I don't think I ate lasagna until I was 16 years old. I remember eating it at my best friend's house. Her mom was Italian. I remember her saying I had to come over because her mom, "WAS MAKING LASAGNA!" I'd heard about lasagna. I'd even eaten it in skillet dinner form. You know-the kind from a box? The hamburger helper kind. My mom did that. However, I never remember my mom making lasagna; but in all fairness my mom is Jewish and not Italian, and I can assure you her mom probably did not make lasagna-even the hamburger helper kind! The only pasta dish I remember in our home that my mom made on a regular basis was spaghetti with meat sauce; which now that I think of it is pretty funny, because my mom loves pasta. I mean really loves pasta. No lie.
Well, I learned to make lasagna in college. It feeds a lot and was always a hit. I don't remember having a recipe. And when the kids were born I remember making a lot of other pasta, too. Zoe especially loved pasta so we had it once a week. Under the age of five they ate a lot of mini tortellinis and raviolis. And then it was beloved spaghetti with real Italian sausage in the fall. We all loved linguini with clam sauce. The kids even requested it for their birthday when they were 7 years old. Ziti al Fresco is a huge fave and I still make it at least once a year. It contains cream and we try to avoid that so I don't make it as often as I wish I could. Fettucine Alfredo is Zoe's favorite and that also contains cream, but oh my, it is worth it at least once a year. I did lots of buttered noodles in shapes of every kind to make Zoe happy. I made spaghetti with garlic, because that is my fave. And often enough I just took left overs from the fridge and came up with a pasta dish. Tomato sauce or that enemy, cream, ties everything together.
But back to lasagna. I didn't make it often when the kids were young. I don't know why. Maybe because I was used to making such a big pan and we didn't eat it all. Whatever the case, I did make a mushroom lasagna that was so rich and luscious we had it for special meals. It did contain porcinis and I rationed those out with an iron fist. I still always request a bag of porcinis when friends go to Italy. Receiving porcinis is like a gift from the gods!
And so it is that my friend gave me a bag of porcinis from Italy. I invited them for dinner while Manservant was home. (Well, I think he was home, but 2 weeks flies by fast. If I figure it right he will be gone 50% of this year. And that's another episode!) I knew she loved my mushroom lasagna but I was ready for something a bit lighter-more summery. Something I could use fresh tomatoes in. The bounty of summer-so to speak. And so it is, I came up with this. No, it isn't full of gobs of gooey cheese. This is a more healthy lasagna-if one can deem lasagna healthy. This one only contains Parmigiano which also falls into the gift from the gods category. I do love real Parmigiano.
Have a bounty of tomatoes ready to come in? This lasagna is perfect for them. I used Marcella Hazan's easy tomato sauce which is killer, if you haven't tried it. You can also use canned tomatoes. Either way, you will love this sauce. It is superb on any pasta. Add some white sauce and a layer of mushrooms-or not. Mushrooms are not essential, but I knew my friend loved porcinis; and after all-she gave them to me.
A few last words. If anyone says to you, "My mom is making lasagna!" just dash over. Lasagna is so worth it!
Summer Tomato Lasagna
Time to Make: 45-60 minutes
1 recipe of tomato sauce:
3 1/2 lbs fresh romas or plum tomatoes or 1 28 oz can good Italian tomatoes
12 oz or 1 1/2 sticks butter
1 1/2 medium onions, peeled and halved
1 1/2 t salt
1/2 t sugar
1 recipe bechamel sauce:
6 T butter
4 T flour
1 t salt
Fresh ground pepper
2 1/2 c milk, warmed in microwave for about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes
Pinch of nutmeg (optional)
1 c fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 lb fresh mushrooms (optional) cleaned and sliced or chopped
3/4 c dried porcinis (soaked and liquid reserved) (optional)
3 T butter
1 box no boil noodles
Directions: Tomato Sauce
Wash tomatoes in cold water. Cut in half, lengthwise. Cook in a covered stockpot or saucepan until they have simmered for 10 minutes. Puree the tomatoes through a food mill back into the pot. If you are using canned tomatoes, start at this point. (Canned tomatoes should also be run through a food mill or use an immersion blender.) Add butter, onion, salt and sugar and cook at a slow, but steady simmer, uncovered for 45 minutes. (I bring this to a slow boil on medium and then reduce my temperature to the lowest possible setting that keeps it simmering.) Remove onion and slice into half moons and reserve for lasagna.
Directions: Bechamel Sauce
Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add the flour as butter melts and use a whisk to blend flour into the butter. When mixture is golden and velvety, slowly stir in the warm milk, stirring constantly with a whisk. Stir for about 15 minutes or until sauce is thickened and of smooth consistency.Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg until this tastes so good you can eat it from your spoon.
While Bechamel and tomato sauce are going, start the mushrooms if using. Heat butter in a large skillet. Add fresh mushrooms and cook on high heat until mushrooms release their juices. Let that simmer away and then stir in strained and reserved liquid from the dried porcinis along with the chopped porcinis. Cook for a few minutes. Let liquid simmer away until the mushroom mixture is fairly dry. Season with salt and pepper.
Soak 1 box of no boil lasagna noodles in very hot water. While these are soaking, prepare your baking pan. I used a 9 x 11 deep pan. Grease with 1 T butter. Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of the dish. Top with 1 layer of lasagna noodles.(I dry my noodles by running them between two fingers. This usually removes enough water.) Spread with tomato sauce, some of the reserved onions and then some Parmigiano. Now another layer of pasta and some Bechamel. Sprinkle with cheese and add half of the mushrooms. Now another layer of pasta and some tomato sauce and onions. Sprinkle with cheese. More pasta, Bechamel sauce, mushrooms and cheese. One more layer of pasta with tomato sauce and onions, and cheese and finish with pasta and Bechamel sprinkled with cheese. You can always use more cheese if needed. I try to reserve some tomato sauce for pouring over while serving and you may also have some lasagna noodles left over.
Bake at 450 for 15 minutes or until top is light golden and sauce is bubbling.
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