I’m in Minnesota (MN), U.S., this week. If you’ve never been here, it is a beautiful place — referred to as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes”. In fact, MN has many aquatic natural wonders. It claims 11,842 lakes greater than 10 acres, the origin of the Mississippi River, and perhaps most interesting, surface waters that flow east (to the Atlantic Ocean), south (to the Gulf of Mexico) and north (to Canada’s Hudson Bay). MN also borders on the world’s largest freshwater lake – Lake Superior. But I digress yet again.
I am in MN visiting my father. If you’re a regular reader, you know I’m old, so, you can imagine that my Dad is really old — and he is – an amazing 96.
My Dad doesn’t cook much anymore, so when I visit, I usually cook up a storm and stock his freezer. My sister’s house (where I stay when I’m here) has a fabulous new kitchen, which is a delight to cook in. My somewhat aggressive cooking makes her quite nervous, but I try to tell her that kitchens like hers are made to be used – and not babied. So far, I’ve been lucky; I haven’t done any permanent damage.
Anyway, this week, my Dad asked for lasagna. What a surprise. He ALWAYS asks for lasagna. I decided not to bother to ask if he wanted beef or sausage — as he ALWAYS wants Italian sausage (you get pretty set in your ways when you are 96). I thought I’d make as much as possible (one large and two small baking dishes) to keep him in stock. In order to make this volume in the time available, I had to cut one corner (which I absolutely HATE to do), and that is use “no-boil” pasta. It was either that or I wouldn’t have time to make all three dishes. The no-boil requires a bit of recipe adjusting, but if all your other ingredients are up to standard, it makes a very workable dish — not company caliber, but very good for a family meal.
Here are the benefits you get from no-boil pasta – particularly when you are cooking large volumes:
- It saves you from boiling multiple batches of pasta.
- It avoids laying out cooked pasta in sheet pans (so they don’t stick together or get twisted in knots).
No-boil also means that you are starting your lasagna with a water shortage (very unlike the state of Minnesota). If you don’t add that back into the recipe, the water in your sauce will be absorbed into your pasta leaving your sauce dry. While I usually do a rough estimate, I thought it might be good to know the quantity more precisely. So I did a little mini-science experiment. Here are the results:
Water Absorbed When Boiling Pasta
|Pasta Type||Dry Weight (g)||Post-Boiling Wet Weight (g)||Water Gain (g)||% Weight Gain Post-Cooking|
|Dry Boxed Pasta||42||100||58||138%|
|Refrigerated Fresh Pasta||31||74||43||138%|
While this was a VERY non-scientific experiment (it had a sample size or “n” of 1 for each category), it does tell us some useful things. First, all uncooked pasta absorbs at least its weight in water when boiled in water, and we can assume something similar happens if baked in a casserole. Second, no-boil pasta absorbs even more water when cooked than regular pasta– nearly 2 times its weight. That seems odd to me, but it may reflect the fact that no-boil is thinner and has more surface area.
Most important, this suggests that any unboiled pasta cooked “in the dish” will benefit from extra water. In general, that would be approximately 1-1.5 times the start weight of the dry pasta; so 8 ounces of dry pasta would require between 8-12 ounces (1 1/2 cups) of water added to a sauce that was otherwise designed for a dish with pre-boiled pasta. I prefer to err on the low side to avoid making the sauce too thin.
Enough of that. Just see the “Note” at the end of the recipe if you don’t want to bother reading about my experiment.
Dad’s Lasagna with Italian Sausage
Recipe By: A Global Garnish, LLC
Serving Size: 12-16
Yield: two 9×13 deep lasagna pans
1/2 cup oil, olive
2 onion, chopped
2 celery sticks, chopped
2 carrots , grated coarse
3 garlic clove, minced
2 pounds sausages, Italian , mild, spicy or mixed
6 ounces tomato paste
2 cups wine, red
16 leaves basil, fresh, chopped
1 teaspoons dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
56 ounces diced tomatoes, canned
24 ounces ricotta, whole or part skim
3 large eggs
3 ounces parmesan, Reggiano, grated
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup parsley, minced
2 lemon, zested (use only zest)
16 ounces mozzarella, fresh
24 ounces lasagna noodles
6 ounces parmesan, Reggiano, grated or shredded
1. Heat 1/2 cup olive oil in a sturdy stainless or enamel-coated iron pot. A good Dutch oven works well. Add chopped onion and celery and sweat a few minutes until translucent. Add celery and garlic and cook a few minutes more – until you clearly smell the garlic aroma.
2. Remove all vegetables from the pot and set aside. Add sausage meat to the same pot (if cased, remove casings) and cook through completely. Add tomato paste and stir through. Add red wine and simmer for 5 minutes to let some of wine evaporate. Add herbs, spices and diced tomatoes. Salt to taste. Depending on the salt in the sausage, it may not need much salt. Simmer on low heat for about 45 minutes — until flavors blend.
3. While sauce is cooking, make the ricotta mix and prepare the cheeses.
4. In a large bowl, whisk ricotta. Add beaten eggs (or beat in the side of the ricotta bowl). Stir in parmesan, salt, pepper, parsley and lemon zest.
5. Cut the fresh mozzarella into slices – about 1/4 inch thick and the size of a teaspoon.
6. Boil lasagna noodles. Place on oiled sheet pans to avoid sticking. Set aside.
7. For assembly, place a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of 2 lasagna dishes (or 9×13 baking pans). Do not use aluminum.
Cover the base of the pans with one layer of noodles. Top noodles with another layer of sauce, spoonfuls of the ricotta mixture and pieces of fresh mozzarella. If you are using two pans, each layer will get 1/4 of your total amount of ricotta or mozzarella.
Repeat with another layer of noodles, sauce, ricotta/mozzarella.
Top with a third layer of noodles. Top this layer of noodles with sauce and the final quantity of parmesan cheese.
If you have a deep lasagna pan, you can include an extra layer of noodles/sauce/cheese. In this case, using 2 pans, each layer would get 1/6 of your total amount of ricotta/mozzarella. If you don’t have deep pans, you may end up with extra ingredients for a third small pan, or you can simply use fewer noodles and have a richer lasagna (as described in the recipe).
NOTE: If you use “no-bake” noodles, I recommend that you add extra water to the sauce. For this entire recipe, which calls for 24 ounces of noodles for cooking, I would add at 3 cups (24 ounces) of water to the sauce.