My friend Michael - friends since the 5th grade if you can believe it - likes to say, "David can look into my refrigerator and see a jar of mustard, one egg and half a can of flat Tab® - and before I know it there is a four-course meal on the table. How annoying is that?" Well, annoying it may be, but it isn't true. For me, the Tab® would need to be fresh.
I do really enjoy creating from the fridge. My friend Bunny (who is the proud owner of the Metropolitan Refrigerator of Art) also has a term for this: Inspiration du Jour. It can include leftovers, condiments and whatever else you have in your cubby. The thing I find most interesting about cooking out of the fridge/pantry is that I tend to enjoy it more than following a recipe - I love the challenge - and I also tend to use fewer ingredients and they shine in their simplicity.
The other day, I was making my aunt's stuffed shells and was looking at her two, distinctly different recipes for the filling. Both for the same number of shells yet one called for 2 cups ricotta cheese and the other for 4 cups. I decided - Sherlock Holmes that I am - to follow the recipe with the shakiest handwriting because the deteriorated penmanship meant it was the most recent version and probably the culmination of many years' experimentation. This decision left me with some leftover fresh ricotta cheese. (The stuffed shells were great, by the way.)
Okay, this was no Iron-Chef-Bobby-Flay-Throw-Down reality show; it was dinner for one night. While this lasagne wasn't the most exciting thing to come out of my oven in the past week, it was good. Really good.
So, take note! Five ingredients. Okay, six if you count the parsley.... But who's counting?
1 1/2 ounces grated Parmigiano-reggiano, divided
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 2/3 cups tomato sauce with basil*
8 no-boil lasagne noodles
Equipment: a hand-cranked pasta roller.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
In a medium bowl, mix together the ricotta, 1 ounce of the Parmigiano-reggiano and the egg. Add the parsley and mix well.
In an 8-inch square baking pan, spread 1/3 cup of the tomato sauce evenly on the bottom. Top the sauce with 2 of the no-boil noodles.
Top the pasta with a heaping 1/2 cup cheese mixture, spreading evenly to the sides. If you use fresh pasta, this is a little difficult as the pasta sauce softens the dough very quickly. Top the cheese mixture with another 1/3 cup of sauce, spreading evenly over cheese. Repeat layering twice and end with the final lasagne noodles and the final 1/3 cup of sauce. Sprinkle the top with the remaining 1/2 ounce of Parmigiano-reggiano.
Bake for 25 minutes or until bubbly. Let set for 15 minutes, then cut and serve with extra sauce, if desired.
Tomato Sauce with Basil
1 28-ounce can peeled Roma tomatoes (preferably Italian)
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half
6 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon sugar
salt to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Run the tomatoes through the finest disc of a food mill into a medium saucepan. Add the onion, butter, sugar and salt and bring to a simmer. Cook at a low simmer for about 45 minutes until thickened. (Sauce will not be as thick as store-bought sauce.) Remove the onion and add the basil. This recipe is based on a Marcella Hazan recipe and is one of my favorites.