Anyway, I was off this last weekend and that means it’s time to cook. There was a prediction of bad weather, which finally rolled in on Sunday but I made plans to cook up a batch of lasagna Saturday. Now lasagna’s not hard to make. It takes just a little bit of prep and assembly. It’s also not the cheapest dish around, but it makes a lot of food and when all is said and done it’s really reasonable at about 75¢ per serving.
So I made it a point to pick up the necessary cheeses at the grocery store Saturday morning and double checked to be sure that I had the other ingredients. OK, I didn’t photograph the entire process. In fact, I thought to take pictures only after dinner. We got hungry. Meggie really tore into it. Here’s what was left of a 9 x 13 pan after the 3 of us got done:
Yes, canned sauce. Have I ever explained why I use canned sauce rather than making it from scratch? It’s simple. Making it from scratch is delicious. It takes the better part of a whole day, or longer, to simmer properly and get the full, rich flavor. But I quit making it from scratch (which I used to do all the time) about 25 years ago when I discovered one thing.
What was the one thing? My kids couldn’t have cared less that it was homemade sauce. Dinners with little kids needed to be cooked quickly and served just as quickly before the little ragamuffins starved to death right before my eyes. So I went to prepared sauce.
Then it took me about another 17 years to figure out that the canned stuff was not only 1/3 the price of the jarred stuff but that I liked the way it tastes a lot better—more like real tomato sauce with just a bit of acid still in it rather than the over-sweetened stuff in a jar. There are only so many glass jars that I can stuff in my cupboards for future use anyway. Besides, the canned stuff I buy was on special for 75¢ for a 26.5 oz. can this week anyway. I bought 6 cans.
So if that’s too plebian for your taste that’s all right with me. Because I’m the Cheap Bastid. If you want to foo-foo your lasagna with all sorts of stuff, that’s OK too. Have at it. Use more expensive and better quality cheeses. Do a gourmet sauce. All that’s fine. Mine tastes good and sticks to your ribs. Plus it’s cheap.
Cheap Bastid’s Lasagna
• 1 lb ground meat (I used ¾ ground beef and ¼ ground pork) or Italian sausage
• 1 package lasagna noodles
• 1 can/jar prepared pasta sauce
• 1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
• 8 oz shredded mozzarella
• 4 oz grated parmesan cheese
• 1 16 oz container cottage cheese (4% fat preferred)
• 1 egg
• Spices: I use crushed red chili, cumin, dried parsley, dried basil, garlic, thyme, fennel seeds and oregano
Get out a 9 x 13 pan and grease it. Take out a large mixing bowl. Take out a medium sauté pan and your pasta pot.
Fill your pasta pot with about a half gallon of water (more or less—you know your pot). Put it on the stove turned to medium high and put the sauté pan on the stove turned to medium. Put the ground meat into the sauté pan to brown. Season the meat with salt, pepper, crushed red chili, fennel seed, garlic and cumin. (I know cumin is more of a Mexican seasoning but I like it!) How much spices? Enough! Do it to taste. Remember though, go a bit light. You can always add more but once it’s in you can’t take it out.
Keep stirring the meat up to brown it evenly. When pasta water comes to a boil, put the lasagna noodles in it. You’re going to par-boil it—really “as dente”. And stir it a couple of times to make sure the noodles don’t stick together. When the meat is done, scoop it into your large mixing bowl—fat drippings and all. Open the sauce and pour it in the bowl. Add the 8 oz can of tomato sauce. Sample and season it to taste. Stir it up really good.
When the pasta is al dente—about 8-10 minutes remove from the stove and drain into a colander. Now take the cottage cheese and put it into a medium bowl. Then add the parmesan, egg and about 2 tablespoons of dried parsley. Mix it all up together really good.
Take out your shredded mozzarella. Reserve a good handful for the final layer on top.
Now you’re going to build your lasagna. If your oven’s not on, then pre-heat it to 375.
Start with about a cup and a half of sauce on the bottom of the dish. Then add your first layer of noodles—running lengthways down the dish. Next put a layer of the cottage cheese mix on top of the noodles (about 1/2 of it) and then put a layer of sauce on top of that followed by another layer of noodles. Next sprinkle a layer of mozzarella (half of it) and some more sauce with a another layer of noodles. Keep building it. There should 2 layers of the cottage cheese mix and 2 layers of the mozzarella with each layer having sauce. The final layer is the last of the sauce with the reserved mozzarella and a final shake of parmesan cheese. One thing I like to do also is to put a couple of the noodle layers cross ways—fold the noodle or snip it off to length.
Cover the dish in foil and put it into the oven for a total of about 45 minutes. At 30 minutes remove the foil to let the top brown a bit.
So, Meggie got fed. She came home from work starving, smelled the lasagna baking and her eyes lit up. I think it hit just the right spot because she managed to down 3 big hunks of it. I love it when people gobble up something I’ve cooked. Makes me feel good all over.
The Cheap Bastid Test: As I just said this dish will feed 6. It costs about $8 to make in my “Cheap Bastid” version. If you want you can get the price up there all the way to $20 or more if you go pricey on cheeses and sauce and meat. And $8 for a dinner that easily feeds 4 adults with left-overs is price effective in this ever more expensive world of ours.
So, there it is Cheap Bastid’s Lasagna. Other people will have their own versions and some will have versions that are far better. But that’s OK because I’m the Cheap Bastid. I’m looking for the best bang for the buck. And this will do it.
That’s the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Good. Eat Cheap. Be Grateful!