It's been a while since my boyfriend and I have had a free evening to spend together. As two recent grads, we don't have the luxury of eating at expensive restaurants once a month for a date night. But we can dine lavishly at home, which can be more fun because we get to take part in the food-making process.
After surveying our supply of food items - the wheels in my head turning all the while - I realized we had enough to make a delicious lasagna-ish dinner! Vodka sauce, lasagna noodles, ground beef, mozzarella cheese. However, we were sans onion, which I put into everything - but we were both tired and decided we could make it work with plain sauce; no specialized add-ins. As we began cooking however, my boyfriend looked at me and said, "This just isn't going to work. We don't have any garlic - I can't handle that." So we popped the frozen ground beef in the microwave to defrost and ran to the store to grab a couple Vidalia onions and a head of garlic.
We arrived home, stocked with supplies, and started on the lasagna. My mom, bless her heart, hardly ever made lasagna when I was growing up because we mainly ate curries and rice - not pasta. But thanks to my experience in Italy, I properly learned to make some key Italian dishes. Lasagna was one of them.
So first we chopped and sauteed half a Videlia onion - known for it's sweet flavor, this onion is perfect for something like a lasagna which, due to the tomato sauce, can be quite acidic. After the onion has turned opaque, I added 3 large cloves of minced garlic and let the onions/garlic continue sauteing until the onions were a golden color.
We moved this into a bowl and sauteed the beef next. We kept the beef in larger chunks because I think it makes for a nice texture. I personally, like to know exactly what I am eating. We seasoned the meat with the following: please note that I don't exactly measure when I cook - the way I gauge how much I'm using is how many turns around the pan I sprinkle the ingredients. So you can change any of these amounts to suit your own tastes.
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder (these 3 things consist of the Holy Trinity of my mom's cooking and she passed it along to me)
1/4 tsp nutmeg (this is a secret ingredient that brings out a lot of flavor)
So while my boyfriend was working on the meat, I started on the sauce. I emptied a container of Classico Vodka Sauce into a saucepan - LOVE vodka sauce, by the way - along with some leftover Prego Original that we had in the fridge, 1/2 tsp oregano, more garlic powder, and a tad salt. The vodka sauce is a little creamy so it also cuts the acidity of the tomatoes. Any jarred sauce needs to be spiced up a little, in my opinion - I don't like pouring something directly from the box into the frying pan - it makes me nervous... I then added the onion mixture and the ground beef and let this simmer over medium-low heat for about 10-15 minutes. We did a little preliminary clean-up during this time just so there wouldn't be as much to do later.
The lasagna noodles I have come to absolutely adore are the ones in the box which you don't have to cook beforehand. They are more square shaped - I forgot to take a picture so I apologize for that. I believe Barilla makes them - but they aren't long like the "regular" lasagna noodles. Using this kind is tastier, easier, and faster. Perfect.
We started by layering some of the meat mixture on the bottom of a Pyrex dish. Because we weren't cooking the noodles beforehand we needed to be sure they were covered with liquid so they could cook through. We layered: noodles, sauce, cheese, noodles, sauce, cheese, noodles, sauce, and cheese. So you'll have about 3 layers total. For the last sauce layer, I mixed in some leftover vodka sauce with shrimp that my friend had made for me a couple nights before. This ended up giving a great twist to the recipe because it was homemade, had shrimp, and was spicier than the other sauce. But you can use all the same kind if you want - I just wanted to show you that you can really throw anything in this and it won't be a disaster :) Notice I did not use ricotta cheese!!! I only layered a little mozzarella between the layers. For the very top layer I mixed mozzarella and picorino because it has a little more edge and bite to it - pecorino is a sheep's milk Italian cheese, similar to parmigiano reggiano. When I was in Italy, they didn't do a ricotta layer - them made a bechemel sauce. But this works just fine and I personally don't like my lasgana to be so stiff it's like a cake.
Here is the final product before it went into a 350 degree oven for 35 minutes. I first covered it with aluminium foil so the cheese wouldn't burn. After the 35 minutes was up, I took off the foil and stuck a knife in the middle: it went through, so I knew the noodles were cooked. Then I put it back in the oven for 7 minutes so it would turn a little golden on top.
We ate this with Trader Joe's Garlic Bread, but honestly it is fine just as is.
And there you have it - date night lasagna!