Thursday, May 23, 2013

Every Freezer Needs a Lasagna

We had a slightly strange social situation not too long ago where friends that we invited to dinner ended up bringing the main dish. They suggested it, and I just went with it. And then I thought maybe it was a little rude of me to not insist that they just come over and relax. And then I felt even more like a jerk when they came over and broke the news that they were expecting their first child and mom-to-be had been feeling significantly ill over the past, oh, 4 months. Sigh.

What they brought, though, that was pretty good. They called it “Lancaster County Lasagna,” and I’m still not sure if this is actually a thing or just what they call the lasagna my friend grew up eating. When you Google “Lancaster County Lasagna,” guess what? You don’t get the recipe. So, let’s make it an actual thing, shall we?

I know what you’re thinking:  Really, Melissa? Lasagna? This is your second recipe - couldn’t you think of something a little more interesting?

Two things: 1.) My freezer is empty (except for this), and every freezer needs a lasagna. 2.) I had exactly the right things hanging around in my pantry to make this.

Ok, one more thing: it’s really tasty. It is not your typical Bolognese ricotta/parmesan/mozzarella job. Nothing against traditional lasagna, but sometimes you want something a little different. Sometimes you think you want lasagna but what you really want is Hamburger Helper.  I never would have known I wanted Hamburger Helper because my awesome mom never made the stuff. But it turns out maybe I wanted Hamburger Helper.

Lancaster County Lasagna
(Adapted from what I remember about my friend’s lasagna. Ok, full disclosure, I didn’t call and ask for the recipe. I am working with a 2-hour window of napportunity, and I need to get this done NOW.)

1 lb. lean ground beef
1 onion, chopped
3-4 large leaves Swiss Chard (optional)
2 - 14.5 oz. cans diced tomatoes
¼ c. chopped parsley
3 c. shredded cheese – Colby Jack, Cheddar, Mozzarella
lasagna noodles (I had 9 hanging around in an open box. Perfect. You can use more.)

Brown the ground beef. While it is cooking, chop up the onion and throw it in the pan. You can chop up the stems of the chard leaves and throw them in with the onions if you want. I do this because it momentarily makes me feel better about all of the other stuff I waste. While the onions and meat are cooking, finely chop the leave portions of the chard. When the beef mixture is fully cooked, add the chard leaves and stir around until just wilted. Remove from heat, salt and pepper to taste. Add all but about 1 cup of the diced tomatoes and the parsley.

Assemble. Put a bit of the tomato-beef mixture in the bottom of the pan. Place a layer of noodles, a layer of tomato-beef, a layer of cheese, and repeat until you run out. I don’t ever boil lasagna noodles first.  They will soften in the baking process, and I like the little bit of chew that you get with unbaked noodles. Feel free to boil them according to the package directions first, if it pleases you. Top your last layer of noodles with the reserved tomatoes and a handful of cheese.

Here is where it gets even more contentious.

You can either bake this bad-boy first, let it cool and then freeze it (this way you can even cut it up into single servings and freeze them individually), or  wrap it up and freeze it right away before baking. I am opting to freeze now, bake later, due to the aforementioned napping window that I am working with.

To avoid freezer-burn, wrap in plastic wrap before wrapping in aluminum foil. But seriously, folks:

This warning is based on first-hand experience.

Try to remember to move this big, frozen hunk of lasagna to the fridge on the day before you want to cook it. Bake at 350, covered – with foil, not plastic wrap – for about 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes. Cooking time will vary based on how defrosted or not defrosted it is.

Per 1/9 pan serving: Calories – 311, Fat – 13.6 g, Sodium – 511 mg, Fiber – 2.8 g, Protein – 20.9 g, Calcium – 22.9%, Iron – 14.7%, Vitamin A – 24.1%, Vitamin C – 19.6%

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