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2012 May 8
by Thehousedaddy

Sorry for the long delay in postings.   Couldn’t let the spring go by without making and posting one of our favorite dishes.  This is Washington and soon it will be so insanely hot and humid that a hot piping lasagna will not hit the spot.  While we still have some chilly nights and days, having the oven and burners going for a few hours helps warm the house and heavier than usual dish still sounds fantastic.  With skiing over we have a little more time to cook and at least get something in the oven even if we have multiple soccer, swimming and piano events to drive to.  Once assembled, it can be left alone in an oven for up to two hours.

While we can make our own noodles, I haven’t yet perfected the gluten free lasagna noodle.  Working with brown rice flour is very tricky and if I had to roll my own for the lasagna, I don’t think I would make it very much.  I never think it will take too long to do everything, but Virginia always tells me I have no concept of time and how long it takes to throw a dish together.  Fortunately, Tinkyada, makes a great organic gluten free brown rice lasagna noodle which allows me to concentrate on the rest of the dish and make it in about 45 minutes of prep time.  This can take a lot less time if you have some of the basics pre-made.

First thing is to get the tomato sauce going, which is easy to do and I have posted about before.  Our local stand and market, Twin Springs, has the first of the really great tomatoes available and the difference in using fresh tomatoes compared to canned is insane.  You can use canned in a pinch, but it never really tastes as good.  I dice one onion and two cloves of garlic for every five large tomatoes.  If I have more ripe tomatoes I make more sauce to have in the fridge for pizza, pasta or another lasagna.  I first brown the onions and garlic with olive oil and then add the diced tomatoes with ample salt and pepper.  I let it simmer for as long as I can or until the rest of the ingredients are assembled.  While the sauce is going, I then start the filler for the lasagna.  This part is completely dependant on what I have in the fridge.  If I have fresh cauliflower, I usually make a puree that acts as a ricotta cheese.  I first chop another onion and put in a large pot with the chopped and cored cauliflower, salt and pepper.  I cover and use a medium flame stirring often.  It takes about 20 to 30 minutes to get really soft.  This is the same way I make our cauliflower soup in the fall, but I don’t add water so it can be really thick.

Once the ingredients that take the longest are cooking I boil the water for the noodles.  If I have a couple hours to bake the completed dish, I cook it half the time suggested or until it gets soft enough to flex.  I like the noodles to get crispy and if I have enough time in the oven, the tomato sauce and filling help cook it the rest of the way.  When the noodles are done and if I haven’t cooked them too long, I can just rinse them with cold water and put aside until I am ready to assemble the dish.

Next step is to chop more onions.  Spring onions are now available and I love to add them to the dish in the filler.  You can use regular onions, but the green stems are very tasty.  I will add fresh garlic and mushrooms.  If I have a green like spinach, chard or even kale, I can add as well.  It really depends on what the market has or what I have in the house.  I always start with the onions and garlic in a large skillet with olive oil, salt and pepper and then add the mushrooms and or chopped greens.  While it is sautéing at a high heat I go back to the sauce and filling base.

The timing works since you can cook the sauce and the cauliflower longer without hurting them.   To finish the sauce and filling I use a hand blender.  I can’t recommend a tool more than a simple hand blender.  Prior to this mixer I used to consistently destroy kitchens and burn the crap out of myself by filling a regular blender with hot stuff to mix.  It was comical how it exploded until you realized that surfaces of the kitchen that you didn’t know existed were covered with sauce of filling.  Cleaning it up was hard while applying ice to your third degree burns that you sustained when the top flew off of the mixer.  With the hand blender you just put it in the pot you made the sauce in and mix away.   You also have one less thing to clean which is awesome since you will have five massive pots and multiple other things to hand wash after you make this dish.  My wife also says I use every pot in the house regardless of what I make.  I usually blend the tomato sauce first and keep it simmering until some of the water evaporates from the sauce.  I then rinse it off and blend the cauliflower.  I need to say that the cauliflower can be substituted with pureed white beans that I have written about before.  I always have some pre-made in the fridge or freezer and using them adds more protein to the dish.

I now add the cauliflower or white bean puree to the hot onions and mushrooms and stir together.  Once mixed in I turn the fire off and lay the first of the lasagna noodles in the bottom and sides of my well olive oiled baking pan.  I try and completely cover the bottom and sides so the mix doesn’t stick to the bottom or sides while cooking.  Depending on how deep it is or how much filling you have you can do multiple layers but I usually do just one.  I then carefully add the mix of mushrooms and whatever else I put in the pan on top of my base noodles.  I take time to make sure I don’t slide the noodles around too much.  I then layer noodle on the top of the mix.  Now it is time for the tomato sauce, which I lather thickly on top and make sure there is enough to cover all the noodles thickly.  On top of that I put grated cheese.  I usually use a hand grater and do it directly on top and then spread it out by hand so there is even coverage.  You can use your favorite mozzarella.  We keep it vegan with a soy version, but you can do whatever.  Depending on how much time I have until dinner I adjust my oven.  I have to say that if I need it quickly and we are ready to eat I crank the oven up to 450 on convection bake.  If I know I don’t have as much time as I would like to cook, I will cook the noodles a little more to save oven time.  At a high heat this can be done in 30 minutes.  You just need to watch and make sure the top isn’t burning.  If I have more time or need to do a pickup or drop off with the kids I put the oven at 350 and go.  I can leave for two hours if I slow cook it at 300 and finish with a little broil to crisp the top when I get back and shower the troops.  As long as you don’t burn it this dish can be tweaked and neglected for hours.

I like it with a big red from Southwestern France if it is cold out, but if spring is in the air you can do a lighter Chianti or northern Italian red as well.  I also like to eat it with a simple salad to contrast the temperature of hot and cold.

Even if the temps get too hot to cook inside, we have been know to make this dish on the grill and use all the fresh greens that the summer provides.  Either way Virginia has leftovers to take to work and the kids have a weekend lunch as well.

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