Thursday, November 6, 2014

Daily Dinner (20): Easy Weeknight Lasagna

Have you struggled with time getting away from you? Not wanting to compromise on home-cooked, comforting family meals on a weeknight, and not knowing how to? I do. I can whip up an regular Indian meal for my family of four in an hour or less. But when I hear “not dal-roti-sabzi” again, I draw a complete blank. That being said, I have gotten pretty adept at sneaking and quickly passing off a lot of my food in a newer non-Indian avatar. The girls lap it up. Take my weeknight quesadilla dinner or re-inventing our very own Paav Bhaaji as the vegetarian Sloppy Joes.  But as the girls get older, hoodwinking them is becoming more and more difficult.

Which is why I keep trying out new recipes. The winners always are the cheesy, non-spicy dishes across the board- which is probably why Italian is the food-of-choice for both my daughters. I still use a lot of jarred and boxed ingredients in coming up with a non-Indian meal…but lets just take one step at a time. Today’s story is about my journey in the world of vegetable (mostly spinach) lasagna.

The first few times I made it in the traditional oven. It mostly came out right. Not a real problem, except that the 1 hour or more needed to assemble and bake it on a weeknight was pretty daunting. For a very long time, my lasagna endeavors were left for an occasional lazy weekend. Until, I bought my slow cooker…..

There are recipes all over the internet about slow cooker lasagna. I picked one of those, and made a meal. I assembled my lasagna together, and left it cooking while we went about weekend activities. 4hr later, we came home to comforting smells of a warm lunch, ready to relish. It was so easy, the 2nd time I actually did it out of memory. Without a recipe. What I got was …dry pasta. I thought I’d done the same thing as the first time. The third time…a repeat of attempt number 2. I just didn’t get what went wrong. Not even after I pored over the recipes again…..

Then I went grocery shopping with my 12-yr old. “Can you go to pasta aisle and bring me a pack of lasagna noodles?” . 

She came back in half a second. “Do you want the flat ones labelled no-cook noodles or the wavy ones?

 I had no idea what she was talking about. "Pick the box that says lasagna noodles. Wavy would look prettier, so bring those.

You don’t really want me to tell you that I was wrong, do you? Because I was. And just like that, I knew what had been wrong with my 2nd and 3rd attempts at slow-cooked lasagna, trying to re-create a recipe from memory; not to mention ignorance. But rather than go back to the store and get no-cook noodles that the recipe called for, I decided to dedicate the 4th attempt trying to figure out if I could work with what I had. 

One extra step- my brain told me. And sweet success!!

Daily Dinner (20): Easy Weeknight Lasagna

What you need:
1/2 box of lasagna noodles, preferably no-cook (about 9 sheets).
Whole milk Ricotta cheese 32 oz
Marinara/ Pasta sauce of choice - 15 oz
Fresh Spinach 2 cups. washed, dried and torn roughly

How I did it:

  1. Boil water in a large pan, with 1Tbsp salt. When it comes to a boil, put lasagna noodles in and cook for 5 min. The instructions say to boil the noodles for 10-12 min. I only did 5 min, because they continue to cook later in the slow cooker as well. If using no-cook noodles, ignore this step and proceed with uncooked noodles.
  2. Grease the slow cooker with a non-stick spray (I used olive oil).
  3. Pour 1/2 cup of pasta sauce at the bottom.
  4. Layer pasta noodles with overlapping ends, followed by ricotta (I just put in 3 spoon fouls and patted it with back of the spoon to cover the noodles loosely) and a layer of spinach. My cooker is oval, so I broke the noodles in half to get an even layering. 
  5. Repeat the sauce-pasta-cheese-spinach layers 2 more times.
  6. Wash the jar with a little water and pour over the top layer to finish.
  7. Cook on low for 4.5h.

My two cents: The verdict- from the mouth of Baby P- mommy, this is yummy lasagna, even though you put spinach in it :-) !

I have put in other vegetables as well- mostly squash (both green and yellow) and mushrooms. You don’t have to precook, but just season them through to taste.

When catering to tastes outside of my own family, I find that seasoning the jarred pasta sauce slightly helps enhance the flavor. For that, I’ve sautéed some diced onions in olive oil, poured in the sauce and seasoned with salt, pepper and a dash of fresh herbs.

Do try it once, and see if you like to convenience of coming home to a warm meal. Using the no-cook noodles and pre-made sauce, the assembly won’t take you more than 15 min. Then, switch on; forget; and enjoy!!