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Newbie cooking lasagna

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rbc Nov 27, 2011 04:46 AM

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.

Thanks!

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    foodie06 RE: rbc Nov 27, 2011 05:03 AM

    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.

    1. c
      CanadaGirl RE: rbc Nov 27, 2011 05:20 AM

      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

      3 Replies
      1. re: CanadaGirl
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        rbc RE: CanadaGirl Nov 27, 2011 06:14 AM

        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.

        1. re: rbc
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          foodie06 RE: rbc Nov 27, 2011 08:08 AM

          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.

          1. re: foodie06
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            CanadaGirl RE: foodie06 Nov 27, 2011 11:09 AM

            Newmans Own is usually available in NS at the Superstore, which is owned by loblaw. Costco has it too - but that might be tough from downtown TO!

      2. chowser RE: rbc Nov 27, 2011 08:27 AM

        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.

        1. greygarious RE: rbc Nov 27, 2011 09:03 AM

          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.

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            escondido123 RE: rbc Nov 27, 2011 12:07 PM

            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.

            2 Replies
            1. re: escondido123
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              CanadaGirl RE: escondido123 Nov 27, 2011 06:57 PM

              Nothing in your response that I have to disagree with.

              1. re: escondido123
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                tastesgoodwhatisit RE: escondido123 Nov 29, 2011 12:40 AM

                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.

              2. eclecticsynergy RE: rbc Nov 27, 2011 07:55 PM

                You can usually get better parmesan at a deli or cheese shop, or the deli section of your supermarket, than the dry stuff that comes in the green tube. A nice Reggiano will add much better flavor, though it costs somewhat more. Or a good romano such as Locatelli could be used. The other advantage to getting it this way is that it will be more freshly grated, which makes a surprising amount of difference. Plus you can get closer to the quantity you want.

                Wanted to add my voice to the others on two points: the no-boil method works very well provided you use a little more sauce or a slightly watery vegetable, and yes it's quite important to let a lasagne rest for at least twenty minutes after removing it from the oven- much of the fluid will be absorbed, and the dish will firm up enough to cut cleanly for portioning.

                1. eclecticsynergy RE: rbc Nov 27, 2011 08:03 PM

                  One other thought- if you decide to go with spinach and/or zucchini, fine. But if you don't, I'd consider omitting the green peppers- they tend to take over a baked dish and could easily drown out the other flavors.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: eclecticsynergy
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                    gardencook RE: eclecticsynergy Nov 28, 2011 05:07 AM

                    I agree with this about the green peppers. I have a pasta dish that I make with green peppers and they are actually the "star" of the dish even though I use very little. The could easily overwhelm lasagne.

                    Something that I've done with the no boil noodles is to add a bit of water (about 1/2 c. or so) to my homemade sauce (I use basically Giada's simple tomato sauce recipe) and not soak them. It makes the final dish a little bit creamier, and the sauce is still rich. It doesn't make the dish too wet and it doesn't fall apart when cut after resting, but keeps it form nicely. I don't see why you couldn't do that with jarred sauce and skip the soaking.

                  2. Terrie H. RE: rbc Nov 28, 2011 05:19 AM

                    Just wanted to add that 1 lb. of cheese will yield 4 cups of shredded cheese.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Terrie H.
                      greygarious RE: Terrie H. Nov 28, 2011 12:41 PM

                      That depends entirely on how finely shredded the cheese is. The finer the shred, the less the weight of a one-cup volume.

                      1. re: greygarious
                        Terrie H. RE: greygarious Nov 28, 2011 11:58 PM

                        I was trying to help the OP with her very general questions, and I know that you will find that, in general for block cheese grated as most people do on a box grater, 4 oz. of block cheese is about 1 cup of cheese. Just trying to help.

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                      INDIANRIVERFL RE: rbc Nov 28, 2011 09:28 AM

                      Not knowing how detailed the instructions are, put a ladle of sauce in the pan before you start with the noodles. Helps keep the pasta from sticking.

                      1. danionavenue RE: rbc Nov 28, 2011 11:58 AM

                        if you do boil your noodles, strip of the excess water (with your hands) as you make your layers. I always add cottage cheese or ricotta to my lasagna. 2 jars of pasta sauce for sure and you could get basil flavored ones to answer your question. I have never put green pepper in my lasagna to be honest. Ground meat and mushrooms yes.

                        1. natewrites RE: rbc Nov 29, 2011 07:31 AM

                          Good advice by all, especially the thoughts about the veggies.

                          I use spinach all the time but I use the frozen box kind. I also thaw it out in the microwave, then no kidding, take small handfulls of it and squeeze it as hard as you can over the sink to completely get rid of all the water. This step is a must, then sprinkle the spinach over the meat/sauce.

                          Also, if you're a newbie to lasagna, I'd boil your noodles first. Once they're drained and you've run cool water over them and drained them again, just take each noodle out and like everyone says, run your fingers down each one, to get rid of the excess water. What I do, is lay the noodles on a clean dish towel and then cover with another clean dish towel as I build my layers.

                          You can use both fresh mozz. and mozz. in the bag. I use both. The fresh mozz. lends its creaminess, and the mozz. in the bag, is good for filling out alll the areas that the sliced mozz. misses. Good luck.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: natewrites
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                            escondido123 RE: natewrites Nov 29, 2011 09:01 AM

                            The non-meat recipe I use has you grate the fresh mozzarella (it doesn't use the other kind) and also adds butter to the ricotta. A very rich and creamy lasagna.

                            1. re: natewrites
                              LaureltQ RE: natewrites Nov 29, 2011 09:16 AM

                              One thing that I've found about fresh mozzarella is that it hemorrhages water. Every time I make pizzas with it, as soon as it melts, tons of liquid comes out. It may be nice to put it on top of the lasagna, but if the recipe isn't expecting that level of additional moisture it could be disaster.

                              1. re: LaureltQ
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                                escondido123 RE: LaureltQ Nov 29, 2011 09:46 AM

                                The recipe I use specifies fresh so the recipe takes that into consideration, and I think the grating is to make sure the liquid is evenly dispersed. (Laure, If you like the fresh mozzarella on pizza except for the liquid, I have a solution which we use. A short while before you're going to make the pizza, slice the mozzarella, lay the slices out on paper towels and salt it lightly. Put another layer of towels on top and press. When the towels are wet, remove them and do it again, without adding any more salt. At that point, most of the extra water will be gone and it will be perfect for the pizza--if you like it big grate rather than sliced you can use the same technique. Hope this helps.)

                                1. re: escondido123
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                                  rbc RE: escondido123 Dec 1, 2011 03:51 PM

                                  Thanks everyone. I made the lasagna yesterday, and for a first-timer it didn't come out too badly.
                                  I'm now looking for another new recipe that's good for beginners to try. Always open to suggestions.
                                  Thanks!

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