Thursday, January 14, 2010

Homemade Frozen Lasagna

Cussing Granny gave me the flu. What a turd. I have to say that the only good thing about being sick is that I have a legitimate reason to use freezer meals. Well, I guess "Tuesday" is a good enough reason, but being sick is even better. I remember having an unexpected visit to the emergency room and 3 days later coming home and crying like a big goof-ball. Not for any other reason than the fact that my freezer was full of dinners I had made and I knew my family would be able to eat well while I was down and out recovering from surgery. It was such an amazing feeling. So today let's start with one of my basics, but I think it has great results. Lasagna.
This recipe makes 16 servings, so feel free to make 2 casseroles or 4, depending on the size of your family. When I use a 8inch by 8 inch pan for our family of four, we end up with layers, like this...

What's not to love. Plus when I make the smaller casseroles, there isn't a ton of leftovers for the next day or two that provoke the "hey let's not have lasagna for six weeks" comment. You know the one? This recipe I have tweaked quite a few times to find just what I liked, nice tender pasta that is still a little firm with just a great amount of sauce and meat (or veggies) to hold the layers apart and still keep it's shape. I hope you enjoy it.
2T olive oil
2medium onion, chopped
2 stocks celery, sliced thin
2 cup shredded carrot
1/4 cup minced garlic
2 lb lean turkey Italian Sausage (out of casing...or vegetarian substitute like TVP or crumbles)
4 quarts (16 cups) tomato puree (I use home canned organic tomatoes, but store stuff is okay)
1T fennel seed,1T dry rosemary, 1T dry oregano
1 1/2 T crushed red pepper
Directions: put the oil in a large dutch oven on the stove. Saute the vegetables and the meat until the meat is cooked and the vegetables are tender.
Add tomato puree. I used 4 quarts of my home canned tomatoes, but you can totally use the store cans. It take 4-28 0z cans of tomato puree, or if you like a chunky sauce, use two 28 oz can of tomato puree and 2-28 oz cans of diced tomatoes.

Simmer on low for 30 minutes. While the sauce cooks, I gather the rest of the ingredients.

Sauce may seem a little thin, but keep in mind that I don't cook my noodles first, so there needs to be a little extra liquid for the noodles to cook properly.

Cheese filling:
2lbs ricotta cheese (low fat is okay, but has less flavor when baked so add more spices--vegan? I have used medium tofu in place of ricotta with pretty awesome results)
2 cups Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup fresh chopped basil, or 2T dry basil
2 eggs
salt and pepper (about 1 teaspoon each)
Combine well:
24 oven ready lasagna noodles (dry)
2 lbs mozzarella cheese, part skim is okay
1 cup Parmesan cheese

Decide the size casserole you will make:
8 inch by 8 inch yields 4 casseroles
9 by 13 inch yields 2 casseroles
16 by 11 inch yields 1 casserole
Be sure to use NON aluminum pans, as they will have a reaction to the tomato products. Just as a general rule, tomato products should not be stored in aluminum.
To assemble:
8 inch use 1/2 cup tomato sauce, 3 dry noodles, 1/3 cup cheese filling per noodle.
9 by 13 use 1 cup sauce, 4 dry noodles and 1/2 cup cheese filling per noodle.
16 by 11 use: 2 cups sauce, 8 dry noodles, and 3/4 cup cheese filling per noodle.
Spread the tomato sauce on the bottom of your pan, avoiding large chunks of meat, lay noodles down across the bottom of the pan on top of the tomato sauce.
Spread the cheese filling over the noodle...I use my hands.

Top the cheese layer with some tomato sauce
8 inch pan: 3/4 cup tomato sauce
9 inch: 1 cup tomato sauce
11 inch: 2 cups tomato sauce Then top with cheese, about 1/2 cup for the 8 inch size, 1 cup for the 9 inch size and 2 cups for the 11 inch size.
Top with the same number of dry noodles as you used for your first layer and repeat the cheese, then tomato sauce, then cheese.
For the third layer, top with noodles and then the remaining sauce. Top with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. You know, I say three layers, but really it just depends on how big the pan is. I always end up with more layers on the smaller pans than the large ones. Especially if I use a loaf pan instead of an 8 by 8 inch casserole. know. 5 layers or so for the small pans.
Cover with plastic wrap and then foil, as we don't want any tomato to come in contact with foil.
Label clearly with cooking directions:
Defrost in fridge 24 hours, or microwave defrost. This is the best way to cook frozen lasagna. By far. I've tried straight from the freezer to the oven and I don't like how uneven it cooks, even with the store purchased lasagna. I'm weird that way. I'm okay with that.
To Serve:Adjust oven rack to middle of the oven. Remove foil, remove plastic. Spray side of foil that comes in contact with cheese with a non-stick coating of your choice. Replace foil tightly sealing edges. Place on oven rack ( Usually put it on a sheet pan on the oven rack).
Bake times 400 degrees:
8 inch: 25-30 minutes, remove foil and bake an additional 15-20 minutes, until hot throughout and the cheese is browned in spots. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.
9 inch by 11: 30-40 minutes, remove foil and bake additional 25-30 minutes until hot throughout and the cheese is browned in spots. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.
11 by 16 inch: 40-45 minutes, remove foil and bake additional 30-35 minutes until hot throughout and cheese is browned in spots. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.
One more thing. If you measure the inside of your crock pot and can find a plastic container that fits it and goes about 4 inches up the sides, you can put all these layers of cheese, sauce and noodles in the container and freeze it. When you want lasagna, you simply invert the container under hot running water until the lasagna cube comes out. Place it in your crock pot on low 6-8 hours OR on high 4-5 hours.
There you go. Make frozen lasagna.


Shannon said...

Chef Tess, I love the idea of using the crock pot cube! I'll let you know how it goes. I hope you are feeling better soon - take it easy on Cussing Granny.

Erica Miles said...

Hey, I'm not a fan of aluminum myself but when you freeze pans of food what can you use if not the throw-away aluminum foil pans? Do I need to invest in more than my two 9x13 glass baking dishes? Tell me, Oh-wise-one, I am ready to be taught.

Chef Tess said...

Great question Erica. Glad makes some oven safe casserole pans that are also micro/freezer safe and have a seal-able lid. There are also some that are like cardboard with a coating that you can find in the section of the grocery near the baking pans and aluminum pans. Other ideas, use silicon pan the size of the one you have for a casserole hard pan. Once the casserole is frozen, remove from the silicone and transfer to a gallon size freezer bag or wrap tightly with plastic and then foil. To prepare... While still frozen transfer out of the wrapping to the baking pan. Cover with plastic and defrost. Bake according to directions. Great question!!

Lynn said...

Chef Tess, this is by far my favorite blog. I check it every morning. I have a family with very different food likes. I have decided to start freezer meals. I will do one once a week. I will make one vegetarian, one with poultry and one with beef. Sounds silly, but by making the same dish 3 ways will be good for my family. We have family dinner once a week and I like the thought of having it all in the freezer ready to go. I bought a very large freezer and it is time to put it to a good use. Thanks for all of the tips.

Chef Tess said...

Lynn, you have no idea how much I needed that feedback today. Thank you so very much!

Shae Ko said...

Alright, I made these bad boys last night and they were delicious. My sauce was not thin, due to my grocery store tomato puree so I did add some water so it would semi simmer instead of just blop. These were just for me as they have lots of cheese, but I am going to freeze them individually cut for lunch portion (yes, already cooked) so we will see how the noodles turn out.

Anonymous said...

I'm unsure, bake and then freeze or just freeze

Chef Tess said...

Just freeze. Great question.

Anonymous said...

Nice healthy looking recipe, just have a few questions.
For the sauce do you mean 1.5 teaspoons or tablespoons of crushed red pepper?
For the assembly where you give the amounts to use, do you mean per layer or per noodle as written?
Also for each layer you say cheese, sauce then cheese again, is that the mozzarella for the top cheese layer?

Have you ever tried making and freezing this with rice (gluten free) lasagna noodles? Wondering how that would work when baking after freezing.

One more comment, I often substitute a small grated zucchini for the egg in the ricotta filling.
The zucchini substitute would probably work with tofu (as mentioned) and a vegan (tapioca based) cheese product (and of course, no meat) to make a truly vegan lasagna (for all those moms like me with a vegan child)!