Sometimes it still catches me off guard how much food is bound up in our memories of life events and family traditions.
There are the happy ones. For me those are the cheese rolls and spinach balls that are served every Boxing Day for our family party… Well there has been one exception when I requested them for our wedding rehearsal party. They were a huge hit with friends and extended or new family members. My Dad left/smuggled a serious doggy bag. It also ended with my cousin exclaiming “Wait Bit@h stole Boxing Day”. Not to worry it was all very well meaning, just my colorful, Irish family. I would share the recipes but they are a fiercely guarded secret and my suggestion to write about them was quickly vetoed. I’ve made them the Christmas’s we don’t make it home but it is never quite the same as being at home, hanging around the kitchen with my cousins waiting to get the first batch hot out of the oven.
And then there are the not so happy ones. For me that would be salmon and lasagna. I will spare you the salmon story and focus on my uneasy relationship with lasagna. Coming from a small town when someone dies you bring food. Maybe it is just an east coast thing, or just a small town thing, but people very generously want to help and what better way than cooking. It is truly a wonderful thing. When I was 7 my Grandfather passed away. My Grandfather who I adored. It was the first time I experienced death, I was barely old enough to understand what was happening. I remember a lot of people around at all times. I remember the purple wool dress I wore sitting next to my Grandmother at the funeral. I remember sitting down at the dreaded after funeral reception and feeling very small with people buzzing around me. But as always life went on. The commotion settled down, family returned to their own homes, and we settled back into life. I remember the food that got brought out every weekend from my Grandmothers’ freezer. Generously wrapped in tin foil, the meals by well meaning neighbours, friends, and family. As an adult I can look back and see the beauty in the support and the love that was in the gesture of food. As an 8 year old (I had a birthday in the midst of the grieving and frozen meals) I remember being thoroughly sick of frozen meals, and what in my memory seemed to be a lot of lasagna. Thankfully everyone else felt the same way, and do not remember my Mother ever making another lasagna. I know we had them before I remember the blue package of Kraft sliced mozzarella cheese that she would top the lasagna with. But after that Winter of weekend freezer meals, I don’t remember another lasagna being served. Now I was just 8 so my memories are a little blurred, but even now when I think about lasagna something in my subconscience tweaks a little.
T. on the other hand loves lasagna. My lack of interest in one of his favorite comfort foods is definitely disappointing to him. I try to compensate by making (and freezing) lasagna for him when he is working away from home. My recent variation with leftover Christmas turkey and Italian sausage was a particular favorite.
There does come a time when you have to set aside your own crazy food memories for those you love.
And therefore, recently, I’ve been trying with lasagna. Realistically I love all of the components. Cheese, good. Tomato, good. Pasta, very good. It has been time to get reacquainted with lasagna. Oh the things we do for love.
Taking the time to make a bolognese sauce as my base was a fantastic decision. Yes, it is a process. No, this is not a weeknight quick dinner lasagna. But your efforts will be greatly rewarded. Good things come to those who wait. Just be sure to pour a glass of wine and enjoy a cheeky taste test of the sauce along the way. Yum!
Now I’m not saying that I will want to eat lasagna every week, but with this recipe I will happily eat it when the husband requests it.
- ¼ cup pancetta, diced
- 1 pound ground chuck beef
- 2 Italian sausages, removed from the casing
- ½ onion, diced
- 2 medium carrots, diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 cup red wine
- 1 cup beef stock
- 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1.5 tablespoon Italian seasoning (herb blend)
- 1 teaspoon red chilli flakes
- 1 bay leaf
- 100 grams full fat mozzarella, grated
- 100 grams white cheddar, grated
- 475 grams extra smooth ricotta
- 1 box oven ready lasagna noodles
- salt and pepper
- salt and pepper
- Heat a deep skillet (with a lid) over medium heat, add pancetta and cook for 1 minute. Add ground beef and sausage, season with salt and pepper. Cook and set aside.
- Reduce heat to medium - low and add olive oil to the skillet. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the carrots and onion, stir frequently and cook until vegetables are soft. Approximately 7-10 minutes.
- Return the meat to the pan. Mix in the Italian seasoning and tomato paste.
- Add the red wine, increase the heat to medium and allow to reduce.
- Add the beef stock and can of crushed tomatoes. Reduce to a simmer, add red chilli flakes, remaining Italian seasoning and bay leaf. Check seasoning, add salt and pepper if needed.
- Let the ragu sauce simmer for 2 hours, remove from heat and cool. Remove the bay leaf before assembling the lasagna. Ragu can be made the day before.
- To assemble the lasagna in 13x9 inch baking pan: cover bottom of pan with a thin layer of rage sauce; then one layer of noodles - overlapping the noodles; top with a thin layer of sauce and grated cheese; another layer of noodles; spread the ricotta evenly; another layer of noodles; top with thin layer of sauce and cheese; another layer of noodles; and top with remaining ragu sauce and grated cheese.
- Bake in oven at 350F for 45 mins.