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Now I find that American versions, whether flat or frilly-edged are very, very thick, and produce too much chew. Whereas Italian versions tend to be thinner, and more delicate.
|There are also no-boil lasagnas, or would that be lasagne, which are pre-cooked and dried so they can be added to various applications in their mummified state. I've tried them, and gosh darn it, I don't like them. So, let's begin with a pound of the good imported stuff.||
|Having procured a top quality lasagna product, most recipes for lasagna—the dish, not the noodles—would call for these to be cooked, typically in a big, old cauldron of boiling water. You know what? I say, why bother? After all, I don't need them cooked, I just need them flexible, and that is a state easily achieved with just a quick soak in hot water from the sink - say about 100 degrees. The soak should last no less than 15 and no more than 30 minutes, which is plenty of time to prep the rest of the software.||
1 Pound Lasagna Noodles
Hot Water to Cover
The last king of Naples, Francesco
II, was nicknamed
Lasa due to his father's love of lasagna.
As far as I'm concerned, lasagna, the dish, has relatively few components, okay? There's meat, vegetables, noodles, and sauce, which we'll get to in a bit.
|Now, for the first two, I religiously observe a 3-to-3 ratio, meaning three meats and three vegetables, all right? Team vegetation will be played by a trio of Italian classics. We've got an average eggplant, about 10 ounces, about 10 ounces of zucchini, and two Portobello mushroom caps.||
10 Ounces Eggplant
10 Ounces Zucchini
2 Portobello Mushroom Caps
|As for the critter part of the equation, we've got one pound of sausage: that's four links, two hot, two mild. And eight ounces, that's half a pound of ground pork. Now, the sausages will have to come out of their casings, and you can either unwrap them candy bar style, or you can just squeeze them out like so much edible Play-Doh.||
1 Pound Beef Sausage, Half
Mild & Half Hot
8 Ounces Ground Pork
Now, as for the vegetation, we will begin
with the mushrooms, just slice those into 1/4 to 3/16 inch slices. No reason to
cut them up any more than that. We want them long and noodle-like.
As for the eggplant and the zucchini, I basically want to turn them into noodles, say three millimeters thick, and that is going to require some technology in the way of a slicer or a mandolin. Now this one just happens to have a three millimeter setting, an amazing coincidence.
So we begin on the zucchini. Just slice off a little of the stem end, and split down the middle. Now, before you put this to the mandolin, you want to don some protection, like this Kevlar glove which I like a lot, and just run the pieces through. It does not have to be pretty, and odds are it won't be. There you go.
Now as far as dealing with the eggplant, same routine. Just slice off a little bit of the stem end. It's a bit on the woody side. But instead of just halving, go ahead and quarter. It's going to be a lot easier to work with, and run it through. And work as quickly as you can, as these slices will turn brown with oxidation if you give them a chance. There.
Now, for reasons that will soon be revealed, I want to get as much excess moisture out of these as possible. Now I could just wring them out, but that would probably mangle them beyond usefulness, so we will take advantage of osmotic pressure, and purge them, a process that we have undertaken with both of these foods in previous episodes. [for zucchini, Squash Court II: for eggplant, Deep Purple]
|[at the sink, with the eggplant and zucchini in a colander] Sprinkle the eggplant and the zucchini with two tablespoons of salt, and allow to purge for 20 minutes, tossing after the first 10. This will pull out excess moisture, which is our enemy in this case.||2 Tbs. Kosher Salt|
Consider this shocking statistic: 87.3% of
all American-made lasagnas are watery, swampy messes. Why? Well most of them are
composed of fully cooked lasagna noodles that simply cannot drink up anymore of
the cooking liquid, and they usually contain a fair dose of flavorless
factory-made ricotta cheese, which is like 10 percent gritty and 90 percent
In restaurant environments, the situation is exacerbated by the use of two sauces. A meaty, reddish, Bolognese ragù, and a dairy-based balsamella [sic, besciamella?] which is essentially just a béchamel sauce. Now the question that I have for you today is this: can we get the flavors of these sauces into our lasagna without the additional liquid? The answer, of course we can.
|The only liquid that I am going to add to my lasagna will come out of a can. This can: whole, peeled Italian tomatoes. Now this is a 14.5 ounce can. Odds are I'm only going to use five, maybe six tomatoes, and a little of the juice.||
14½ Ounces Can Whole,
|Now I know what you're thinking, what about the besciamella, that's got milk in it, right? Well yeah, it does, but you know what? I've already got plenty of moisture, I don't need anymore of that, and I've got plenty of fat in the dish already. All that I really, really need are milk, carbs and milk proteins. So why not use milk powder, huh? I like goat milk powder because it's got a little bit of funk in the flavor, but, really any powdered milk would do because, again, I'm after the carbs and the proteins.||
½ Ounce Each Goat Milk
Powder + All-Purpose
|[at the pantry] One ingredient to go. Each year, I tend a little herb patch out on my porch, consisting of oregano, marjoram, thyme, rosemary, basil, and sage. Some of it, I use fresh, but a good bit of it, I allow to dry, and chop it up in my food processor to make my very own Italian herb blend. If you don't want to bother, you could always just, you know, buy an herb blend, but it won't be nearly as good. Now you're going to need two teaspoons of this.||2 tsp. Italian Herb Seasoning|
All right, time to rescue our vegetation. As you can see, a lot of moisture has been pulled out, rendering floppy, noodle-like strips. We need to rinse away the excess salt and bitter compounds, especially from the eggplant, and the best way to dry it off is the salad spinner. There we go. Just give that a few pumps or pulls depending on your make and model. There. [the spinner rattles around in the sink] Stay. There. Go ahead and pull the noodles out of water, and just lay them out onto tea towels. They don't have to be bone-dry. There.
Italian-American food was the first "ethnic" food to gain widespread acceptance in the US.
Now, if our calculations are correct, we
should have just enough lasagna to top the lasagna. But enough talk, we build.
Begin by layering the walls of the crock with the noodles, alright? It'll take a little bit of pressure, but as long as they're moist, you'll be able to get them to stick. And bring that all the way up to about a half an inch from the top. Then, squeeze one of the canned tomatoes into the bottom, juice and pulp and all, then break up half of the sausage. Top with 1/4 of the powdered milk, 1/4 of the flour, and 1/4 of the herb mixture. Then on top of that comes 1/4 of the vegetation. Of course the mixed zucchini/eggplant, and 1/4 of the mushrooms. Just lay it out into a nice, even layer. Then you're going to top that with a layer of noodles. That is level one, okay? And we're going to repeat this three more times. I like to squeeze down each level with a pot lid just to make sure there are no big air pockets, okay?
Repeat again with the tomatoes, some of the meat, some of the powders, some of the vegetation, and then of course, another layer of noodles, and repeat, alternating the sausage with the pork. I like to build so that in the end, my final layer has the pork going into it, rather than the sausage. There it goes.
Last but not least, the kind of lid of noodles should always be moistened with a little bit of the canned tomato juice, just to keep things from drying.
Now, at this point, we've got options. You could stash this covered in the fridge for up to two days, or we can move directly to the cooking phase.
I am now ready to divulge the secret ingredient. The substance that allows this lasagna to triumph. It is time. Five hours of cooking time and yes, your patience will be rewarded. Now I know what you're saying, you're saying, "Hey, I'm going to be out of the house seven hours. I can't be there to baby sit this thing." No problem. Fancy-shmancy new digital cookers typically have delayed cook functions and auto-off functions. Me, I prefer to marry two proven old school multi-taskers. My analog-style three-quart slow cooker, and a standard lamp or appliance timer available at your local hardware store. This is the kind of device you plug a lamp into in order to trick some burglar into thinking you're home when you're not. I am simply going to set it to begin cooking, ah, say in an hour, and then to discontinue five hours later. Activate the device and just walk away.
The earliest references combining
tomato sauce date back to only the 1830's.
7.3 hours later...
Ahh, just savor that aroma. Oh, I'm sorry, you, you can't smell, can you? Sorry. Well let me assure you, it's like being greeted by ...
IM: You're a good-a boy ... sometimes, ah! [slaps AB's cheek again, and exits]
Who keeps letting her in? Ow!
[at the Crock-Pot] Hmm, you know one of the most common lasagna-centric complaints is that it can be greasy. Well with all that sausage in there, how could it not be? Now it's a difficult issue to wrangle with when you're dealing with a rectangular vessel. Cooking deep and round like this gives us a very effective option, however. Simply take a lid from a two-quart sauce pan, and press down like this. Now the fat will gurgle up over the sides and into the top of the lid, pretty as you please. Now slowly lift off and discard, or whatever you want to do with it.
|Now, you may have noticed that so far, this lasagna is completely, totally devoid of cheese. I, for one, have no issue with this whatsoever. But, if cheesy, ooey-gooey goodness is a prerequisite for you and yours, then go ahead and lay, say, four ounces of standard grocery store mozz right on top. Grated, of course, would be best. Replace the top, and allow residual heat to do its thing, melting the cheese. It should take about 10 to 15 minutes.||
4 Ounces Mozzarella Cheese,
Then of course, you're going to want to
brown the cheese, aren't you? For that you're going to need either a blow torch,
or a heat gun, the kind that you buy at the hardware store and you use to strip
paint. It's pretty good at browning cheese as well. There, that looks finished.
[at the table] Now I realize that this is not your grandmother's lasagna, even if you are Italian. But, you know, the way I look at it, with four distinct layers, with all the meaty goodness, and the flavorful vegetation, and sauce to bind, and herbs, who cares? [tastes] Hmm, I would say, in fact, this is 9.5 on the comfort food meter. Can we go to 10? You haven't seen dessert yet.
The world's largest lasagna was made in 2008 and weighed in at 8,800 pounds.
GUESTS: Five "Fiddler on the Roof" Jews
[AB illustrates with a globe model of earth] This is a sphere. In German, kugel, which is also the name of what many Yiddish cooks would no doubt consider to be Jewish lasagna. Although savory kugels are often made with layers of potatoes and the like, many Jews and gentiles alike would agree that the most comforting kugel of them all are lokshun kugel, noodle kugel. And although fresh egg noodles are, strictly speaking ...
JEWS: [pop-up and yell] Tradition!!
... lasagna, in my humble opinion, does an even better job when sweet kugel are on the menu.
|We begin by cooking eight ounces of dry lasagna noodles in about half a gallon of boiling water, until they just become al dente. They won't be mushy, just kind of floppy, like this. Perfect. Go ahead and drain those, let them cool, and then lay them out on a cutting board so that you can cut them. Now I find that one-inch strips are easy to produce with a pizza cutter. A knife tends to get really gummed up, and when that happens, somebody's going to get hurt. Put in a bowl, and toss with one tablespoon of melted butter. There.||
8 Ounces Lasagna Noodles
1 Tbs. Unsalted Butter,
Now, as far as the baking vessel goes, we want an 8x8 inch glass dish, sprayed with non-stick spray. If you would prefer a crunchier kugel, you can go with a 9x13 baking dish instead.
|Now as for the custard, into the carafe of your blender goes eight ounces of sour cream, eight ounces of cream cheese, four whole eggs, three tablespoons of melted butter, 1/3 of a cup of sugar, half a teaspoon of kosher salt, one teaspoon of vanilla extract. Now, move that very carefully to your blender, and blend on low or medium until smooth. Of course, if you're going to stick a camera down in the top of your blender, you want to be very careful how you do this.||
8 Ounces Each Sour Cream &
Cream Cheese, Room
4 Whole Eggs
3 Tbs. Unsalted Butter,
1/3 Cup Sugar
½ tsp. Kosher Salt
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
Now I know you're looking at this mixture and thinking that it's very, very fatty. Well, as far as that goes, I said it was comfort food, I didn't say it was spa food. There's no such thing as comforting spa food.
|When smooth, the mixture goes onto the noodles. Then comes the fruit. Six ounces of dried apricots, coarsely chopped, and four ounces of golden raisins. Stir to thoroughly combine, and then move to your cooking vessel.||
6 Ounces Dried Apricots
+ 4 Ounces Golden Raisins
|Top that with two tablespoons of sugar, and a teaspoon of ... I never leave home without it. That's right, nutmeg, friends, finely grated. Cover tightly with foil, and bake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees.||
2 Tbs. Sugar
1 tsp. Freshly Grated Nutmeg
[at the oven] At this point, remove
the foil, and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the custard is
thoroughly set, and the noodles are nicely browned. Then ...
[now at the table] ... serve to a thankful, comforted world. Indeed, kugel is the most comforting dessert known to man, and a most comfortable culinary cohort to the most comforting casserole known to man, composed, of course, of the most comforting ingredient of all time, lasagna, of course.
If you want to keep comfortable in your pants, portion control is highly recommended. See you next time on comfortable Good Eats.
Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger
Last Edited on 12/01/2011