Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Spaghetti Sauce for Lasagna

Many times on the weekend you will find me in my kitchen, sometimes for most of the day.  I don't have time to cook much during the week, so when Saturday gets here I may start the morning by making some warm muffins and end the night with a big batch of buttered popcorn.

The winter months are for comfort food, for cooking in the crock pot and enjoying the aroma all day long, for roasting things that get slathered with gravy and baking things that get topped with freshly whipped cream.  The big pots have their own home on the cook top, and they get used often.  With Spring in the air, I feel the urgency to do the last of my "big cooking" before my menus are dominated by warm weather food.

I've been wanting to come up with my own signature spaghetti sauce for some time now.  My mom always used to make homemade sauce, and just recently we dug up her original recipe, cast aside with the onslaught of jarred sauces.  It came from a cook who used to run the kitchen at a local resort where our dad's grandparents worked for many years.  I have to admit as a kid I didn't look forward to it.  The sauce was usually made from either tomatoes out of the garden or cans of whole tomatoes, and the big chunks were not my favorite.

Perusing my freezer to see what I had left of my summer bounty, I decided that a bag of roasted tomatoes would do the trick, as well as diced white onions I had processed.  I adapted a few different recipes I had clipped over the years, and came up with a hearty, thick, meaty sauce with just a touch of sweetness.  I layered it into a lasagna, whipped up a large loaf of cheesy Italian bread, tossed a romaine salad with seasoned croutons, and invited my parents over for dinner.  The wine was pretty good too.

You probably won't use all the sauce if you make a lasagna; I had about two cups leftover that I plan to use on top of spaghetti or to make some French bread pizzas.  But for those of you who like a saucy lasagna, it might be just the right amount.

Some tips before you start that I have learned along the way. 

1. Brown the meat well.  Giving a light crust to the meat adds tons of flavor.

2. Don't burn the garlic!  Your sauce can be ruined if you put this in too soon; I add mine after the meat and onions are browned and let it cook off just a bit before adding the rest of the ingredients. 

3. By all means use whatever you have roasted or frozen from your own garden.  I substituted my own roasted tomatoes for one can of the crushed, but you can use all canned if that's all you have.  I'll feel a bit sorry for you though.

4.  A FRESH ball of mozzarella never hurts, if you can find one.

5.  Let your lasagna rest on the counter for at least 15 minutes; this will give the cheese time to settle and make it easier to cut.  You also won't burn your tongue.

I look forward to making this in the summer, with fresh picked herbs, tomatoes and onions from my very own backyard. 

Spaghetti Sauce/Lasagna            Printable Version

1 pound pork sausage
1 pound lean ground turkey
1/2 cup minced onion
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 (15 ounce) can crushed tomatoes plus 1 cup roasted tomatoes (or use two 15 oz. cans of crushed tomatoes)
2 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
2 (6.5 ounce) cans tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
12 lasagna noodles
16 ounces ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tsp. dried parsley
2 cups mozzarella or Italian blend cheese, shredded
3/4 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1.In a large sauce pot or Dutch oven, season the sausage, ground turkey and onion with a sprinkling of salt and pepper and cook over medium heat until well browned.  Add the two cloves of crushed garlic and saute just until it starts to soften; be careful not to burn it.  Stir in crushed tomatoes, roasted tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water. Season with brown sugar, basil, parsley, Italian seasoning, salt and  pepper . Simmer, covered, for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally.  At this point you can use it as a sauce on top of spaghetti noodles, or make lasagna...
2.Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in the lasagna noodles in and boil for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep them from sticking. Drain noodles, and rinse with cold water.  In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese with egg, parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
4.To assemble lasagna, plan to make 4 layers of sauce and noodles.  To a 9 x 13 pan sprayed with cooking spray, add a thin layer of sauce to the bottom to cover.  Layer with 3 lasagna noodles. Spread with 1/4 of the ricotta cheese mixture. Top with a fourth of the shredded cheese and Parmesan. Repeat the layers, finishing with a topping of mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Spray a piece of aluminum foil with cooking spray to prevent the cheese from sticking as it bakes (you may want to put a baking sheet under the pan in case any sauce should flow over the edges).
5.Bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 25 minutes. Cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

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