Lasagna is a great dish because you can make it partially or competely ahead of time. Last weekend, due to some scheduling limitations, I planned to make the lasagna over two days. Because I've never undertaken quite this elaborate amount of pre-prep work for a one-dish wonder, I journaled the experience.
|The ingredients of ricotta|
|The epic fail - not many curds|
|More liquid than curd|
|Mushrooms & meat|
Cost tally: $3.50 for the beef, $2.00 for mushrooms
Day almost 2 - Over 4 hours into cooking and still have at least about 1 - 2 hours since the sauce has to simmer. This tomato sauce promises to be good - borrowed liberally from a Nancy Silverton recipe in Bon Appetit. Chopped carrots - baby carrots were flying everywhere! Had to buy those because I know I can use the rest up another day to make my maple-glazed carrots (really good recipe too). Diced up celery and really cut the amount because we are not celery people. Added the monstrous cans of San Marzano tomatoes (there's another $5.00 for tomatoes alone!). Combined sauce with mushroom/meat mixture and called it a day! Total dollar tally for the day's lasagna making- $20 (if you count the carrots and celery at about $1.00)
Day 2 - Pasta day! I found a $20 pasta roller at TJ Maxx, so I'm ready to roll out lasagna noodles. (That does not count toward the total since I've owned it since this summer). I go to the best pasta recipe I've found, oddly enough from The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Italian which would not seem like the most authentic Italian food tome, but Maria Guarnaschelli was the editor, so it meets with her exacting standards. (Her daughter, Alex, is the resident mean judge on "Chopped"). Why is this the best? Because it involves adding actual semolina flour and not just all-purpose. Makes it seem more authentic to me and has better texture (more nubby to pick up sauce).
|Happy cooked noodles|
|Dried and ready|
Cost of noodles - about $0.50 total for the flour and minor amount of good olive oil and good salt. Cheap chic!
Day 2 1/2 - This was a MUCH easier day today. Ready to assemble the lasagna after only about 2 hours of work (noodles have to cook in batches about 3 minutes each - takes time). Layer, layer, layer it up! I splurged on real shredded parmesan, not the stuff from a can. A little pricey ($3.00 for 3 oz), but worth it! Oh, and mozzarella is in there too, but I stuck with traditional shredded, not fresh. Different textures - $2.50 for the mozzarella (on sale).
7:30 pm - Lasagna is DONE baking. I threw in some garlic bread to toast the last 15 minutes of cooking and we are ready to eat. After spending about 8 hours (not all the time was actively cooking) prepping, and WAITING, we are ready to eat! Total cost: $26! That's probably a little higher than I would want to spend to make a simple pan of lasagna, but it was memorable and I'm glad I tried it!
How was the taste? Well, the ricotta has a lemony freshness and is pillowy soft, not like the grainy texture of store bought... when you taste it by itself. In the lasagna, it wasn't distinguishable from the store bought. The mushrooms had a nice flavor and meaty texture (baby bellas are the best), but couldn't really taste anything special from the preparation with the sherry once in the lasagna. Tomato sauce did taste different than store bought, even in the lasagna. Had a nice freshness and the carrot added a great sweetness and dimension. Noodles were different - they had more flavor.
|Yummy yummy $26 in the tummy!|
Overall, there are things I WILL do next time I make "Date Lasagna" from my experiment - I probably will make my own noodles and add mushrooms. I might even make a homemade tomato sauce, especially since you can make that ahead and freeze it. Each of those components add something special to the dish. Plus, the noodles made leftovers I turned into a pasta dish the next day. Loved that option! Everything else? Less likely. That said, it was a delicious experiment.