These recipes are inspired by two middle grade novels: Sticks and Stones by Abby Cooper and Out of Tune by Gail Nall. (See my 6/26/17 blog post about my Pitch Wars mentors). In Sticks and Stones, main character Elyse selects triple chocolate cupcakes to be part of the menu for the special school trip she helps to plan. In Out of Tune, Maya mentions lasagna. Yup, that’s pretty much it. She either thinks or says something about it. Okay, maybe this was a bit of a stretch, since the food isn’t a major part of the story line, but it’s there, OK, and I happen to really, really like lasagna! Anyhow, I decided to share two recipes for the aforementioned foods, ideas which came to me from the aforementioned books. Add a salad and you’ve got a great meal.
MY FAVORITE LASAGNA
This is how I learned to make lasagna in Italy, more than twenty years ago. It’s not an actual recipe per se, I just learned to “eyeball” amounts. However, I’ve figured out rough amounts required and included them below. My preferred recipe doesn’t involve layers of ricotta, which I usually see in American lasagna recipes. Instead, it includes a white (or béchamel) sauce, added in alternating layers along with the tomato sauce. If you don’t like that idea, I’ve included directions for a ricotta cheese layer to substitute for the béchamel sauce.
–8 oz. pasta sheets (I like the pasta sheets that are flat and that don’t require pre-cooking. Barilla is my favorite brand.)
–2-3 cups of bottled marinara sauce, or your own favorite homemade sauce.
–1-2 cups béchamel sauce (see recipe below) OR 3 eggs mixed with1 pound of ricotta cheese
–½ to 1 cup of whole milk mozzarella cheese
–½ to 1 cup grated Parmesan (The real cheese, not the stuff in the green can!! No, no, no!!!)
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Prepare your béchamel sauce (see below), or combine the ricotta cheese with the eggs in a small bowl if you’re going that route. To assemble your lasagna, cover the bottom of a 9×9 baking dish with a thin layer of marinara sauce. Then, add a layer of pasta sheets, trying not to overlap too much. Follow with a very thin layer of either your béchamel sauce or the ricotta cheese. Then add a thin sprinkling of mozzarella and Parmesan. Top that with a thin layer of marinara. Then you repeat layers: pasta sheets, béchamel or ricotta mixture, sprinkling of cheeses, marinara sauce. You should have at least three layers. Over the top layer, I add a final sprinkling of Parmesan. Bake for 1 hour, let cool at least 10 minutes before cutting. Serves four. This recipe can easily be doubled for a larger group.
- 4 cups of milk
- 7 tablespoons or a little less than 1/2 cup of butter
- 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
- A pinch of nutmeg
- A pinch of salt
- A pinch of ground pepper
I love using a béchamel sauce in my lasagna (or a besciamella, as I learned to call it in Italy). ? Instructions: Warm the milk in a saucepan, but don’t let it boil. (Frankly, I like to warm the milk in the microwave to save time. Just watch it carefully). In a separate saucepan, melt your butter over low heat. As soon as it’s melted, take it off the heat and whisk in the flour, making sure you don’t have any lumps. Place the pan with the butter/flour mixture back on low heat and add the warm milk, salt, nutmeg and pepper. Stir rapidly with the whisk until it thickens and becomes smooth.
Allergy note: You can easily substitute gluten-free pasta sheets and gluten-free flour in this recipe. Not sure what to do about milk allergies. Vegan cheese just doesn’t turn me on, so I don’t know about any decent substitutes for the cheeses. :-/
Carnivores: Feel free to add any type of meat you’d like to the marinara sauce in this recipe. I sometimes like to add some ground Italian sausage, browned, drained and added to the spaghetti sauce.
Note about the béchamel sauce: I think using the béchamel layer works best if you are going to make a meat lasagna. Using this in place of the ricotta layers tends to make the lasagna kind of runny if you don’t add meat to your marinara layers. I don’t mind, but be warned.
AND NOW FOR THE DESSERT:
TRIPLE CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES
- 1 box of your favorite chocolate cake mix OR your favorite homemade cake recipe, if that’s how you roll)
- ½ cup milk chocolate chips
- ¼ cup mini-sized dark chocolate chips
- 1 can of your favorite chocolate frosting OR 1 batch of your favorite homemade frosting
Follow instructions on the back of the box for making cupcakes. Add ½ cup of milk chocolate chips to the batter, pour into the cupcake pan and bake for the specified time. Allow to cool.
Prepare your frosting (if needed) and frost the cupcakes. I happen to love the frosting recipe that comes on the can of Hershey’s cocoa powder. So does my cute model:
When done, sprinkle some of the mini dark chocolate chips on top of the frosting. Devour. Yum!