Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Grub at Home: Lasagna

Alright, so I mentioned last week that as an expat you have to get used to making do with what you've got, and there's nothing better to make that way than lasagna.  Living in Asia, especially Korea and China, apartments rarely come furnished with ovens.  Most of the time that doesn't bother me, because I don't really bake, and GDA had a kitchen for doing cooking class with the kids, that we could use after school if we wanted to bake cookies or cakes or whatever.  But what are you going to do if you actually find cottage cheese, and you want to make yourself lasagna in the comfort of your own home?  You're going to improvise.  Lasagna was the first of several recipes I "baked" in my rice cooker, and it turned out delicious.
Well, times have changed.  Here in Mongolia I actually have an oven.  However, I have never seen cottage cheese.  Normally for lasagna you would use ricotta, but I'm a big fan of what the Evil One calls "Poor Man's Lasagna," and it substitutes cottage cheese for the snootier ricotta.  But here I am, short on cash, and I have to eat something, so I started digging through my freezer, and found that when people left somehow a pound of Italian sausage from the Meat Man, Joel, ended up in there.  I also had lasagna noodles in my cabinets.  But what to do about the lack of cheese filling?  Actually, I had a block of some kind of cheese in my freezer as well.  I'm not sure what it actually was.  I bought it last fall thinking it was feta and used it for Greek night, but it wasn't quite right, and I never used it again.
You may be thinking that after nine months that cheese was probably freezer burned.  It may have been, but the end product didn't taste like it, and one of the tricks I learned from improvising in Korea is that freezing cheese makes it crumbly (which on an unrelated note means you can get away with not grating it), so it turned out to be a perfect substitute.  I assembled the whole thing into my baking dish and popped it into the oven.  With the end result:
If you'd like to make it and you don't know how (not all of my six readers are middle-class Americans!) this is how you go about it: Brown a pound of ground meat (I like Italian sausage for this one, but beef or even pork would be fine).  Add some pasta sauce to your meat - enough to make it moist but not to the consistency you would actually use for pasta.  Get yourself a pan, not too big, and a couple of inches deep.  Put a layer of noodles (I use the no-boil kind, but if you really want to torture yourself, go old school with those puppies), cover it with your meat mix, cover the meat mix with ricotta/cottage cheese/some kind of crumbled feta thing, and then add another layer of noodles.  Repeat.  Pour a whole lot of pasta sauce over the top, and then cover the sauce with shredded mozzarella (pizza cheese - pijah cheejuh - in Korean).  Stick that bad boy in the oven at 350F/177C and let it bake until the cheese on top is all melty and preferably just the slightest bit golden (you can see that I got impatient and didn't quite let the golden thing happen).  Serve it with a nice salad and bread.

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