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03/29/2011

~ Jesse's E-Z Spatini Lasagna (& Mrs. DiCindio) ~

PICT1019I don't know how many lasagna recipes one household is supposed to have, but I make four different kinds with four different sauces, and, yes, even homemade crespelle or pasta: Bolognese, Seafood, Vegetable and this really easy one!  I developed this recipe for my son Jesse when he was a law student at The University of Pittsburgh.  As with most college students, they eat at fast-food joints a lot, but, living in an apartment, Jess did occasionally cook for himself, because he did and still does like to cook.  His kitchen was tiny but mighty, meaning: mom equipped him with utensils and essentials like a cast-iron skillet, 3-quart casserole and a few Sabatier knives.  He would often call me on his "downtime" for quick "how to" directions about whatever ingredients he had picked up at the market.  I often found myself thinking about recipes to suggest to him for "good food fast". This is one of those recipes:

PICT1016Jesse liked lasagna, but did not care for renditions containing ricotta cheese.  I knew that Spatini spaghetti sauce mix was a staple in his pantry, and to this day it is one of his favorite culinary time-savers. Armed with this information I went to work on a special lasagna recipe just for him... one that he could quickly and easily put together.  The meat sauce recipe, using the Spatini, came out absolutely delicious, and from start to finish took less than 45 minutes to make. I originally used a combination of extra-lean ground beef and sweet sausage, because Jess likes both, but when I switched to ground sirloin and sweet sausage, the texture and consistency was just perfect!  

PICT0814As for the cheese, ricotta was obviously a "no no", so I decided to layer his lasagna with the same four cheeses I always put on my homemade four-cheese, Sicilian-style pizza:  Cooper CV sharp cheese, provolone, mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano.  So far, so good, but I knew the noodles were going to be problematic.  Jesse probably would not want to take the time to cook noodles and I REALLY don't like the "no-boil"-type, which seemed my only alternative.  Luckily, that predicament got solved for me:   One evening, while watching Chef Emeril Lagasse (on The Food Network) prepare his lasagna without cooking the noodles (using conventional lasagna noodles, not the "no-boil" kind), I felt like the weight of the lasagna world just might be lifted from my shoulders.. and it was, because it worked perfectly!

PICT5132When it came time for Jesse's law school graduation, I prepared and froze four lasagne (lasagne being the plural of lasagna), unbaked, meaning I assembled them and froze them without cooking them.   We transported them to Pittsburgh in the trunk of our car, where the lasagna thawed themselves out during the three-hour drive and the two-hour graduation ceremony.  We baked all of them in his apartment oven afterwards.  It turned out to be a most memorable graduation party, with all of the graduates and family attending eating lasagna well into the wee hours of the morning. Nowadays, I almost always have two unbaked  E-Z Spatini lasagne in my freezer!

Because freezing this lasagna works so well, I always make two, and that is how this recipe is written:  to make two.  I'm here to tell you that in about one hour, you can have two lasagnas ready for the oven, the freezer, or both.  Now what's not to like about that!  I'm also here to tell you that if you don't live in a part of the country where Spatini spaghetti sauce mix is readily available, you can subsitute another brand, or:  omit it entirely and prepare the recipe using six cups of your favorite homemade or store-bought spaghetti sauce!

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6  tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2  pounds diced yellow or sweet onion

4  large, minced garlic cloves,  about 2 tablespoons

1  pound white button mushroom caps, thinly sliced or chopped (optional)

6  packets Spatini spaghetti sauce mix (2, 2.4-ounce boxes) (Note:  If you don't have or don't use Spatini, it can be omitted.  See my "underlined"  substitution instructions below.)

6  pounds ground sirloin (95% fat free)

1 1/2-2  pounds sweet Italian sausage, casings removed

2  28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes, or, if you don't have or don't use Spatini, substitute 6 cups of your favorite spaghetti sauce, homemade or store-bought

1/2  cup port wine (a sweet fortified red wine)

1  pound box ruffled-edge lasagna noodles, uncooked

1-1 1/2  pounds thinly-sliced Cooper CV sharp cheese, or white American cheese

1-1 1/2  pounds thinly-sliced provolone cheese

1-1 1/2  pounds thinly-sliced mozzarella cheese

1 1/2-2  cups finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

2  tablespoons Italian seasoning blend, or dried oregano

no-stick cooking spray

PICT0700A bit about Cooper CV cheese: This rectangular-shaped cheese is almost identical to square-shaped white American cheese, but it has a delightful sharp tang to its flavor.  I, personally, think it melts creamier too.  We here in the Northeast often use it in place of American cheese.

Note:  I do not like to use grated cheese when I make lasagna, mostly because sliced cheese eliminates airspace that grated cheese creates, which makes for a prettier lasagna.  Because the thickness of the cheese does matter, ask your deli-person to, "please slice the cheese as thinly as possible, without the slices breaking or crumbling, and, stack the slices neatly".  If the cheeses are sliced too thick, you will have a mess in your oven when the lasagna cooks!

PICT0718 ~ Step 1.  Place the olive oil in a 14" chef's pan or an 8-quart stockpot. Prep the onion, garlic and optional mushrooms as directed, placing them in the pan as you work.  

Place over low heat for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Increase the heat to saute, stirring frequently, until the onion softens, about 8-10 minutes, or, if using the optional mushrooms, about 14-16 minutes, until the mushrooms have lost almost all of their moisture.  If you are using an 8-quart stockpot, this process will take a little longer (which I why a recommend a wide-bottomed chef's pan).

PICT0724 ~ Step 2.  Stir in 4 packets of the Spatini and continue to saute for about 30-60 seconds.  The mixture will be thick and pasty, as well as red.

Note:  If you are using bottle sauce, omit this step.

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~ Step 3.  Add the ground sirloin and the sausage.  Cook mixture over medium-high heat, stirring frequently with a large spoon or spatula, breaking up the meat into small bits and pieces, until the meat has lost its red color, is steamed through and almost no moisture remains in the bottom of the pan, about 25-35 minutes.  Once again, this will take a little longer if you are using an 8-quart stockpot.

PICT0744 ~ Step 4.  Add and thoroughly stir in the crushed tomatoes, the remaining two packets of spatini and the wine.  If you are not using Spatini and are adding bottled sauce, stir it and the wine in.

Adjust the heat to a gentle, steady simmer, partially cover and continue to cook, until the mixture thickens and reduces slightly, about 30 minutes.

PICT0758 The meat sauce (which is also a great meat sauce for  is spaghetti... kids just love it) is technically ready to use.  That being said, I like to remove the pan from the heat, cover it and let it rest for about 30-60 minutes prior to assembling the lasagna, to give the flavors time to marry.  On occasion, I even prepare the meat sauce a day in advance and reheat it when I am ready to assemble the lasagna.  Reheating the refrigerated sause is a must.  

Note:  It is important to have the sauce warm when assembling the lasagna.  Besides making it easier to spread, it helps to pre-soften the noodles before the lasagna goes into the oven.

~ Step 5.  Assembly.  As I stated above, this recipe is written to make two lasagne.  The following pictures of the assembly process only picture one. Just place two, 13" x 9" x 2" casserole dishes side-by-side and assemble them both, simultaneously, as directed below:

PICT0764 Spoon a thin but even layer of meat sauce in bottom of casserole dish.

 

 

 

PICT0768 Arrange lasagna noodles, side by side, over the sauce.  Four noodles will fit lengthwise.  Break one noodle to fit in the remaining space.

 

 

PICT0771 Arrange a layer of Cooper CV cheese slices over the noodles.

 

 

 

PICT0776 Arrange a layer of provolone slices over the CV.

 

 

 

PICT0777 Arrange a layer of mozzarella slices over the provolone.

 

 

 

PICT0782 Spoon another layer of meat sauce over the cheeses.

 

 

 

PICT0784 Sprinkle/grate Parmigianno-Reggiano over meat sauce.

 

 

 

PICT0787 Arrange a second layer of lasagna noodles in the dish and repeat the above process (a second layer of cheeses, a third layer of meat sauce and a sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano).  Sprinkle Italian seasoning blend over all.

 

PICT0795 The lasagna/lasagne are now ready for the oven or the freezer, or: they can be refrigerated overnight, returned to room temperature and baked the next day.

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~ Step 6.  Cover lasagna with a piece of aluminum foil that has been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray.  Place the foil, sprayed side down, over lasagna and cover tightly.

Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven 45 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake an additional 35-45 minutes, or until browned and bubbly.  Replace the foil at any time if necessary.  

Remove from oven and rest, about 30-60 minutes prior to slicing and serving... 30 minutes if you want to eat your lasagna at that "ooey-gooey" stage, or, 60 minutes if you want nicer, neater slices and a more refined presentation.  The picture at the very top of this page is lasagna after a 30 minute rest.  The following picture is lasagna after a 60 minute rest:

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Who is Mrs. DiCindio?

In 1974, for my bridal shower, I was given a 13" x 9" x 2" Pyrex baking pan, a metal spatula and a three-page handwritten recipe for lasagna from my girlfriend's grandmother, Mrs. DiCindio. One week after our wedding and getting settled into our new apartment, it was time for me to entertain my parents and in-laws.  Mrs. DiCindio's lasagna marked two milestones in my life:  the first time I ever entertained dinner guests and the first time I ever made lasagna.  I also learned something very important:  You can never provide too many instructions when writing a recipe. Mrs. DiCindio took a lot of time to write detailed instructions down for me.  This prideful, loving woman was intent on making certain that her recipe would be successful, meaning:  it would work for whoever was cooking it... a new bride or an accomplished cook.  Mrs. DiCindio's recipe worked perfectly and tasted wonderful.  Mrs. DiCindio, wherever you are, thank-you for setting the standard by which I write each and every one of my recipes:  with love and lots of details!!!  

Jesse's E-Z Spatini Lasagna:  Recipe yields 2 lasagne with 8-12 servings each.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid, or 8-quart stockpot; large spoon or spatula; 2, 13" x 9" x 2" casserole dishes; aluminum foil

Cook's Note:  To freeze leftovers, refrigerate whatever is leftover overnight.  Slice into portions, wrap in plastic wrap and freeze.  Thaw each portion completely and reheat in the microwave:

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"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011) 

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Comments

Carmen -- In the TV video (which was shot well after I wrote this blog post), I went strictly by Mrs. DiCindio's recipe because the segment was about her and her recipe. Spatini was not an ingredient she used -- I am the one that added that ingredient. That said, no matter how you prepare this lasagna (the way I did it on TV (seasoning the meat with salt, pepper & Italian seasoning blend and adding crushed tomatoes), or, using crushed tomatoes and Spatini (which contains salt and seasonings), or, with store-bought bottled sauce (which contains salt and seasonings) it really is a delicious lasagna!

In your video you used two cans of tomatoes.did you used Spatini mix also?

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