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Sausage & Cheese Lasagna

It would be an understatement to say that it has been cold in the Northeast for the past few weeks. Frigid, bone-chilling, bloody freezing cold. The temperature has been so low on some days that I don’t think that it could have snowed if it wanted to, although the major snowstorm missed us completely yesterday.

In that spirit, I decided to make lasagna. I never really think about doing this just for myself, but I really should. Left over lasagna is wonderful to have on hand. It is perfect for reheating for a quick weekday supper. It is also possible to make it in advance and to freeze it to cook mid-week. Add a side salad and some garlic bread (or deli-purchased garlic knots for the lazier set) accompanied by a glass of red wine, and you could almost be at dinner at your favorite red-checked tablecloth restaurant, Chianti bottle candleholder optional.

I must have also been inspired by what happened a month or so back. When I was in Virginia over the holidays, I asked my dad what he wanted me to make for dinner. I even offered to make him some dishes he could freeze to reheat whenever he got tired of eating his usual fare. What did he want? My mom’s lasagna. So, I pulled out the recipe card from the file and started to get to work.

I did feel a bit pressured to get this right on the first try. My mom’s lasagna was much in demand when we were growing up, and she took a particular pride in this recipe. She had even purchased extra sausage and had frozen it to have on hand, which my father and I found when we were poking around in the freezer. Some pretty high stakes were riding on my producing something that would remind everyone of family dinners gone by, but in a good way.

From the card above, you can see that it doesn’t seem to be that complicated to make. It’s just a series of several steps that all get thrown together at the end in one baked dish. I hadn’t realized until I looked closely at the card, but it seems like my mother may have snuck in the spinach which she always used in this recipe. I opted not to mix that into the ricotta as she seems to indicate, but, rather, I alternated between globs of cheese and dots of green when I built the layers.

The end result was rich, gooey, hearty, and soul-satisfying. It was a hit with my father and my siblings who were around that night. All the same, I sort of wondered if this was the be-all, end-all of family-style lasagna dishes. Food and Wine magazine had published a Free-Form Sausage and Three-Cheese Lasagna recipe in the January 2010 edition. I was drawn into it by the photo of the finished dish. Would this be the rival recipe to take on my mother’s favorite?

I tried to see what I could pick up at the Greenmarket yesterday to put this together. The folks at Violet Hill Farm had some Italian sweet sausage. Tonjes Farm Dairy had fresh mozzarella. Everything else I would need to pick up elsewhere. Then, I could see if this would match up to the kind of lasagna that haunts one’s dreams.

My finished product looked different from that in the magazine, as I’d added some tomato sauce to the top layer to keep it moist. I also had enough extra cheese that I put some of the Fontina and the mozzarella on top. I think mine looks a bit more rustic and what one thinks of as a homemade dish.

When served up with the fresh basil on top of the finished product, the lasagna is respectably gooey with a snap from the herbs. I didn’t find it as hearty as the one that I’d made at my folks’ place. The flavor overall seemed a bit drab. It didn’t taste bad at all, just not as strong of a dish as the one with which I’d grown up. This is not something that would make the members of a large family run to the table so as not to be stuck with the last, smallest piece.

I could definitely see adding some extra hot Italian sausage to give it some more personality. Another touch I might add, which is a step that is in the first recipe, is to cook the sausage in the sauce for a while and then add the two together to build the layers, as I thought the meat got kind of dry in the baking process. The cheeses were fine but having two soft melty cheeses didn’t create enough of a flavor contrast for me.

As for not having any spinach, well, I didn’t miss that a bit. There’s always salad to add the green stuff to the meal. Overall, I think that Mom’s recipe still wins; however, it was nice to try another option just to see if something else could stack up to it.

Buon appetito!

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