In our family, when it’s someone’s birthday they get to choose everything on the menu for their meal. This year my son asked for lasagna, broccoli, lime jello salad, pomegranate seeds, and lemon merengue pie. I know…a bit random, but at least it’s balanced!
And, really, do you blame him? Lasagna is one of life’s great treasures. Garfield got it right.
I haven’t had any pasta since going on this diet, but I thought I’d make an exception for this time. After all, whole wheat is allowed on an anti-inflammation diet. I’d just been steering clear of wheat in general because I noticed it made me feel “heavy” and headachy after eating it. But, I thought if I used whole wheat pasta, I could have a little and be fine, if headachy, afterwards.
I was wrong. Ohhhh, so so very wrong. After eating dinner I felt horrible, intense pain in my stomach that kept me up half the night. So…apparently I really do have a wheat problem. I never reacted this strongly before starting this diet, though, so I guess it was just…laying low, or something, before? Maybe having wheat all the time before gave me underlying, chronic problems (headaches, nausea) that I passed off as other things – but after being off it for so long, having it now sends my body into a shocked “WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU DOING TO ME?!?!?” response. Well, that’s my theory anyway, and I’m going with it.
I’m going to try to find some non-refined grain, non-wheat pasta options, and I’ll let you know how that goes. I’m thinking spelt, or sprouted grain, or quinoa…we’ll see.
(If you’re interested in trying an out-of-the-box idea for a different sort of pasta-free lasagna, try out the Cauliflower Lasagna Bake I made with the leftovers from this!)
But, those of you who don’t have bodies that completely rebel when you think about wheat can just use 100% whole wheat pasta. Just make sure it’s 100%, so read the box carefully. Some brands will say whole grain but only be like half whole wheat.
Now, I don’t want to brag, but I make a mean lasagna. I have yet to find someone who hasn’t said to me, “This is the best lasagna I’ve ever had!” when they eat it. It’s the same lasagna my mother makes, so I have her to thank. And, it’s really not hard. I think the thing that makes it good is 1) lots of sauce, and 2) lots of cheese.
And – lucky day! – today I’m going to show you all about it.
First – the sauce. A quick look at almost any pre-made spaghetti sauce shows that sugar is an ingredient. (Seriously, sugar is EVERYWHERE.) But, the good news is that it’s not that hard to make your own spaghetti sauce!
Now, now. Don’t get scared. It really isn’t hard. Okay…it’s harder than just opening a jar and pouring it on some noodles, but if you already doctor it up with hamburger meat and onion and stuff, then this is hardly any more work. And if you make up a big batch and freeze the leftovers, you have sauce ready-to-go for next time.
Brown up some hamburger meat in a large pot, and then add chopped onion, chopped green pepper, minced garlic, salt and pepper, and spices.
Yeah, this is a really bad picture. Pretend it’s not.
(And, you’ll want to make sure there’s no filler in your ground beef, because almost all grocery stores add some sort of grain and/or “pink slime” as a filler. One is inflammatory, and the other is just gross. So get a cut of meat that’s been ground up. It’ll say “ground chuck” or “ground sirloin” or whatever. If it says “ground beef,” then it’s almost guaranteed to have fillers. If your store doesn’t sell pre-ground cuts, ask them to grind one for you.)
Cook the meat until it’s completely done, and then add the tomatoes. You’ll be using canned crushed or diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste. I had tomatoes I’d canned over the summer, so that’s what I used.
Pour the tomatoes into the pot, and then add some balsamic vinegar, red wine, and beef broth. How thick your sauce was before putting in the broth will determine how much broth you end up putting in. For me, I used about 3/4 cup, but it might be different for you if you’re using store-bought tomatoes since home-canned are more liquidy. Just stop when it’s the consistency you want. If you make a mistake and make it too liquidy, no worries! Just add more tomato paste to thicken it back up.
Bring it to a simmer, turn the heat down, cover it with a lid, and let it simmer for at least 2 hours. You can technically let it cook for shorter, but doing it for a long time will make all the flavors meld together nicely.
If you want to do it in a crock pot, just brown the onions, meat, and garlic in a pan, then put it with all the other ingredients in a crock pot and let it cook all day!
After several hours, it’s done, and ready to use on pasta, zucchini, eggplant…whatever!
For lasagna specifically, you need to cook up some noodles. I know, they have those “no cook” lasagna noodles. DON’T USE THEM. Really. They result in dry nasty lasagna, and no one wants that. So, just buy some and cook them up according to the directions on the box. If you’re using the 100% whole wheat, I’ve found that adding 1 minute to the cooking time makes for more tender pasta.
After the pasta is cooked comes assembly. First put a small amount of sauce in the bottom of the dish. I have a specific “lasagna dish” that I got as a wedding present, but if you don’t have one of those a 9×13 will work fine.
Then put in three lasagna noodles, and top with a little more sauce.
For the cheese, you’ll use slices of provolone and mozzarella, and whole milk ricotta. Don’t get the grated cheeses – it turns out differently. Don’t ask why, I don’t know, it just does. Using the slices just makes the cheese melt up in a more satisfying way. Put them on a plate and slice them in thirds. (just cut them into three equal sections.)
Put three pieces each of provolone and mozzarella on each noodle.
(The birthday boy helped with this part.)
After the cheese is on, put a little more sauce over the cheese, and another layer of noodles. (I know, it sounds like you’re using a lot of sauce. You are. That’s what makes it good.) On this second layer of noodles, repeat with the sauce and cheeses, and then put dollops of the ricotta on top.
Cover with a little more sauce, and then repeat the layers (without the ricotta) two more times, for a total of 4 pasta layers. Ricotta will only be on top of the second layer.
So – to recap, the layers will be sauce, pasta, sauce, mozz and prov, sauce. On the second layer also add ricotta.
At the end, cover the whole thing liberally with sauce. You don’t want any bit of noodle to show or it will dry out.
My daughter doesn’t like ricotta (can you imagine?!) so I leave a section without it for her and mark that corner with a piece of cheese on top of the sauce. That’s why that bit of provolone is there in the corner.
Cover it with tin foil, and put it on a cookie sheet also covered in tin foil and put it in the oven for 30 minutes. Alternately, you can put the cookie sheet on the rack below the lasagna. The reason for the foil-covered cookie tray is that I’ve learned from experience that this always overflows during cooking, at least a little. Just some sauce bubbling over the side. And what’s better, bubbling over the side onto the oven to be cleaned later, or onto a piece of tinfoil that can be thrown away?
After 30 minutes, remove the foil, and bake for 10 more minutes. If the sauce you used was cold, then it will take longer than 30 minutes. You want it to be bubbly before you remove the foil.
After the last 10 minutes, take it out of the oven, and then let it sit with the foil on it for 10 minutes. The reason you let it sit is that it holds together better that way. If you cut into it when it’s straight out of the oven, then it’ll kind of slip and slide apart when you try to serve it.
It’s delicious. And a
small large part of me is extremely sad about not being able to eat it anymore. I’m really hoping some alternate pasta will come up that I can eat and tastes good. Because life without lasagna is just plain sad.
Homemade Spaghetti Sauce
- 1.5 pounds ground chuck or sirloin
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 large green pepper, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 5 16 oz. cans crushed or diced tomatoes (or 2 32 cans + 1 16 oz can)
- 2 8 oz.cans tomato sauce
- 1 can tomato paste
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 3/4 cup beef broth
- 2 tsp oregano
- 2 tsp basil
- 1 tsp thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- salt and pepper to taste
Brown the beef in a large pot, and then add the onion, garlic, green pepper, and spices. Cook and stir until the meat is fully cooked. Add in the tomatoes, vinegar, broth, and wine. (Adjust the amount of broth according to how thick or thin you want the sauce. If you want the sauce thicker, add more tomato paste.) Bring the sauce to a simmer, and then turn the heat down, cover, and continue to simmer for at least 2 hours. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust accordingly. (To make it in a crock pot, brown the beef, onions, garlic, and spices in a pan, then put it in the crock pot with the rest of the ingredients.)
- 1 box lasagna noodles (100% whole wheat or other non-refined grain pasta*)
- 12 slices provolone cheese, cut into thirds
- 12 slices mozzarella cheese, cut into thirds
- 1 small container whole milk ricotta cheese
- Homemade spaghetti sauce
Preheat the oven to 375. Cook pasta according to package directions. Place a small amount of sauce on the bottom of a lasagna pan or 9×13 dish and lay three noodles on top of the sauce. Put a little more sauce on the pasta, and then three pieces of mozzarella and provolone on top of each noodle. Top with more sauce. Do a second layer just like that, but add dollops of ricotta cheese on top of the mozzarella and provolone. Then add two more layers just like the first layer. (1 layer = sauce, pasta, sauce, mozzarella and provolone, sauce.) Cover the top completely with sauce, making sure all of the pasta is covered. Cover the pan with tin foil and put it in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until it’s all bubbly. (To make clean-up easier in case of spills, cover a cookie sheet with tin foil and place under the dish.) After 30 minutes, remove the foil and bake for 10 minutes more. After removing from oven, let it sit for 10 minutes with the tin foil on top before serving.
*Rice and corn pastas are made with refined grains. Brown rice pasta would be okay, but would probably be very gummy. Look for sprouted grain, quinoa, or spelt.)