July 15, 2011

Avateur Lasagna... with Scallion and Pumpkin Seed Pesto

This lasagna recipe, as most of the recipes on this blog, was formed on the spot from improvisation... and sheer laziness.

There was no Ricotta in the fridge. And I wanted lasagna. Simple as that.

When I buy prepackaged fresh produce at the grocery, I'm forced to find ways to store them so they don't go bad. I live alone and I simply cannot go through a huge bunch of scallions in the couple days it takes for them to wilt. So I experimented by making a batch of pesto which I would freeze in portions and use in recipes to give the same scallion flavour without the fresh cuts. I used pumpkin seeds instead of the traditional pine nuts since there was obviously nothing else traditional in this pesto. Well... there was olive oil. And Parmesan. I take it back.

Tip: In my pesto storage research, I found that if you spread a thin layer of oil over the top of the pesto before you store it, it will keep it's gorgeous green colour.

I used the pesto in pasta sauces, spread it on burgers, sandwiches and pizzas.. but my favourite application was as a substitute for the ricotta in my lasagna recipe.

The sauce for the lasagna starts with my basic bolognese. See this post.

You will need:

One (1) pound of lean ground beef.
One (1) large onion, chopped
Four (4) cloves of garlic, minced
Two (2) 28oz cans of diced tomatoes
Two (2) 6oz cans of tomato paste
One (1) tablespoon each of dried basil, oregano, parsley and brown sugar
One (1) teaspoon each of salt and pepper

Brown lean ground beef with onions and garlic in a heavy saucepan. Use a teaspoon of olive oil if the meat is very lean.
Add canned tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, parsley, oregano, brown sugar, salt and pepper.
Simmer for half an hour.

Got that? Great.

I should add here that I am a big fan of the oven ready lasagne pasta sheets. I'm sorry.. but anything that lets me skip a step and leaves me one less pot to wash is a winner in my book. If you want to make fresh pasta, more power to you. If you already have pasta that you have to cook before you assemble the lasagna, then you should go ahead and do that while the sauce is simmering away.

This is where I would usually prep my ricotta mixture. I would mix a pint of part-skim ricotta with a half cup of Parmesan and two beaten eggs. All I did for this recipe was to swap the ricotta with the pesto. I added a little less Parmesan than usual since the pesto already had plenty, and added about 3 tablespoons of chopped parsley to freshen it up. Then I folded in the beaten eggs.

I didn't mean to yell... but it must be a big deal because every lasagna recipe I have ever read has a different method to the layering. I have tried every combination of layers there are to try, I'm sure. I have finally settled on one method that suited my preference... no breakage when trying to remove a piece from the pan, nothing falling out on the spatula ride to the plate, nothing remaining in the space where the piece came from. If my layer combo doesn't appeal to you, do it however you want. It might just be me, but the way the lasagna was layered never once affected the taste of the finished dish. Call me crazy.

First, I spread about half a cup of the sauce on the bottom of the pan. I wouldn't call it a full on layer, but just enough so that the entire surface of the pan has a bit of the juices from the sauce. I continue with a layer of noodles, slightly overlapping the edges as I go. Then I put another layer of the sauce; about a third of whatever is left. Then a layer of mozzarella (yep that's in here too!). Then a layer of the pesto. Then pasta. Then sauce. Then mozzarella. Then pesto. Then pasta again. Seeing the trend? For my standard 9x13in pan, I put one more layer of sauce and top off the lasagna with a layer of mozzarella.
Stack your layers according to the depth of your casserole, and how thick/high you want the lasagna. The top layer should be the mozzarella.

Cover the lasagna with foil and bake at 350 degrees until bubbly. Then remove the foil and pop it back in the oven until the cheese on top browns a bit.

I sprinkled a little parsley when I removed the dish from the oven.