Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lasagna shells

So you want a lasagna, the really yummy, homemade kind, but you're a little low on time/patience. Try lasagna shells. You're going to have to forgive me the oddball instructions. I cook this one without a recipe, pretty much, and vary its size on which casseroles are clean and unspoken for.

I'll try to give a 9x13 recipe, but it may be a couple of 6x9s.

Four strips bacon, chopped
An onion, diced
Six cloves of garlic, minced
Two medium carrots, chopped
A big stalk of celery, chopped
A pound of ground (but hot Italian sausage is better!)
A cup of dry white wine
1 big can (28 ounce) crushed tomatoes in puree
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
As much basil as you've got, within reason, chopped or pureed.

Cook bacon on low heat in a big sauce pan or high-walled skillet (it needs to hold all this stuff). Raise the heat to medium.
When the bacon's pretty much cooked and the fat's rendered out, dump in the onion and garlic. Cook about 5 minutes, then dump in carrots and celery. Cook another five minutes, then dump in sausage. Brown the sausage, pour off fat if you're crazy or on a diet, then add the wine. Cook off alcohol for a few minutes, then add tomato products. At this point, you have about 15 minutes of simmering to go. The tomato paste is the key to that. If you don't add tomato paste, you cheap short-cutter, you're in for a 45-minute simmer to achieve the same effect.
When you're on short final, add the basil. I preserve basil by pureeing it with olive oil and a little garlic, then freezing it. For this sauce, I use maybe a third of a cup of frozen puree and just drop the frozen chunk in when there's 15 minutes to go.

As soon as you hit this point, you can cook the shells, but only to the what the box says is al dente. Don't go farther or they'll become fragile and wussy.

Also at this point, mix a 1-pound tub cottage cheese (yeah, yeah. Ricotta. OK, buddy, what do you think "ricotta" means?), a quarter-cup or more freshly grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano and a few sprigs freshly chopped parsley. If you're big on cheese, slice up some fresh mozzarella, too, small enough to fit in a shell.

Now it's hammer time. Strain the noodles and rinse with cold water to arrest cooking. Spread some sauce in the bottom of your casserole(s).

Fill the noodles with a portion of the cottage cheese mixture and top, if you have mozz., slap a slice on each shell as you put it into the casserole(s).

When all the noodles are in the dish, cover with as much of the sauce that's left as you like (I always have leftovers, which I always freeze). Unless you're out of Parm, grate some more on top, and...

Bake at 350 degrees until bubbly, then wait a while and eat!

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