Monday, October 18, 2010

From freezer to oven: Homemade Lasagna

Last week, I tempted many of you with a photo from a past dinner I'd made. I do promise to share that recipe, but that's not what I ended up making and photographing step-by-step on Thursday. Instead, I whipped up two of my homemade lasagnas, which are equally delicious (even if not quite as decadent). I am a huge fan of cooking once and enjoying the fruits of my labor many nights. This answers the burning question many of you had after watching the enchilada video, of whether I cook meals like that every night?

Really, who has time to cook each and every night? I certainly don't, but I do want to give my family wholesome, amazing meals each night so I cook like this. When I had my personal chef business, cooking once and freezing was the model on which this wildly successful business was based. I'd go into a family's kitchen, cook 5 entrees and stock their freezer with these homemade meals that they would then enjoy on the busiest of days. This know-how has particularly come in handy on Mondays, which is always my busiest day of the week.

Homemade (Turkey, Beef, Vegetarian, You-Name-It) Lasagna
The recipe I am sharing today is a turkey lasagna I made with what I happened to have on hand last Thursday, but once you get the consistency/layering order down, you can alter the recipe with whatever your favorite fillings may be...
Makes two 6-serving (or more smaller) lasagnas which freeze perfectly

1 or 2 onions, chopped
1 lb ground turkey
pinch of Herbs de Provence (always on hand)
1 lb cherry tomatoes
2 lbs fresh spinach
3 or 4 zucchini, thinly sliced
1 lb tub cottage cheese or ricotta cheese
2 jars tomato sauce of your choice
1 tube sun-dried tomato paste (which I always have in my pantry)
mozzarella, sliced
Parmesan, shredded
oven-ready lasagna sheets

Saute the onion, ground turkey, herbs and tomatoes. Add spinach and cover so the spinach wilts. Once meat is cooked through, set this mixture aside. Now it's simply assembly with the other ingredients. (I always make my lasagnas in a freezer and oven-proof baking dish so I have the option to freeze it.) First, pour a bit of sauce in the bottom of each baking dish. Alternate layers of pasta, meat, veggies and cheese ending with a layer of sauce and cheese on top. At this point, you can either bake the lasagna at 350 for 1 hour, or pop an airtight lid on the dish and freeze it uncooked. When ready to bake the frozen lasagna, simply place the uncooked lasagna in the oven while preheating it to 350, then bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until warmed through.

Here are the step-by-step photos of the lasagna I made last week:

I sauteed the onions, turkey, herbs and tomatoes (top photo), then when the turkey was cooked through, I added the spinach and covered the pan so it wilted. (I had to do this in 3 batches since fresh spinach is so bulky.)

While I can't always be so organized, with something like lasagna, having your ingredients ready to go will make assembly quick and easy: lasagna sheets, zucchini is sliced, mozzarella is sliced, sauce, cottage cheese (since we prefer that to ricotta), tomato sauce and tomato paste are all ready to go...layering is a great way for kids to help make this meal.

Sauce goes down first, so nothing sticks. Then the first layer of pasta. Don't worry if the pasta doesn't reach the edges of the pan. With the next pasta layer just stagger it so the corners that didn't have pasta last time, so this next time...

Then I put a layer of cottage cheese over the pasta sheets, and let my son squirt sun-dried tomato paste on top of that...

...followed by a layer of zucchini...

...a few spoonfuls of sauce...

and another layer of pasta. In terms of what goes on what layer, you just want to make sure the dry pasta is buffered by a sauce or liquid. This is how it cooks.

Then, a nice hearty layer of the turkey, herb, tomato, onion, spinach mixture...

and one last layer of pasta.

Then more sauce, some shredded mozzarella (clearly put on my my 3-year-old) and

a few handfuls of shredded Parmesan. Done! How easy was that? Now you can enjoy one tonight, and pop the other into the freezer. The one you're cooking tonight will bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees. The one you're freezing (uncooked) will need to bake for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours at 350. I do not thaw the lasagna before baking, simply pop the frozen dish in when I am preheating the oven and then set the timer once the oven temp gets up to 350. So easy, and so delicious. Enjoy!

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