Around the same time, a good friend began to teach me how to play the guitar on Wednesday nights and in exchange, I cooked dinner. It was my opportunity to create new things and have someone to try them. We began to invite others for the dinner portion of the evening. What was born was “Secret Wednesday Night Dinners.” Secret because no one ever knew if *they* would get invited or not. They all thought it was a great honor and I just had more people to try out recipes on. All in all, it was a wonderful season of life.
I tried out a number of meals, most of which I don’t continue to make now since they just don’t fit the Peruvian food style. Except for lasagna. When I made lasagna, my friend exclaimed it was the best he had eaten…even better than his mom’s! I was honored and lasagna somehow made it’s way into the rotation about once a month on Wednesday nights.
Here in Peru, I do not make it nearly as often. It is something that graces my table once every couple of months. Not long ago, another friend requested it for his birthday and although I couldn’t comply (something about a two hour bus ride with a hot pan of lasagna), I had it in my head and had the ingredients in my fridge.
I have always used a quick method and loved the results. But this particular day, I was dismayed to discover that the ricotta cheese had already gone bad. Since I was bound and determined to make the dish, I wondered if using a Béchamel sauce layer would suffice. I will tell you about both “versions.”
- 1 pound of ground beef
- 3 cups of spaghetti sauce (28 ounce jar)
- 16 ounces of cottage cheese (or ricotta cheese)
- 1 egg, slightly beaten
- 1/4 cup of Italian seasoning
- 12 pieces of no-boil lasagna noodles
- 4 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1/4 cup of freshly shredded parmesan cheese
- Brown the beef, (season with salt, pepper, garlic, oregano…however you like it!) drain the fat. Stir in spaghetti sauce. (Add a bit of tomato sauce if it seems to need more liquid.)
- In a medium sized bowl, stir together cottage cheese, egg and Italian seasoning.
- In a 13x9 pan, spread 3/4 cup of meat sauce (so the noodles don’t stick to the bottom!). Place 3 noodles over it. Spread 1/4 of the remaining meat sauce over the noodles, spread 1/4 of cottage cheese mixture over the meat sauce and sprinkle with a fourth of the mozzarella. Repeat layers and sprinkle with Parmesan to finish it off.
- Cover with foil (which has been sprayed with cooking spray where it will touch the cheese – so it doesn’t stick!) and bake at 350F for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake 10 to 15 more minutes or until hot & bubbly. Let stand 5 minutes before cutting.
As I mentioned, for this particular day, I substituted the Béchamel sauce instead of the cottage (or ricotta) cheese, egg, Italian seasoning layer. Truthfully, I may never go back to my old ways. I found this to be so much creamier and richer and wanted seconds and thirds. Delicious!
- 1/4 cup of butter
- 1/4 cup of flour
- 2 1/2 cups of milk, heated on low just until bubbles form at the edges
- Freshly ground pepper
- 3/4 cup of fresh grated parmesan
- Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste cooks and bubbles a bit, but don't let it brown — about 2 minutes.
- Add the hot milk, continuing to stir as the sauce thickens. Bring it to a boil. Add salt and pepper to taste, stir in parmesan cheese, lower the heat, and cook, stirring for 2 to 3 minutes more. Remove from the heat. To cool this sauce for later use, cover it with wax paper or pour a film of milk over it to prevent a skin from forming.