When my girls have dinner requests, I try to grant their wishes. Each is a picky eater in her own way, so I want to encourage and reward requests for healthy fare. Earlier this week, my eldest requested lasagna. Lasagna, then, is what she got.
I have a go-to lasagna recipe (thanks, mom), but the sauce is from-scratch and I didn’t have time to simmer for hours. I had come to the supper game late that night, so didn’t even have time to find and follow the recipe. But I had done some mental calculations earlier in the day and figured that lasagna was merely layers of noodles, tomato sauce, cottage cheese (or ricotta), mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, and ground meat. Variations abound, but I was looking for simple and basic.
Setting a large pot of water to a boil, I sautéed a pound of ground venison and a chopped onion (shhh…don’t tell my kids) in a skillet, stirring in a jar of tomato-based pasta sauce. The sauce simmered while I put the lasagna noodles in the boiling water. Next step was grabbing the baking pan and spooning in a bit of sauce. Three drained noodles went in the bottom of the pan to cover. From there, I forget exactly how I layered the cheeses, sauce, and noodles, but I eventually ran out of sauce and cottage cheese. Covering the top layer of noodles with sauce and cheese is how it’s usually done, but I was out of sauce and wanted to use up the remaining ingredients. Besides, I love the burnt noodle edges of pasta dishes. If there was no sauce to soften the top layer of noodles, they’d crisp up, right? So I sprinkled a final layer of noodles with cheese and slipped the pan into the oven.
After a 30 or so minute bake at 350°F, the lasagna was ready for the table. It was as basic as they come (though the venison added a flavor dimension that beef could not), but boasted a top layer both crispy (noodles) and gooey (cheese). I was surprised to find that no one else in my family was impressed with the crispy noodles, but the lasagna was still a hit.
Not only did I satisfy my daughter’s request for crazy-good comfort food, but I confirmed my suspicion that recipes aren’t always necessary. Making a favorite dish can be as simple as knowing where you’re going and having the pantry to back it up. When you’re not tied to the prescribed steps of a recipe, there’s room for last-minute inspiration and your own spin.