We recently attended a wedding at which the officiant spoke of those who couldn’t be there and asked that they be remembered in that moment. This always chokes me up, and predictably, I felt a tight squeeze on my hand. I looked over to see Andy also choked up. The same scene took place at our own wedding; both of us with tears in our eyes thinking of the family members we wished with all our might could be there with us.
I know in these moments Andy is thinking mostly of his mom. I never met her, but these are some things I know about her:
- She was an adventurous eater, always seeking out the newest restaurants and trying different cuisines.
- She loved to travel.
- She shopped at Goodwill and was known on occasion to come home with a piece of clothing, only to realize that it was a piece she herself had donated. She thought this was hilarious.
- She adored Snoopy.
- She drank coffee like it was going out of style: hot, iced, fresh, day-old…didn’t matter.
- She was known to throw quite a party.
- She had a ceramic cantaloupe on her coffee table that always had candy in it.
- She didn’t suffer fools gladly, with one of her favorite lines being, “I hate stupidity.” (A woman after my own heart.)
- She was a crossword whiz.
- She collected rocks. With a bucket in tow, she’d walk down the beach and select rocks that spoke to her. Her family of three rock-ducks sitting on our mantle is a whimsical (and highly coveted) reminder of that hobby.
- She has a son who loves her dearly, misses her constantly, and always speaks of her with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye.
With all my heart, I wish I could have met the woman who raised the best friend I’ve ever had. Andy promises me that we would have loved each other, and if her personality was anything like her sister’s, who I do have the good fortune of knowing, then I know he’s absolutely right. “Firecracker” probably most accurately describes them both.
So when I was trying to decide on a pasta recipe for the Smart & Final First Street Grand Event, I threw a couple ideas Andy’s way, one of them being lasagna. Since I’ve never made lasagna, he immediately suggested that I make his mom’s version. Now, there is no recipe for this lasagna and Andy himself has only made it for me twice. I agreed to try it, but immediately got that nervous, oh-my-goodness-I’m-making-his-mom’s-lasagna-I-hope-I-can-do-this-recipe-justice kind of feeling.
Knowing it would mean a lot to him if I stayed as true to the original as I could, I got some guidelines from him and got cooking, trying as best I could to channel a woman I’ve only heard stories about.
Cottage cheese mixture:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion
3 cloves garlic, chopped
16 ounces cottage cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 pound ground beef
2 14.5 ounce cans diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 15 ounce can tomato sauce, divided use
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine
12 ounces First Street lasagna noodles*
16 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
In a large dutch oven over medium heat, heat olive oil and sauté onions until soft. Stir in garlic and cook for another minute, making sure garlic doesn’t burn. Transfer onion mixture to a bowl to cool slightly. Stir in cottage cheese, basil, thyme, parsley, eggs salt and pepper. Mix well. Reserve in refrigerator.
In the same pot, cook ground beef until no pink remains. Drain off all fat. Add canned tomatoes and their juices, oregano, garlic and onion powders, salt and pepper. Simmer until most of the tomato juice is gone. Add about half the can of tomato sauce, tomato paste and red wine. Stir well and let simmer for about 30 minutes to allow flavors to develop.
Meanwhile preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook the lasagna noodles in salted water and according to the package until tender. After draining noodles, toss gently with a little olive oil to prevent sticking.
When ready to assemble lasagna, spread remaining half can of tomato sauce on bottom of a 13x9 glass pan. Lay 4 noodles across the pan, overlapping slightly to fit, followed by half of the cottage cheese mixture, one third of the meat sauce, and one third of the mozzarella cheese. Repeat with another layer of noodles, remaining cottage cheese mixture, one third meat sauce and one third mozzarella cheese. Lastly, add one more layer of noodles and top with remaining meat sauce and mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle parmesan cheese over the top.
Place the lasagna dish onto a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 1 hour, until top is brown and crusty, and lasagna is cooked completely through. (If top is getting too brown, tent a piece of foil over the pan.) Remove and let sit for at least 10-15 minutes before cutting it.
*Notes: I cooked the entire 16 ounce package of noodles to allow for breakage.
First Street lasagna noodles are made with durum semolina; use whichever noodles work for you.
This is a hearty, comforting dish and makes enough to feed an army. I couldn’t have been happier with the way it turned out, and it even passed the “mom” test with Andy (whew!).
To me, this recipe is about family, gathering together and sharing your day at the dinner table.
It’s about knowing that no matter what these are the people that you can count on, even if you do fight over the crusty corners of the dish. I can completely picture Andy and his brothers in this scene, years ago. This makes me happy. I know it makes Andy happy. And I’m pretty sure it would have made his mom happy.
This project has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for #collectivebias. All opinions are my own.