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Lasagna makes everything better!

Posted in Day-to-Day by unboundpage on January 26, 2011

It’s not too often I have a less-than-successful project to post about, but I feel like tonight’s venture is worth mention.  The final results may not have been optimal, but like any good scientific experiment, I learned more from my failure than I would have from a success.  In the spirit of scientific discovery, I’ll give this a (moderately) proper scientific method treatment.

QUESTION:  Can I make a lasagna that is both healthy and delicious?

HYPOTHESIS:  A lasagna made with healthier-than-average materials will taste as good as or better than a standard lasagna.

EXPERIMENT:
Materials:

  • oven-ready lasagna noodles

Sauce ingredients:

  • 56 oz petite diced tomatoes
  • 12 oz tomato paste
  • 1 zucchini, finely grated (yes, grated, as in get out your cheese grater and use the side with the smallest holes – the mushier the better)
  • generous dash (each) of dried onion, paprika, roasted garlic and red pepper blend, marjoram, oregano, basil, whatever the hell other Italian herbs strike your fancy, pepper (red, white and black if you got ’em!)
  • splash (each) of Marsala cooking wine and Worcestershire sauce
  • as much garlic as you can stand

Stuffing ingredients:

  • 1-2 oz fresh baby spinach, diced
  • 15 oz part skim ricotta cheese
  • ~5 oz grated mozzarella cheese
  • ~2 oz grated parmesan cheese
  • ~1 oz grated ricotta
  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • splash of beef broth (to make the turkey taste like beef… riiiiight)
  • another splash (each) of Marsala cookign wine and Worcestershire sauce
  • dash of caraway seed
  • more peppers (again, red, white, and black)
  • garlic
  • more garlic

Topping:

  • ~1 oz grated mozzarella cheese
  • ~1 oz grated parmesan cheese

Hardware:

  • 1 giant sauce pot
  • 1 giant skillet
  • 1 medium-sized mixing bowl
  • 1 oven-safe baking dish (whatever you have that’s roughly rectangular and at least 2 inches deep)
  • lots of heat-resistant spatulas/turners/things with which you can shove meat and/or stir sauce
  • 1 basting brush

Procedure:

  1. In giant sauce pot, mix all sauce ingredients except dry herbs and simmer over low heat for no less than 1 hour.  Add dry herbs at the last possible minute.
  2. In skillet, brown ground turkey then simmer in garlic, peppers, caraway seed, beef broth, Worcestershire, and Marsala until all the liquid has boiled off.
  3. In mixing bowl, combine Ricotta with the other cheeses and garlic.
  4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees (F).
  5. Using basting brush, spread just enough sauce in the baking dish to cover the bottom.  Lay out noodles so they cover the bottom but don’t overlap.
  6. Again using basting brush, spread just enough sauce to cover the noodles.
  7. Dot a layer of cheese mixture to cover the saucy noodles.
  8. Sprinkle spinach over cheese.
  9. Sprinkle meat over spinach.
  10. Brush sauce over meat.
  11. Lay out noodles perpendicular to the previous layer of noodles, again covering everything, but not overlapping.
  12. Repeat the sauce-cheese-spinach-meat-noodle layering business until the dish is full.
  13. Spread more sauce over the top layer of noodles.
  14. Sprinkle topping mozzarella and parmesan cheeses to cover everything.
  15. Put baking dish in some other oven-safe container (cookie sheet with edges, another baking dish) to catch the inevitable overflow (you just filled a baking dish to maximum capacity, dum-dum!).
  16. Bake until the topping cheeses are thoroughly browned but not burned.
  17. Let cool for 10-20 minutes.
  18. Cut into reasonably-sized cubes.
  19. Eat.

DATA:

Noodles:  Bottom and middle layers of noodles were adequately done.  Top layer was chewy but edible.

Tomato-zucchini sauce:  Sauce was delicious.

Cheese:  Cheese was good but overpowered by turkey.

Spinach:  Spinach neither enhanced nor diminished flavor or texture of the lasagna.

Meat:  Turkey did not taste like beef.  Turkey was also not greasy like beef.

CONCLUSIONS:

The oven-ready noodles that were adequately buried in sauce cooked through before the cheese burned.  In future testing, top layer of noodles should be more thoroughly covered.

Tomato sauce tasted great, especially with the shredded zucchini, which acts as an extra seasoning in addition to being the kind of healthy green vegetable my mother toiled all those many years to convince me to eat.  In other words, I still pwn tomato sauces.  Thanks and Gig ‘Em.

The spinach served its purpose perfectly.  I did not have to suffer the slimy texture of cooked spinach, and the flavor was not strong enough to overpower anything else.  Because it was fresh to start with, it stayed relatively crisp through the baking process and should even have retained most of its nutritional value.

The cheese-to-meat ratio was not optimal.  Especially given the distinctive turkey flavor, I probably needed double the cheese and maybe even half the meat to achieve the overwhelming cheesiness that I have come to expect from ricotta-based pasta dishes.

Though the turkey-for-beef substitution did not result in a perfect taste match, I considered the trade off worthwhile to avoid the thick layer of grease that inevitably appears when cooking with beef.  Any meat-and-pasta dish is significantly more enjoyable when the fat is not visibly pooling on top.

Overall, the lack of cheesy flavor put a damper on the eating experience (and also probably put a damper on the fat content, but really… priorities!).  However, I am satisfied, feeling full but not fat, and knowing that I managed to sneak not one but two green vegetables into the dish.

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