Thursday, August 19, 2010

World's Greatest Lasagna? I'd Have To Say YES!

Good evening everyone! I usually make the comment on Thursdays regarding how quickly the week has flown by and how I can't believe how fast time feels to go past. Well...not this week. For me, this week has been a slow and grueling week (for no particular reason!) It feels like I've had three Thursdays already this week. That fact, combined with the parking lot style commute (I.E. not moving) that I had coming home tonight - meant that I was certainly ready to turn to the kitchen to unwind.

For tonight's recipe, I'm making something I've never made before - in fact it's a food that (in general) I'm not a fan of. My recipe tonight is four cheese lasagna. If you listen carefully - the sound you are hearing is my family's jaws collectively hitting the floor. It's true, standard lasagna is one of my least favorite foods. I don't like the tomato rich sauce, the oozing mozzarella or the ground hamburger mixed in with it all. My recipe tonight, however, does not have any of that. The sauce is a white sauce, based in milk and there isn't any meat to be found within the dish. It's something different that I hope will change my perspective on the classic Italian dish.

The Recipe: Four Cheese Lasagna
Original Recipe Found In: The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook

What You'll Need:

6 Ounces Gruyere Cheese (Shredded)
2 Ounces Parmesan Cheese (Grated)
1 1/2 Cups Part-Skim Ricotta Cheese
1 Large Egg
2 Tablespoons Parsley
1/4 Teaspoon Black Pepper
3 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
1 Medium Shallot (Minced)
1 Garlic Clove (Minced)
1/3 Cup All Purpose Unbleached Flour
2 1/2 Cups Whole Milk (Skim or low-fat are substitutes)
1 1/2 Cups Low-Sodium Chicken Broth
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Bay Leaf
Pinch Of Cayenne Pepper
15 No Boil Lasagna Noodles (See Monday's post for a full profile of these noodles)
8 Ounces Fontina Cheese (Shredded)
3 Ounces Gorgonzola Cheese (Crumbled)

Measure everything beforehand to make things easier later

Begin by preheating your oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix the gruyere and 1/2 cup of the parmesan cheese. Turn a few times until mixed well. Set aside. In a second, medium bowl, combine the ricotta, egg, parsley and black pepper. Mix using a rubber spatula and set aside. It's tempting to use a whisk to mix the ricotta, but it has the consistency of cream cheese, so it's best to use something that wont get 'gummed up' with the mixture.

The ricotta mixture

In a small pot, begin to bring 2 inches of water to a boil. Once this water is boiling, pour it into your 13 X 9 oven safe dish. Place the lasagna noodles, 3 at a time in the water (for about 2 to 3 minutes) or until they become slightly pliable. Move the noodles to a clean kitchen towel to air dry before use. The idea here is to reintroduce the noodles to some moisture to shorten the cooking time and lower the need for a large amount of liquid overall. This process can be done in between other steps - so simply work on it when you have pauses during the course of the recipe.

This is how thin the lasagna noodles are!
In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Once melted, add your shallot and garlic and cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until the shallots are softened. Add your flour and stir constantly until everything is blended. Cook for about 1 to 2 minutes, but do not allow the mixture to brown. Gradually whisk in your milk (we used skim milk as we don't particularly like whole milk) and chicken broth. Stir constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. It's tempting to let this mixture cook from time to time and work on other parts of the recipe. Bad idea. Tonight, I learned the hard way just how fast this sauce will boil if you look away.

I turned my head from the sauce for about 30 seconds while checking on my lasagna noodles (to see how they were drying). I turned back around to find the sauce violently foaming over the edges of the pot, onto the burner and under the surface of the stovetop. An expletive or two may have been uttered during this time. So, no matter how tempting it is to look away here (my sauce was not even showing the slightest hint of boiling when I turned away) DON'T DO IT. Keep focused on the sauce and prevent yourself from having to scrub the entire stovetop of boiled over milk/broth's not nearly as fun as it sounds!

Once your sauce has come safely to a boil, add your bay leaf, cayenne pepper and salt. Reduce the heat to medium low and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent the sauce from thickening too much.

After 10 minutes, remove the bay leaf and pour 1/4 of the sauce into the bowl with the ricotta mixture. Stir well until everything is blended. This should turn your slightly thick ricotta mixture into a more paste like mixture. Pour the remaining sauce into the bowl with the gruyere. From here on out, we will be referring to this bowl as the 'sauce'.

On the left, the ricotta mixture. On the right, the sauce

In the bottom of your 13 X 9 oven safe dish (which you have dried out after the lasagna noodles have bathed) spray a light layer of nonstick cooking spray. Then, spread 1/2 cup of the sauce evenly across the bottom of the dish. Place three noodles on top of the sauce (close together, slightly touching but not overlapping). Spread 1/2 cup of the ricotta mixture evenly over these noodles. Then, spread 1/2 cup of the fontina cheese on top of the ricotta mixture. Finally, sprinkle 3 tablespoons of the gorgonzola cheese amongst the fontina cheese. (I'll be honest, I didn't measure the fontina or gorgonzola cheeses in each layer. I simply grabbed the cheese and sprinkled until it looked even. You can 'eyeball' the amount of cheese on each layer and reach a safe conclusion of the right amount) Cover all of this layer with another 1/2 cup of sauce. Place three more noodles on top of the sauce and repeat this process until you've created four layers of noodles. (Noodles, ricotta, fontina, gorgonzola and then sauce)

Start with a thin layer of sauce on the bottom

Then add the noodles

Spread a layer of ricotta 

Top with fontina and gorgonzola 

You should have 3 noodles remaining. Place those three on top of everything and cover with the last of the sauce. Use a rubber spatula to spread the sauce evenly across all sides (and even over the sides of the noodles). Sprinkle the top with the remaining parmesan cheese. Oddly enough, our box of Barilla lasagna noodles, which should have contained 15 noodles - actually had 16. So, I was left with one extra noodle, which I placed horizontally across the top 3.

We must have picked the 'buy 15 get the 16th free' box of noodles

all covered in sauce

Spray a large sheet of aluminum foil with nonstick cooking spray and cover your dish. Place the dish in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes (rotating the dish halfway through cooking) and cook until the edges of the lasagna begin to bubble. Once bubbling, remove the foil and place increase the oven heat to 500 degrees. Cook at 500 degrees for another 10 minutes (or until lightly golden brown on top) and serve.

The Results:

I may have to change my stance on lasagna. While I still don't care for the tomato sauce based classic version of this dish, the four cheese version that I cooked up tonight was pretty darn fantastic. Each individual cheese (and its complex flavors) all combined to make one amazing (not too cheesy) flavor. The white sauce acted as a fantastic bridge, brining all of the flavors together and also helped to 'fuse' all of the individual noodles in to one cohesive dish.

Unlike Maggie's recipe last night, this dish had quite a few ingredients. In the end, however, it was almost as simple as her dish. With 20 minutes of prep time and 30 minutes of cook time you can easily cook up this fantastic lasagna for the whole family after coming home from work. This recipe is certainly worth a return visit (I have an idea to incorporate some chicken pieces in with the layers of fontina...)

Oh and - yes, it is necessary to use a 13 X 9 dish, even though (when you're making up the lasagna) you'll have a lot of room on the edges. When it cooks, it expands and by the time everything is done cooking - the dish will be full.

That's all we have for you this week. We're off for the weekend. If we find something interesting to share with you, we'll be sure to post updates to our Twitter and Facebook profiles to let you know about it. Otherwise, expect us back on Monday with another ingredient list and three new recipes to start the week. As always, thank you for stopping by and reading our blog - and until next time,


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