Sunday, December 4, 2011

As easy as it gets

Recently, a friend passed a recipe on to me that she had gotten from her sister.  She told me that it was easy, and that although she didn't particularly feel competent about cooking some things, even finding cooking overwhelming sometimes, this recipe had really boosted her self esteem and that it was absolutely devoured by her husband.  The recipe?  Slow Cooker Lasagna.

I tested this recipe on a recent evening, and apart from the texture of the pasta, which you need to expect will be different from the traditional preparation, it was a smash.  The flavors are outstanding and it couldn't have been much easier.  Of course, I tweaked the original recipe a little (you'll see my additions and changes below).

We enjoyed this on a cold, rainy night with a salad.  And I poured a lovely little Barbera d'Asti 2009 from Villa Jolanda, a wine full of bright acidity and red fruit with a spicy nose and a soft, silky finish.  It will set you back about $10 or so and it's a charming wine to drink with this dish.

Slow Cooker Lasagna

1 lb. lean ground beef (I also added 3 links of hot Italian sausage, removed from their casings)
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
28 oz. canned crushed tomatoes
15. oz. canned tomato sauce (I added 1/2 cup dry red wine for rinsing the cans)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried basil (I also added 1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves)
1/4 tsp. dried red pepper flakes (more or less to taste)

1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided (I added 1 cup chopped fresh spinach leaves and 1 egg, well beaten and salt and pepper to taste)
6 to 7 uncooked lasagna noodels
1/2 cup (or more) shredded Parmesan cheese

1.  Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  
2.  Add ground beef and sausage if using.  Fry for about 5 minutes, breaking up clumps with a wooden spoon, until meat begins to brown a little.
3.  Add onion and garlic, continuing to fry and stirring frequently for another 5 minutes.  Reduce heat if garlic begins to brown.
4.  Stir in crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce, rinsing cans with red wine if desired.
5.  Stir in salt, oregano, basil, thyme (if using) and crushed red pepper.
6.  Simmer for 5 to 7 minutes to allow flavors to blend.
7.  Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix together ricotta cheese, 1 1/2 cups mozzarella, chopped spinach, egg, salt and pepper (if using).  Blend well and set aside.
8.  Spoon 1/3 of the meat mixture into a slow cooker, covering the bottom completely.
9.  Cover with lasagna noodles, breaking to fit as necessary.
10.  Top noodles with half of cheese mixture, spreading to the edges of the slow cooker.
11.  Repeat with another layer of lasagna noodles, 1/3 of beef mixture, the rest of the cheese mixture and ending with the remaining 1/3 of beef mixture.
12.  Cover slow cooker and cook on low setting for 4 to 6 hours.  
13.  Combine remaining mozzarella and the parmesan cheese; set aside.
14.  Remove cover and turn off heat, then sprinkle lasagna with mozzarella and parmesan mixture.
15.  Cover slow cooker again and let sit until cheese melts and lasagna firms up, about 10 to 15 minutes.  Serves 6 to 8.

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