Chili, Lasagna, and Paganism
Peeking out my window at various times today has shown the day to be alternating parts of overcast, sunny, and cloudy. Stepping out the door proved that we were not having a heat wave either. I don’t know about the other folks in the the Northwest, but this feels too much like early spring rather than the first day of summer. In fact, the temperatures have me thinking about cold weather foods like steaming bowls of chili or plates of lasagna. Sigh. Looks like the barbecue will need to wait a few more days.
But since the weather is not lending itself to grilling steaks and corn on the barbie, I am in the mood for some good ole recipe diving. You know, that process of reading lots of recipes on a given “food” and then making up my own little version. Which almost always is quite awesome and rarely reproducible. I think the best part is just how many ways there are of making something delicious to serve to my family.Take chili for example. For several years, my husband and I participated in an annual chili cook-off. Aside from the thrill of competing for the golden ladle award, the best part was judging the whole she-bang. Because there is nothing like sitting down to 30 Dixie cups of chili to realize two things: chili is really yummy and no two people make chili the same way. Some are beany and some are meaty. Some are so spicy your mouth gets a bit excited and some seem to be mostly maple syrup and brown sugar. But if you keep an open mind, there is something good to be found in every bowl.
I recently posted that I had made lasagna with some help from my friends Jeffe and Cynthia (read here) to which Jeffe responded, “Now you must post your recipe.” Well, you may have figured out I’m a bit of a people pleaser, so I will do my best. But remember this one thing: I am not an exact science animal. So, please use your own healthy dose of cooking common sense in case my memory serves me wrong – since you all know I didn’t write a darn thing down.
Tasty Meat Lasagna
2 pounds ground meat (I used 1 pound 97% fat free ground turkey and 1 pound Italian spiced pork sausage)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 large yellow onion
1 container (15 oz) ricotta (I used low fat)
1/2 pound grated mozzerella
1 cup shaved Parmesan
fresh parsley, salt & cracked pepper
2 cups shredded “Italian blend” cheese
1 (26 oz) can of Hunt’s canned spaghetti sauce
1 (14 oz) jar of pizza sauce
1 box (12 sheets) no-boil lasagna noodles (I used Ronzoni brand)
In a heavy-bottomed pan, brown ground meats. When about 3/4 done, add chopped onion and garlic. When cooked through, coarsely chop in a “Cuisinart” type food processor until all pieces are a uniform and small size. Use care here because you don’t want to make soup. Smaller, uniform sized pieces are good for picky texture eaters AND for imparting flavor throughout.
In a bowl, combine the spaghetti and pizza sauces, add in meat mixture. This is the needed lovely meaty tomato sauce!*
In second bowl, beat eggs. Fold in ricotta cheese, salt & pepper (to taste – I actually DO NOT put in salt because cheese is so salty, but most people like their food more salty than I do) and parsley. (I used about 1/2 cup freshly chopped parsley. You could just leave it out, but I grow it and I like it, so I add it.) Add parmesan cheese. Mix well.
Lay out 12 noodles (I just lay them on a clean counter). Divide the cheese mixture evenly and spread each lasagna sheet with cheese mixture - try to spread the cheese to even the edges but don’t get too fussed about this step.
In a 13 x 9 pan, spread a few ladles of sauce. Spread around – there should be enough to cover the bottom with a thin layer. Lay 3 lasagna noodles cheese side up across the bottom of the pan (cross wise – there will be gaps. Try to make the gaps on end the largest.) Cover with 1/2 the mozzarella cheese and 1/3 of the remaining sauce.
Add 3 more sheets of cheese-covered noodles, the rest of the mozzarella cheese, 1/3 of the sauce. Top with last 3 noodles BUT CHEESE SIDE DOWN!!! Cover with remaining sauce, making sure that sauce covers all noodle edges. Sprinkle with shredded cheese blend. Cover with plastic wrap and then foil and put in refrigerator over night. (This was according to my schedule & the directions on the box. You can go straight to the baking part if needed.)
Remove from refrigerator about 30 minutes before you want to bake it. Remove plastic wrap, recover with foil and bake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees or until heated through. Remove foil and bake for 10 minutes or until cheese is nicely melted. Let set for at least 10 minutes before serving.
So what does chili and lasagna have to do with paganism? Well, not much from a strictly dietary sense. But if you do some basic Googling research on pagan beliefs (like this page) you will find this: paganism seems to be quite forgiving of non-believers based on their belief that there is no “one-way”. And that is exactly why foods like chili and lasagna have a place in nearly all homes here in the United States and no one recipe is considered the best way. Comfort foods are those foods which are part of your family way of life – your family teachings if you will – and they provide comfort to you and your tummy because you associate them with other good things. Namely times when both your tummy and your very self have been nurtured.
So on this Summer Solstice (read more here), please comfort yourself and those you love with whatever gives you meaning. For me, that might be a big bowl of chili, or a pan of lasagna, or even a rib-eye steak grilled over the barbie in the pouring down rain!
*Strictly speaking, I would have made my own sauce from canned crushed tomatoes (Muir Glen is good) , some tomato paste, herbs, and added my own sweetener (such as granulated sugar) which imparts the necessary amounts of tomatoey goodness and sweetness. But my life is not always my own and so I resorted to canned things (spaghetti sauce + pizza sauce = tomatoey goodness with proper thickness and sweetness). Just be a good label reader when you have to go with time-savings versus simmering on the back burner all day. In this case, the important part was getting the required amount of liquid which the box of noodles helped me figure. Remember, I am not a scientist. I’m not always futzed when things don’t turn out perfectly as long as they are still tasty. :)