Newbie cooking lasagna
I've been tasked with making a lasagna one afternoon this week.
I'm using a simple recipe that I found online, but I have a few questions... I hope someone can help me.
1. The recipe calls for 1 (16 ounce) package of lasagna noodles. It says to boil them until al dente. Would it kill the recipe if I buy the precooked noodles - the ones that sop up the sauce in the pan?
2. The recipe calls for 1 pound of fresh mushrooms and 3/4 cup of chopped green pepper. Can these veggies be replaced for something else? People keep mentioning spinach to me. How much spinach would I need to saute it down to 3/4 cup? Or should I be using a different veg?
3. The recipe calls for 2 jars pasta sauce and 1 teaspoon of dried basil. I'm not using my own home kitchen, rather an institutional kitchen where I have to bring in all the stuff. So can I just buy sauce that is already flavoured with basil?
4. The recipe calls for 4 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese. How big of a block/ball of cheese will I need to buy to yield me 4 cups?
5. Finally, the recipe calls for 1/2 cup grated parm. Is it possible to get just that much, or am I going to have to buy a bigger container of the stuff.
For what it's worth, I'm in downtown Toronto with access to transit and am willing to go to multiple places to get the stuff I need.
Lasagna is an extremely adaptable dish. You don't really have to follow a recipe. The no boil noodles will work fine. You could replace the veggies with ground beef or ground sausage or a mix of the two. If you use spinach, you will need about a 1lb to get a cup after cooking. You could also use zucchini or eggplant. You will be fine to use any flavor sauce you want. My favorite jar sauce is Newman's Own Marinara. You can buy bags of pre-shredded mozzarella. For the amount you need that would probably be easier. Sometimes I buy the Italian blend of pre-shredded cheese and that has parmesan in it too. Gives it more flavor with the mix of cheeses and then you don't have to buy both.
Foodie006 has god advice, but I would add that if you use a watery vegetable like spinach or zucchini, cook it well to get rid of the excess moisture or you will have soupy lasagne. But, if you use the no boil noodles, you would need more moisture anyway, so that will be a safer combo IMO
Thanks Foodie and CanadaGirl. I hadn't thought of buying the pre-shredded bags of cheese, but I like that idea. I've never tried Newman's Own brand of sauces - I don't even know if I'd be able to find it here at a grocery store.
Would the combination of spinach and zucchini be good together? I have no idea about these things.
I just realized you are in Canada. In the U.S. Newman's Own is widely carried. Your favorite jarred sauce will work fine. You can pick a sauce with basil or really any sauce with a flavor/herb combo that you like will work.
I think the spinach and zucchini would work fine together or just spinach alone would be great. If you use the zucchini I would roast it first.
I'll add onto the great advice you've already been given. The Barilla no boil noodles work well but it's even better if you soak them in hot water first for a few minutes and then squeeze the water out (I run the noodle between two fingers like a squeegee). If you do zucchini, i like to slice them very thin, lengthwise, cover w/ olive oil/salt and roast first. They end up like the noodles (sometimes I use them instead of the noodles). Depending on where you live, though, it might be expensive to use zucchini this time of year and the quality won't be good. For spinach, I use frozen, chopped, Drain it well after cooking (it helps to use cheesecloth or kitchen towel to squeeze out liquid). For jarred sauce, look for one that doesn't have a lot of sugar/high fructose corn syrup or start w/ tomato paste. Finally, let it sit a little after it comes out of the oven or it could be runny.
The Barilla no-bake noodles are delicious because they contain egg. I soak them only because I divide a recipe into several small baking dishes (the better to freeze the lasagne afterwards) so I need to cut the noodles. I have never squeezed out the water and don't think that's needed - they are still relatively firm.
I would not bother sauteeing the spinach - just chiffonade it and layer it, or mix it in with the shredded cheese (hold back the cheese you'll use to top the dish). If your recipe calls for ricotta too, I find it easier to mix the ricotta and mozzarella together before layering. It seems to spread more evenly that way. If you want to shred your own cheese, look at the bags of shredded in the supermarket. Their labels will list both their weight and the number of cups they contain.
I personally do not consider lasagna a forgiving dish, It is easy to have it end up too dry, wet, noodles gummy. For that reason, I think it is good for a novice cook like rbc to find a recipe that includes the ingredients s/he wants to use and then go with it. I've been making lasagna for 40 years but I still stick to a recipe--with some wiggle room--when I want to be sure it will come out right....and even then I've had disappointments.
This is a good point. Adapting a lasagna isn't hard when you're used to cooking lasagna, and you've got a feel for the moisture issue.
If you've never done a lasagna before, I'd stick to the recipe the first time, particularly if you want to serve it to other people.
The big issue is moisture. Too much moisture and you get a soupy lasagna, or gummy noodles. Too little, and you get dry lasagna. Too little moisture, and dry noodles, and you get a crunchy lasagna.
So if you want to substitute vegetables, or use a different type of noodle, I'd look for a reliable recipe that calls for those things.
As far as the tomato sauce - you can use a jarred sauce with herbs with no problem.