November 24, 2009

Mini Meatball Lasagna, Breakin' Out The Comfort Food

One of my all time favorite comfort foods is a good homemade lasagna. I'm not talking freezer-to-oven homemade, it's all about the day of labored love that goes into it. Honestly those no boil lasagna noodles suit me just fine, as long as it's layered with gooey cheesy-ness and a nice fresh tomato meat sauce. The thing I particularly love about lasagna is that it doesn't have to get all gussied up for me to love it time after time. I would never have done anything different with my go-to recipe...not until I opened up The Best International Recipe Book.
(oh, a little apology for the terrible pictures in advance. Now that Mr. Daylight Savings Guy has stolen my natural light I can't get anything to look good, please practice a little imagination for now)

This recipe was traditionally a way for people in Naples, Italy to use up all of their meat before Lent. They would make the lasagna with tiny meatballs, mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce to celebrate Carnivale. I say celebrate away, this one is a winner. If for nothing else but the adorable little mini meatballs, try this recipe (and don't wait for Carnivale please!). I actually had a lot of fun making about a kajillion (85) little meatballs, it was time consuming, but fun. At first I disliked how the lasagna noodles wouldn't sit perfectly flat because of the un-evenness of the balls of meat, but after it baked and everything got all melty and acquainted it worked out wonderfully.

look, they're like a little meatball army!

I very rarely use real lasagna noodles that actually have to be boiled, but this recipe demanded it and who am I to go against tradition?! The extra step adds a nice touch, leaving firm, structured noodles as opposed to soggy strips of starchiness. Another way this recipe differs from my usual is that it doesn't use ricotta cheese, and I can't say that I'm upset about it. The ricotta really does add a significant amount of moisture to the finished product, which usually results in piles of pasta-sauce-meat-cheese on my plate instead of layered slices. I also liked how crispy the top layer turned out without the ricotta, yum!

see what I'm talking about? C-R-I-S-P-Y = mmmmm

In the end this recipe will be added to my book of keepers, buuuut just as a once in a while change of scenery. Those meatballs are exhausting and I want to keep the fun alive! For now, enjoy!

Mini Meatball Lasagna (adapted from The Best International Recipe)
Lasagna di Carnivale alla Napoletana

*TIP* Since this is a very time consuming recipe, I made the meatballs in advance just because I had the spare afternoon. It definitely helped make the recipe less daunting and more enjoyable. Store cooked meatballs in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 2 days, or freeze in zipper bag for up to 1 month - ok now you can carry on.

For the meatballs and sauce

1 lb ground beef (I used 1 lb meatloaf mix - beef, pork and veal - and it was divine)
1/2 C grated parmesan cheese
1/2 C plain dried bread crumbs
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano (or you could use Italian seasoning, basil or parsley)
salt & pepper

3 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1-14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes with liquid
1-14.5 oz can of chicken broth (or beef broth)
1-6 oz can of tomato paste
salt & pepper to taste

Pasta and Cheese

12 dried lasagna noodles
4 C (about 1 lb) shredded mozzarella cheese
2 C (approx) grated parmesan cheese

For meatballs and sauce: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450F. Spray large rimmed baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray and set aside. In large bowl mix together the ground meat, cheese, oregano/seasonings, bread crumbs, egg, salt & pepper until uniform. Pinch off small grape-size pieces of the meat mixture and roll into balls; arrange on prepared baking sheet. Bake just until cooked through, about 8-10 minutes. Transfer meatballs to paper towel lined platter to drain excess fat.

Meanwhile, heat oil in medium saucepan over med-high heat. Add garlic and cook just until fragrant (30 sec-1 min). Stir in the tomatoes, broth, tomato paste, salt and pepper and whisk until thoroughly combined. Bring to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened. Take off the heat and add the meatballs to the pot, cover and keep warm while pasta is cooking.

For pasta and cheese: Cook lasagna noodles according to package instructions (I omitted salt in the pasta water because I felt the sauce and cheeses added enough - and they did, but that's personal preference). Drain and run under cold water. Transfer noodles to clean dish towels (NOT paper towels...they will stick!).

Spray a 13 X 9 inch baking pan with non-stick cooking spray. Smear about 3 Tbsp sauce (without meatballs) on the bottom of the pan. Line with a layer of pasta (3 noodles side-by-side) making sure the noodles touch but do not overlap. Spread about 1 1/2 cups of the sauce and meat mixture evenly over the pasta. Sprinkle evenly with 1 cup of the mozzarella and about 1/2 cup of the parmesan. Repeat the layering (pasta > sauce/meat > cheeses) 2 more times. For the final (4th) layer, cover the pasta with the remaining 1 cup mozzarella and 1/2 cup parmesan.

Heat oven to 400F. Bake lasagna until the cheese on top starts to turn golden-brown in spots, about 20-25 minutes. Let the lasagna rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Phewf, see that's all there is to me it's worth it!

Lasagna on Foodista

1 comment:

  1. What! No comments? Let me put a stop to that.

    This recipe sounds divine! Such a novel way of making a lasagna. I can't wait to invest the time and effort that this deserves to create it. Especially after it "got [gets] all melty and acquainted"!

    This could be the best lasagna recipe nobody knows about. Yet...

    Thanks for the post!


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