Monday, April 6, 2009

Lasagna - Sunny Does It Her Way

Cooking For Real with Sunny Anderson

Recipes are Made to Broken

Latin Lasagna
Spring Goddess Salad
Pomegranate Margaritas

Sunny seems like one of those gal pals you always like to stop by and see and on whom you can always count for good eats.

Today, she’s doing classics that break the rules, but not “the laws of flavor”. She’s starting with a Latin Lasagna. Interesting.

She adds 2 pounds of Roma tomatoes to the food processor with half a red onion and one seeded and ribbed jalapeño pepper and one poblano pepper. She adds some fresh lime juice (to add some Latin flavor) and some oil. She’s using precooked lasagna noodles and reminds us that we’ll need some extra moisture.

I would say half the time I use precooked noodles and the other time I use regular ones. I do think the result is always slightly better with the conventional pasta. But there’s not enough difference to ignore the convenience of the precooked ones.

Sunny seasons the mixture (heavily) and pulses it until coarsely chopped. Sunny adds oil to a pan and a bit of butter. Ooh, she has one of those cool glass-doored refrigerators. What kind IS that?

Moving on to her spicy cocktail, she tells us she loves to infuse her simple syrups with something. She’s funny, she says why not make something complicated out of something simple? I have certainly been known to follow that rule in my kitchen.

She adds water and sugar to a saucepan. She pokes holes in a habanero pepper, adds that to the saucepan and puts it on the heat. The habanero is so hot that you don’t need to slice it to get its flavor.

That’s very clever. I don’t know why you couldn’t that in a tomato sauce or even with a salsa too. Just poke a few holes in the habanero, cook it in the tomato sauce or let it sit in the salsa and then remove it before serving. I’m going to try that.

Into her oil and butter, she adds ground pork to brown. Using pork, instead of beef, “latinizes” her lasagna. She reminds us that the tomato sauce she’s making is really a salsa. She adds lots of sliced mushrooms to the pork with cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. She stirs quickly and sets it aside.

I like her riff on why she’s not cooking the mushrooms for long. Because she’s using precooked noodles, she WANTS the mushrooms to give off some of their liquid as they cook…to soften up those lasagna sheets.

Sunny’s quite right about that. Have you ever been a bit lackadaisical about spreading the ricotta to the bitter end of each precooked noodle and maybe not having the sauce cover ever inch? Those little bits never get soft and they taste dry and brittle, so I’m glad she’s emphasizing the juicing up of those noodles.

She squeezes out thawed frozen spinach really, really well and gathers up her other ingredients. She mixes the spinach with one egg and ½ cup of already grated parmesan. (I’m definitely not with her on that. I’d rather use a cheaper pecorino romano and grate it myself.) Sunny does say it’s okay to buy it grated, because she’s going to use it right away. She squeezes in a tub of ricotta and adds cumin, salt and pepper. She loves cumin as much as I do. She mixes that altogether. It looks yummy.

I would do one thing a little differently. Just to pump up the flavor a tad more, I always soften an onion in oil (for this recipe I would then add the cumin, cook it on low heat for 2 minutes) and add the spinach to cook for a couple of minutes to get rid of any moisture. After cooling it slightly, I add that to the ricotta and other ingredients.

Sunny doesn’t grease her 9 by 13 dish (I would) and she spreads 1/3 of the tomato mixture from the food processor on the bottom. She places over 4 lasagna par-cooked noodles, overlapping them. I never do and then I end up having to break the 4th one up to fit in the dish. I will try that next time. (I just looked at my box of precooked noodles and it says, in tiny print, that you SHOULD overlap your noodles. How did I not know that? Thank you, Sunny, for alerting me to proper noodle handling.)

To assemble the lasagna, Sunny spreads over half the ricotta cheese and spinach mixture. She spoons over the pork and mushrooms and covers that with thick slices of mozzarella and another 1/3 of the salsa; then more noodles, the rest of the ricotta mixture and the rest of the meat mixture. More noodles, more tomato sauce and mozzarella slices and finally some extra Parmesan goes on top with a drizzle of olive oil.

Sunny covers the lasagna with foil and cooks it at 350°F for 30 to 40 minutes. She’ll uncover it to finish the cooking. I’m thinking Sunny covers it to aid in the production of steam, but I don’t like to. It takes way too long to heat up. I’d rather it got too brown too fast and THEN cover it.

One other thing I would add. I am incapable of making a lasagna, WHICHEVER recipe I'm using, without a béchamel sauce. Even if I think I can live without it, as I’m about to put the top layers of stuff on, I quickly whip up a two cup quantity of white sauce. I spread it over the top layer of noodles and then cover the top with cheese and bake as usual.

Sunny warned us that her lasagna suffered from “drippage”, so she put a sheet pan underneath, If you add an extra layer of béchamel, that may well happen, so be sure you secure the battlements with a sheet pan to catch any juices getting loose.

There’s a commercial for the new season Dinner Impossible with the once disgraced Robert Irvine. Frankly, I’m not bothered about the whole thing…anymore. Apparently, I WAS when I first wrote about it, but time and distance have softened me. He was superb on the show and his amplifying his resume was a dumb mistake, but had no bearing whatsoever on his qualifications for producing a great meal in the most extreme of circumstances.

Sunny gets started on her salad. She washes romaine and breaks it up into little pieces. She’s making a Green Goddess salad dressing. She adds ½ cup mayonnaise, ½ cup sour cream, 1 anchovy, cilantro (THAT’S is a different spin) and ¼ of a cucumber WITH skin. Hmmm, interesting. She says that's what makes this a SPRING Goddess dressing. Sunny finishes the dressing with a little clove of garlic, a splash of red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. She says it’s also good as a vegetable dip. She processes it until it’s smooth.

She takes out the lasagna after 40 minutes and uncovers it. She turns the oven up to 425°F for 15 to 20 minutes and returns it to the oven until the top is brown and crunchy.

Sunny slices a red onion to add to the romaine lettuce. (I might add a bit of cucumber in there to mirror the dressing as well.)

For the Pomegranate Margarita, Sunny adds lime juice to a shaker with ice and a splash of triple sec and then tequila and pomegranate juice. She adds the spicy infused simple syrup and shakes it all up and pours it into a lowball glass, ice and all. She loves it.

Sunny pours the dressing over the lettuce and red onion. She tosses it together.

She spoons some salad on to her plate with a beautiful piece of lasagna. Sunny reminds us to let it sit for a bit before serving, so it comes out in a nice slice. She tastes it and raves and has a bit more margarita. She’s even happier now. “You get to break the rules without breaking the flow of the flavor.” Good show, good recipes, great host.


The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

It's not that I think it's a bad dish, but for some reason latin salsa+ricotta+parmesan just doesn't sound right to me. I suppose I'd have to try it.

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JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

That sounds like a good lasagna! I like the idea of adding some heat with the poblanos. I also liked the habanero tip, makes a lot of sense. I have now been convinced I need to try bechamel with my next lasagna!

Tom said...

Hi Sue,

This was the first time I've seen Sunny's show and I liked it. The margarita sounds a little sweet to me (I spent a lot of time working in Mexico and became a kind of margarita snob) but maybe the sugar is necessary to balance the heat, so I'll try it. I'm with SdOC about the cheese -- it would be interesting to try with queso fresco and some of the aged Mexican cheeses too rather than ricotta and parm.

I'm on the fence about bechamel. My mom's Naples-born father never used it and she doesn't either (which may only mean her father didn't know how to make it -- then again, he went to a lot of trouble and made the lasagne with tiny meatballs, which must have been really fun), but it makes the lasagne a little more elegant and I like that you can infuse the milk with different flavors before you add it to the roux. Still, I probably make lasagne maybe three times a year and will add bechamel to only one of them.

I like the no-boil noodles too except when I assemble the lasagne ahead of time and then refrigerate it for a day before baking it. They don't do so well then, so I boil up a box of the regular ones instead. I use the no-boil noodles for manicotti after I saw them do it on America's Test Kitchen, and they work great.

Well, that's certainly too long for a comment post, but I couldn't help myself -- I'll try to be less wordy in the future!


Sue said...

Love you!!!! Thank you so much!

I don't know why, but the combination of cheeses with the salsa type sauce doesn't bother me. I just think it adds a great spicy element to the dish.

Hey Jenn,
Try the bechamel. You'll love it!

Don't shorten your comments! I love to hear them.

That's a really good point about not using precooked noodles when making the dish in advance. I've never used those manicotti noodles. I have to try them, but frankly there's so much other stuff to get ready when making lasagna or a stuffed pasta dish that I rarely find myself waiting on the noodles.

My old school Italian recipes from Hazan or Bugialli always used a bechamel sauce. I was proud of myself for cutting down the amount and confining it to the top layer. It still gives you that creamy richness, but it's not excessive.

Emily said...

My first thought about the lasagna was the same as Rachel's. But the more I think about it, the more delicious it sounds. It would go perfecly with that pomegranate margarita.

I don't watch Dinner Impossible; Robert Irvine scares me.

Anonymous said...

i saw this episode...that Lasagna looked great and i was droolin' all over the TV.