I used to love watching Michael Chiarello‘s show Easy Entertaining on Food Network Canada. His relaxed west coast attitude towards food and life always made me feel right at home. When I had the chance to pick up a copy of Michael Chiarello’s Casual Cooking: Wine Country Recipes for Family and Friends thanks to Raincoast Books, I lunged for it.
What could be more Italian and delicious than homemade individual lasagnas on a dark stormy winter’s night? This is what I call, comfort food.
Michael makes fresh tomato sauce for this recipe but considering it is winter here, I made my own version. If you happen to have 2 1/2 pounds of peeled, seeded and pureed tomatoes feel free to use them instead.
Like his recipe says, heat olive oil over moderate heat and brown one lightly crushed clove of garlic. I may have added a couple more than that, I love garlic. I added one 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes.
Followed by one 28 oz can of diced tomatoes.
I added some salt, pepper and chopped fresh thyme because I did not have basil. Then I let the sauce simmer for hours.
While the sauce reduced I worked on the filling. Instead of using ham, I chopped up some turkey bacon and sauteed until almost crispy. In a bowl I added 2 cups (a 15 oz container) of low fat ricotta cheese, 2 egg yolks, the turkey bacon, 2 ounces of low fat mozzarella cheese cut into 1/4″ dice, 2 tbsp grated Parmesan, 1 tsp of dried oregano and some salt and pepper. I mixed everything together.
Michael does not use low fat ingredients but I always replace high fat with low if I can get away with it. He also uses fresh basil instead of oregano but I actually loved how the oregano worked in the filling.
Around three hours later this was my sauce, it reduced perfectly. I let it cool and then put it in my fridge until I was ready to assemble dinner.
I got one package of lasagna sheets and cut them into 4 1/2″ by 5″ rectangles. I did not have 16 squares, I only ended up with 14 so my lasagnettes were a bit thinner than Michael’s, no worries.
I brought a large pot of salted water to a boil. I boiled the sheets one to two at a time at the most for just a minute and cooled off in an ice bath. Then I moved them to rest on clean tea towels while the others cooked. A bit time consuming but hey, that is part of making lasagna! Work for those carbs!
I put enough sauce on the bottom of a parchment-lined baking sheet to cover the squares of pasta. You want to make two lasagnettes so make two squares, add a sheet of pasta and add just three tablespoons of filling evenly over the pasta. Cover with another sheet and repeat until you finish with the last piece of pasta. Slather with pasta sauce, all over the top and the sides.
Sprinkle with some freshly grated Parmesan and put in a preheated 375F oven for 30 minutes. Let rest five minutes and then cut in half to make four servings.
Usually, I would not consider this dish saucy enough for me. I would have loved some sauce in between the layers of the pasta but then if would not have ended up so visually stunning with the melted cheese oozing out. This is one of the rare times in my life I felt I really understood the Italian philosophy of letting the ingredients speak for themselves. I could taste the ricotta, the mozzarella, the turkey bacon… Had I added more sauce, this might not have happened. Kudos to Michael!
This was a special dinner, absolutely worth the time and effort that went into it. I made it on a lazy day last week when it was cold, dark and miserable. Listening to the pot of sauce bubble away on my stovetop for the afternoon was a comfort and now that I know it is worth the effort, I am excited to make this again.
I give this recipe a rare five out of five wooden spoons and can not wait to tackle more recipes from Michael’s cookbook.