Jim Coleman | Rule of thumb: You can never make too much lasagna

Posted: August 23, 2007

Q: Could you please send me two recipes for lasagna? I'm hosting a dinner party, and I would like to serve a vegetarian lasagna and a traditional lasagna. The recipe I have for regular lasagna dries out quickly and the pasta gets hard. Also, could you tell me how much I should make? Thanks for your help.

- Hilary G.

A: I'm happy to share the following recipes - enjoy! But as to how much you should prepare . . .

I would like to thank you for all the information you were so nice to supply concerning your party. You know, Hilary, things like: the number of people you are hosting; whether they are all adults, or mostly male or female; other items you intend to serve with the lasagna; whether it will be presented on a buffet or served as a sit-down meal. Little things like that.

Now that I've been a smart aleck, as my mom used to say (daily), let's use a simple rule of thumb to guesstimate how much food to prepare.

I'm going to suppose you aren't serving the lasagna by itself; typically, it is paired with salad. You can roughly figure three ounces of salad, about 10 ounces of lasagna and a piece of dessert per person.

Again, this is just a rule of thumb. (Don't you wonder where those rules come from? Are they made up by someone who is all thumbs?)

The point is, use common sense when you are determining the amount of food to prepare. For instance, an all-female group might prefer more salad; all males would probably like a little more of everything.

Another good rule of thumb is that an 8-by-11-inch baking pan of lasagna with a few side dishes should easily serve seven to nine people.

After dinner, you can amuse your guests with a little trivia about the origin of the word lasagna. It is believed that it started with the Greek word lasanon, which is all well and good, except that word translates to . . . chamber pot. Yes, that kind of chamber pot.

By the time the Romans adopted and reinvented the word, it had became lasanum, which refers to a cooking pot. The Italians later coined the term lasagna for the baking dish that held sheets of pasta with meat, tomato and grated cheese. Later, the word lasagna became known as the pasta dish itself.

Have a wonderful dinner party, Hilary, and I hope your guests give your lasagna a unanimous thumbs-up. Tell them that's another rule of thumb. *

Jim Coleman, corporate chef at Normandy Farm and Blue Bell Country Club, is the author of three cookbooks and is the host of two nationally syndicated cooking shows - "A Chef's Table" on WHYY (91-FM) at noon Saturdays and "Flavors of America," on Channel 12 at 1 p.m. Saturdays and CN8 Monday through Friday, 4:30 p.m.

HILARY'S ROASTED VEGETABLE LASAGNA

1 pound eggplant, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds

1/2 pound medium fresh mushrooms, cut into 1/4-inch slices

1 small yellow squash, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices

2 small zucchini, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices

2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices

2 sweet red peppers, cut lengthwise into 6 pieces each

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for pans

3 cloves garlic, minced

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 (15 ounce) container reduced-fat ricotta cheese

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

4 large eggs, whipped

1 (26 ounce) jar meatless spaghetti sauce

12 no-boil lasagna noodles

2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

3 tablespoons minced fresh basil mixed with 2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary

Brush baking pans with olive oil. Place eggplant and mushrooms on one prepared pan. Place the yellow squash, zucchini, carrots and red peppers on the second pan. Combine the oil and garlic; brush over both sides of vegetables.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake, uncovered, at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Turn vegetables over. Bake 15 minutes longer. Remove eggplant and mushrooms. Continue baking yellow squash, zucchini, carrots and peppers until edges are browned.

In a bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese and eggs. Spread about a quarter-cup pasta sauce in a 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking dish coated with nonstick cooking spray.

Layer with four lasagna noodles, overlapping slightly, half of the ricotta cheese mixture, half of the vegetables, a third of the pasta sauce and 2/3 cup mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle with half of basil mixture. Repeat layers. Top with remaining noodles and pasta sauce.

Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Uncover; sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake 5-10 minutes longer, or until edges are bubbly and cheese is melted. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting.

HILARY'S TRADITIONAL LASAGNA

Sauce:

2-4 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, sliced

4 garlic cloves, sliced

2 pounds ground beef

1/2 pound mozzarella, sliced

1 pound lasagna noodles

1 large can (28 ounces) tomato puree

1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste

1/2 cup chicken broth

Salt and pepper

3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

Ricotta filling:

2 pounds ricotta cheese

2 tablespoon chopped parsley

1 cup Parmesan cheese

4 eggs, whipped

Salt and pepper

Topping:

1/4 pound mozzarella, shredded

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To make the sauce, heat the oil in a pot, add the onion, garlic and ground beef. Season the mixture with salt and pepper and cook until the beef is well browned. Add the tomato puree, tomato paste, broth, sugar and baking soda.

Stir and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes.

To make the ricotta filling, combine the ricotta with the cheese and the parsley, season the mixture to taste, add the eggs and set aside.

Boil the lasagna a few sheets at a time in lightly salted water until they are al dente. Remove them with a strainer and drain them. While the pasta is cooking, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Coat the bottom of a baking dish with a half cup of sauce, put down a layer of pasta and a layer of ricotta mixture, and continue alternating the pasta with sauce and ricotta. Cover the last layer of pasta with sauce and mozzarella slices.

Bake in the preheated oven 30 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining quarter-pound mozzarella on top and bake 15 minutes more, or until golden and bubbly.

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