, and pears with a meyer lemon vinaigrette I made with the Riesling Vinegar and the Cilantro Grapeseed oil. The centerpiece of the meal is a lasagna that's legendary. She has never worked off of a recipe so this year J and I decided to play sous chef while writing down the measurements of ingredients. This makes two lasagnas, one vegetarian, one sausage. The vegetarian is for the those who don't eat meat and those who require their ground meat in patty form. It can easily be halved to make one or the other.
1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/4 cup of olive oil
1 pound of sliced button mushrooms
1 16oz can of sliced black olives
2 32 oz cans of tomato sauce
2 32 oz cans of chopped tomatoes
1 8 oz can of tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons each of dried oregano, tarragon, sage, and thyme
1 tablespoon of dried rosemary, crushed
1 long medium heat pepper (Anaheim, cubanelle etc)
1 cup of red wine
Salt and pepper to taste
The rest of the ingredients:
2 pounds of lasagna noodles
4 links of hot Italian sausage
1 1/2 bags of spinach, chiffonaded (is that a word)
2 large containers of ricotta cheese
1 pound of aged provolone, grated
1 pound of pecorino romano, grated (best done ina food processor)
It all starts with the homemade sauce. Tip to the cook - make this ahead of time because this takes the bulk of the evening.
It starts with sauteeing a large chopped onion and 4 cloves of chopped garlic in a quarter cup of olive oil (use a large stock pot for this) for about 10 minutes until translucent. Add about a pound of sliced button mushrooms (if you want to go all gourmet you can add portobellos, creminis and shitake) and a 16 oz can of sliced black olives and saute for another 15 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 20 minutes, adding salt and pepper as needed.
While the sauce is simmering, take the sausage meat out of the casing and sautee in a little bit of olive oil, making sure to break the meat apart as much as possible. Saute for about 5 minutes. In the meantime, boil lasange noodle in salted water with about 1/4 cup of olive oil until VERY al dente (take 5 minutes off the cooking time on the box). I will make a note and say that chiffonading the spinach is key to the integrity of this dish. It ensure the spinach can be easily distributed. When noodles are done, toss them in olive oil to keep them from sticking.
Now it's time to layer. For all lasagnas, start with a layer of sauce to keep the lasagna from sticking to the pan. Then layer in the following order: noodles/ricotta/provolone/romano/spinach/sauce/sausage. Repeat until you are out of ingredients, making sure to have enough sauce and cheese for the top layer. It's best to cover the lasagnas with plastic wrap and let them sit overnight but if you have to, bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. If it is coming straight out of the fridge, bake for an hour.