Friday, June 4, 2010

Simple (but so good) Chard and Sausage Lasagna

When I cooked at The Still Life in Fremont I had a love/hate relationship with lasagna as the lunch special. Love because it's easy (serve with salad, done) and endlessly adaptable to what's on hand or in season. Hate because half the time it turned out a little too wet and slippery and made for terrible presentation. Then I learned a trick: don't cook the noodles ahead of time, and I mean regular lasagna noodles, not the no-cook kind. When the noodles cook right in the dish with everything else, they soak up a lot of the liquid so a lasagna with vegetables doesn't turn into a sloppy mess. The recipe below includes sausage and chard, but you can use just about anything (pre-cooked) for the "flavor layer" - butternut squash, zucchini, chicken, ground beef, mushrooms, and on and on. We make a 9x13 pan for dinner and freeze the leftovers for emergencies, a.k.a. nights when we're too tired to cook.

Lasagna with Chard and Sausage
makes roughly 8 servings

6 cups cups tomato sauce (about 1 1/2 jars)
11/2 pounds mozzarella, grated
1 cup grated parmesan
1 15 oz container of ricotta
15 dried, regular lasagna noodles
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large bunch of chard (or other hearty greens)
1 pound hot italian sausage, out of the casing

  • Preheat the oven to 375.
  • Saute the onion in a little olive oil until the edges start to brown. Add the garlic and saute until its edges are just starting to brown. 
  • Add the sausage and cook until done, breaking it up into small pieces as you go.
  • Cut the chard into thin strips and give it a rinse. Add this to the sausage and onions in the pan. Cook until wilted. This is your flavor layer.
  • Combine the parm and mozzarella and divide into three piles (the third one a little bigger than the other 2).
  • Heat up and doctor the sauce however you'd like. It's annoying that 1 jar of store-bought sauce is too little and 2 is too much. I use 1 jar, a can of tomatoes, about 1/2 a cup of red wine that's been reduced, and a bunch of herbs to make about 6 cups. 
  • Set aside 2 cups of sauce for the final layer. If you are running short in the middle layer your can skimp on sauce, but you can't skimp on the top layer or the trick of the uncooked noodles won't work.
  • Follow this order to layer the lasagna into a 9x13 pan: sauce, noodles set down the short way (break off the ends to make them fit), sauce, flavor layer, ricotta (don't bother spreading it, just drop it down in little lumps), cheese, noodles, sauce, flavor layer, ricotta, cheese, noodles.
  • For the top, use a generous amount of sauce and make sure that all of the top noodles are covered. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese. 
  • Bake covered for 45 minutes (do your best to tent the foil a little so it's not resting on the cheese), then remove the foil and bake until the top is browned - usually 15 minutes more. I put a sheet pan on the rack below to catch any drips of bubbling sauce.
  • Let it cool for 15 minutes before serving or it will goo all over and burn the roof of your mouth. I set the timer and make myself wait. Portion it out for leftovers the next day when it's cold.
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