Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Ghost of Christmas Pasta

Forgive me, the pun had to be done.

This is our christmas dinner, in a bit of a fit of untraditional abandon, it's Lasagne.

Christmas Lasagne

This is a bit of an odd Lasagne, but it was relatively easy to create.

Semi-Long Mushroom Sauce:

2 T Olive oil
a healthy sprig of fresh thyme
3 or 4 cloves of garlic, sliced thin
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound crimini or button mushrooms, sliced
1 oz dried porcini mushrooms, reconstituted in hot water then strained, soaking water reserved, and after any extra grit is picked out of the mushrooms, they are then diced.
1 large can of strained imported italian tomatos. A can of tomato puree would also work. *
1 cup strong red table wine (In this case, a $3 Merlot that was languishing in the fridge)
1 T double concentrated tomato paste
a heathy sprig of fresh oregano **

In a large heavy bottomed pot, heat the oil over medium heat, add the garlic, red pepper and thyme. Once the garlic is golden, either remove it from the oil so that it does not get burnt and bitter, or if your pot has smooth sides like a bowl, push it up the side until it is off the heat. Add the crimini or button mushrooms and just a sprinkling of salt, and let this cook until just a bit browned. Add the red wine, cook for a moment, then the tomatos, and the garlic again, the soaking liquid, the diced porcini, the tomato paste and the oregano. Let this marry a bit at a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes, partially covered so that you don't loose liquid. Adjust for salt and pepper for your tastes.

"Ricotta-Tofu" Filling: ***
1/2 pint skim ricotta
1/2 lb firm tofu, passed through a potato ricer
1 chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, diced
healthy pinch of salt, pepper, and garlic powder
2 T minced Mint
2 T minced Basil
2 T minced parsley
1 Cup cooked long grain wild rice
(Optional: One egg.)

Mix all "ricotta filling" ingredients in a large bowl, adjust salt, pepper to your tastes.

Have some "instant" no-boil lasagne noodles ready, (Barilla makes them, they are lasagne noodles that are thinner than normal, and they cook in the sauce. They are excellent, a great time saver if you want lasagne in a hurry,) as well as three zuccini, sliced lengthwise into long thin strips and left raw. ****

In a 9 x 15 or so pan, layer the ingredients... Sauce, noodles, zuccini, filling, until you run out. I got three layers and was just missing enough sauce to coat the top, as is traditional. So if you guys want to double the sauce and have enough for the top of the lasagne, then save the rest for pasta, it will keep in the fridge for about a week.

Cover the pan, and cook this at 350 to 400 for around an hour. Let it sit for 15 minutes, covered, and then serve!

* Always use an imported italian tomato if you can get it. Make sure that the tomatos have no sugar and no citric acid added. The absence of these two extra ingredients usually means a good imported tomato. Italian san marzano tomatos are sweet, so any sugar is a tip off that you may not be getting the ripest tomato. Citric acid is added as a preservative, which they don't really need, because they are canned, ie: already preserved. So citric acid doesn't usually help there, but it actually does impart and acidic tone to the tomatoes that can add to any reflux issues that you may already have with tomatoes. In the best situation, the ingredients on your canned tomatoes should read, "tomato," and maybe one other ingredient like basil, or salt. I like it when a packager lets you taste the tomatoes for themselves and then decide whether you think they need sugar or salt or acid.

** Notice the order of adding the herbs to the sauce. Earthy, hearty herbs like thyme, rosemary, and sage, do well in a sauce at the beginning, to get their flavors into the oil. Fresher herbs with a lighter, gentler profile, (oregano, parsley, basil, etc) have milder flavors that tend to get lost as they cook, so they go in at the end, and they stand up much better. However, if the herbs are dried, they can go into the sauce sooner.

*** The filling takes the place of both the traditional layer of ricotta and herbs, and the seasoned meat in a meat based lasagne. The wild rice adds a grassy, herby, almost chocolate flavor that combines well with the herbs and gives some texture that would normally be lacking in a normal vegetable lasagne. If you want to simulate a more meaty flavor, add some nutritional yeast or even soy sauce in along with the rice.

**** The zuccini strips end up raw on top of the no-boil noodles, which while a great innovation, can sometimes be a little too al dente if your sauce thickens up too much, or if you don't make enough sauce to saturate the lasagne. The zuccini hold a ton of water in them, which will expell as the pasta bakes. Since the zuccini are right on top of the noodles, all that water will go into the noodles, ensuring that they get done.

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