I bet everybody has plenty of days when they work so hard dinnertime comes around like a big surprise. You try to plan ahead, sure, but life happens. My husband and I like to eat and we like to cook, but there are days when we get so busy we just forget about dinner.
When we know what’s ahead, a project that will take all day, or a few busy days in a row, we make a casserole. A casserole is like money in the bank. Sure you think you would get bored eating the same thing every night, but when 6 pm rolls around and your head is confused and your stomach is talking smack (Taco Wagon! Taco Wagon!), it’s nice to have that old mystery pie sitting in the fridge.
One of our favorite casserole meals is lasagna – flat noodles layered with meat and cheese and tomato sauce. One batch makes two big casserole pans full, at least four meals and some quick snacks.
Lasagna is one of the easiest things to make with homemade pasta because the pasta only has to be rolled out into strips, no cutting into noodles.
I don’t mind if my noodles are rough and inconsistent sizes, we just lay them down over the filling, it all bakes together.
For a two pan batch I use about three cups of flour, 4 eggs, two tablespoons of olive oil, and a teaspoon or two of salt. I say “about” because the more whole wheat flour I add the less flour I use overall. If I add a cup of whole wheat flour then I only use about 2 and ¾ cup of flour total.
A big batch like this is hard to get together, and I might have used too much whole wheat flour, so my husband helps me roll it out. He cuts a little ball of dough and rolls it between his hands into a little rope, then flattens it with our wooden rolling pin. I roll those out with the pasta press as neatly as possible. They come out in different lengths but we just cut them with the kitchen scissors.
For filling this time we used boneless chicken thighs. My husband sautes them in a cast iron frying pan with garlic and onions, etc, cutting them into bite size pieces as they cook. He adds white wine, and throws in some chunky pieces of mushroom.
Our tomato patch didn’t amount to much this year, the heat frying the flowers so they would not pollinate. We had sandwich and salad tomatoes, but never a single pint of sauce. I knew this Winter would be tough without homemade tomato sauce.
We find canned sauce tastes like the can, so we looked at various brands in glass jars. There were some pricey brands, we chose the cheapest (Safeway Select) and were disappointed. It tasted watery and flat, as though they had cracked a can of tomatoes, boiled them down and sluiced them into the jars. We finally found Classico to be both within our budget – at about $2.50 a can – and palatable enough to get us through Winter.
Wow – we use two jars, that adds $5 to the price of the meal. Now we know!
I like the jars for storage too – I use them for pickled green beans and/or asparagus. The lids screw back on tight.
Dairy makes my stomach hurt sometimes, but this dish needs a little cream in the sauce, so we use cottage cheese, sparingly. We spoon it in with the meat filling – this time chicken sauteed with garlic and onions, pretty simple.
This batch was a little extra work because I didn’t pay attention when I was mixing the dough for the noodles, it was dry and hard to work. But three days and three meals later, that is a distant memory. We have another portion for lunch today, and when we get home tomorrow, there will be a whole pan waiting in the refrigerator.
We cover the top with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese and bake it at 350 under a foil cover for about 30 minutes, get that sauce good and bubbling. Then the foil comes off for about 10 minutes. You might want to put a cookie sheet under it so it doesn’t get all over the bottom of your stove.
We’ve been working so hard lately, by dinner time, I’m ready to be scooped up in a bucket and set by the trash bin. Having something that can just be wrapped in foil and set on the wood stove is very comforting. I make a couple of days’ worth of salad ahead too, and right now, Cash and Carry has a fantastic deal on asparagus. We can wrap that in foil and put it on the wood stove too, delicious within a half hour.
Take care of yourselves.