20 May, 2008

Giovanni Rana Fresh Pasta and AMAZING LASAGNE!

I don't usually make lasagne with "no boil" noodles because I had never found a "no boil" lasagne noodle that I really liked. Mostly, they've been just standard dried pasta in slightly larger sheets, and I don't generally care for the results.

But all that has changed, thanks to this amazing fresh pasta by Giovanni Rana which has recently hit the shelves in my local Costco and in several area supermarkets.

Each 250g package of Rana's No Boil Lasagne contains six sheets - perfect for a deep, six-layer lasagne in a standard small pan. Two packages are just right for a large roasting-pan-sized batch, and gaps between sheets as they are layered are easily filled because the noodles cut with scissors to fit.

Besides being easy to work with, they have the most delicate egg-noodle flavor and tender texture - perfect all around. I can't wait to find other Rana products and give them a try.

Amazing Lasagne starts, of course, with amazing ingredients. Some of you might look at this photo and ask what is so amazing about some of this stuff (especially the Ragu brand pasta sauce.) Bear with me - all will be explained.

Clockwise from the top:

Giovanni Rana fresh pasta - I've gushed enough about this stuff already. Suffice it to say that it's the best fresh pasta I've ever had.

Ragu Traditional pasta sauce - Before you scoff at this choice, read the labels. No high-fructose corn syrup. No fillers. A minimum of salt. There isn't anything in most varieties of Ragu that I wouldn't put in homemade sauce, and that is more than I can say for the majority of other national brands.

Ricotta Cheese - I use a store brand (Stop & Shop to be precise - a local Northeast US chain.) Stop & Shop ricotta cheese contains only three ingredients: Milk, starter culture, and salt. That's it. next time you're in the store, check out some of the big national brands and see what's in your ricotta cheese: Guar gum. Xanthan gum. Modified food starch.

Shredded mozzarella cheese. Here again, I buy my cheese from a local company that uses all-natural ingredients. No additives or preservatives, and - most importantly to me - no antibiotics added as "mold inhibitors."

Fresh eggs from a local farm.

Fresh parsley.

Italian sausage, made locally at an Italian market/deli, cooked and finely diced.

Start by combining the ricotta, eggs, and parsley in a large bowl. If you want some extra flavor, add about half a cup of finely grated Parmesan or Romano cheese (or a mixture of both.) Season with a bit of salt and a very generous grind of black pepper. Beat with a wooden spoon until the ingredients are well-combined and light and fluffy. Set it aside, but keep it handy.

Spread some tomato sauce on the bottom of the roasting pan. On top of this, place two sheets of the pasta side by side, covering the sauce. Follow the pasta with a generous spread of the ricotta cheese mixture, carefully spreading it in a layer about half an inch thick from edge to edge. Add a light sprinkling of the shredded mozzarella. Top this with a liberal layer of the chopped sausage.

Spread some tomato sauce over the sausage. Follow the sauce with another layer of lasagne noodles, then another layer of ricotta, another sprinkling of mozzarella, and yet another spread of tomato sauce.

Continue layering ingredients like that until the final layer of noodles are about 3/4 of an inch from the top of the pan. Spread the noodles with some more sauce, and add a very generous sprinkling of mozzarella over the top.

You should have a little bit of tomato sauce left in the jar. Pour about 5 ounces of water into the jar and swish it around, picking up all the remaining tomato sauce in the jar. Now pour that tomato water evenly over that top of the cheese. The extra water is necessary to give the lasagne noodles something to cook in. Even though your lasagne may look too "wet" at this point, it will be fine after it bakes.

Cover the roasting pan loosely with foil and bake the lasagne for about an hour or so in a 350 F oven. When you take it out of the oven, you'll notice that the lasagne comes right up to the top of the pan! The noodles swell up as they cook and absorb liquid from the cheeses and sauce.

Remove the lasagne from the oven and allow it to sit for half an hour or so before you cut it - This helps give it time to "set" so it won't be so drooly when it's served. Of course, you can still cut right into it right away if you like drooly lasagne, or if the delicious smell has been driving you insane and you simply MUST HAVE AMAZING LASAGNE RIGHT NOW.

Did you know you can bake lasagne on your grill? Use indirect heat by placing charcoal to the left and the right of the grill, leaving the center empty. Place the lasagne in the center, cover the grill, and walk away for about an hour , just as though you were using the oven. It works great, and if you loosen the foil on the top of the pan for the last ten minutes of cooking, you'll gain a subtle smoky flavor to the top layer of cheese.



Anonymous said...

I have one quick recipe where I use no-boil lasagna and it's the sauce that makes it tasty but these noodles sound great! I have to confess I like the convenience of no-boil lasagna noodles. Thanks for the heads up!

clarkorama said...

great blog, dave! saw your comment on www.royalbaconsociety.com and had to come check you out. looking forward to trying this one out!

Jan said...

Looks nice and yummy!

helruna said...

Dave you're a dude but my experience with the company, it's products and customer service has been tarnished.

Here's some delightful pasta I've not enjoyed recently. Sometimes low cost pasta seems to come at the price of failing production and packing standards:

Dave said...

helruna: Eeeep! That is nasty. If I had an experience like that, it would definitely turn me off of the product.