If you could only take one thing when evacuated (OK, a carful of things), what would it be? This became a very real question for us TSC alums this past week as many of us were forced to evacuate ahead of the coming storm (thankfully, I ended up not having to leave). But after some consideration, I decided that my most important treasure was my mom’s original “The Family Home” cookbook from 1956.
As I took a hard look at all of my worldly possessions, old and new, I realized that if I lost all of them I really wouldn’t be that upset. It would almost be like a fresh start. My friends know that I’m terribly un-sentimental and how much I like (crave?) change. But as I looked around my kitchen and my carefully curated collection of pots, pans, utensils, gadgets, appliances, spices, and cookbooks, I actually felt a twang of sadness at the thought of losing those things.
That’s also the moment that I thought of Mom’s cookbook. I immediately went to the cabinet that keeps it safe, and gently lifted it down. The poor thing no longer has a cover, the spine is breaking, and the pages are threatening to fall out. But tucked inside those tattered pages are not only cherished family recipes, but also random hand written notes, clippings, coupons, spatters, and most importantly, memories from meals my mom cooked long ago.
As a child, that cookbook was my first introduction to cooking, and sparked my lifelong food obsession. I would spend hours poring over the recipes, and looking at the crazy 1950’s era pictures of the food horrors of that time (hello, aspic!). From an early age, Mom encouraged my love of cooking, and would let me attempt any recipe in that book. One of my earliest memories is making meringues because I loved those sweet crunchy cookies so much! The way I remember it, I made them all by myself without any help. I’m sure Mom was there too with a watchful eye, but she always let me believe that I could do anything on my own.
But the most beloved recipe in that book was the Lasagne. Mom made it often, a thrifty and filling way to feed three hungry kids on a budget. We all loved it so much that it became the recipe that we asked her to make for birthdays and special occasions. The Lasagne recipe was on page 281 in the cookbook. Sadly, now when I turn to that page it is no longer there. Mom must have pulled it out at some point so it was easier to reference. Oh the irony!
I’ve since found the recipe online, but it really doesn’t matter because that recipe is permanently etched in my memory. I might not make it exactly the way she did every time (Mom herself would change it up often, depending on ingredients and time available), but just the act of making it is what brings me comfort and reassurance during this stressful time. And I hope it brings comfort and love to your family when you make it too.
If Mom had time, she would make this hearty meat sauce first, which is what makes this lasagne (or any other pasta dish) so good! But if she was too busy, she would just use a jar of pasta sauce in a pinch. Your choice!
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 large cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1/2 pound beef stew meat, cut into cubes
1/4 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1/4 pound ground beef
1/4 cup red wine
2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes (preferably Italian San Marzano)
- Heat a large sauté pan or Dutch oven over medium heat.
- When the pan is hot, add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan.
- When the oil is hot, add the onion to the pan. Saute until softened and translucent, about 3-5 minutes.
- Add the garlic and Italian seasoning to the pan, and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Add the stew meat to the pan, and saute until starting to brown, about 10 minutes.
- Add the sausage and the ground beef to the pan, and use your spoon to break up the chunks. Saute until cooked through and browned, about 10 minutes. If there is a lot of fat in the bottom of the pan, drain off almost all of it.
- Add the wine to the pan, and allow to reduce slightly, about 1 minute.
- Add the tomatoes to the pan, and stir to combine.
- Bring the sauce to a low simmer, and cook for about 2 hours until stew meat is broken down and sauce is thick. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Let cool slightly while assembling lasagne.
I like to add some green veggies to my recipe in an attempt to cut down on the cheese a bit.
1 box lasagna noodles, cooked (or the no boil kind is fine too)
16-ounces mozzarella cheese, grated (set aside 1/2 cup for the top layer)
1 12-ounce bag frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
16-ounces ricotta cheese
1 large zucchini, grated and squeezed dry
4 hard boiled eggs, roughly chopped
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 cup Italian parsley, roughly chopped
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Spread about 1/4 cup of the sauce on the bottom of a deep casserole dish.
- Lay down a layer of noodles on top of the sauce. Then start layering the mozzarella cheese, spinach, ricotta cheese, zucchini, and eggs with the noodles and sauce. How you layer and combine the ingredients is really is up to you depending on how saucy or cheesy you like it, and the depth of your casserole dish.
- Keep layering until you run out of ingredients, or reach the top of the dish. Be sure to end with a layer of noodles, a layer of sauce, and top it all with the reserved mozzarella cheese. Lastly, sprinkle the parmesan cheese and parsley on top of the mozzarella.
- Bake in the preheated oven for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the top of the lasagne is browned, the cheese is melted, and the internal temperature is 165 degrees F. If the top starts to brown too quickly, cover the dish with foil.
- Let sit for about 15-20 minutes for the lasagne to set before cutting. It’s even better when you make it a day or two ahead of time! Serve with any leftover sauce.
What’s your favorite cherished family recipe or cookbook? Share with us in the comments!