The Farmer’s Lasagna… Mangia, Mangia, Ya’ll

Though lasagna isn’t a Southern dish, per say, it does meet much of our cuisine’s criteria. It is hearty, rich in tradition, full of garden flavors, seasoned with love and stocked with our best local butchery. It is a comfort food, can feed a whole mess of folks, and each Mama has her own version, whether she has a honey tongued drawl or an Italian flare!

When I get a hankering for lasagna, I just have to have it! I like simple ingredients, simple tastes, and thus an elegant combo of said simple elements ensue. Lasagna is one of those dishes that encompasses all this. Pasta, cheese, vegetables, meat… how does that get any better? Well, add some of this or that and you’ve improved a classic.

For the meat, try a trio for texture and flavor. Ground pork or sausage, ground chicken, and ground beef give different tastes and form a great base. Each distinct meat lends a layer akin to the lasagna itself. Speaking of layers, lots of veggies in this Farmer’s lasagna make this a variable cornucopia of garden goodies. Tomatoes, onion and garlic of course, but some celery, mushrooms, zucchini and cauliflower add depth. Cheese – ahhh! Glorious cheese! Ricotta, parm, cottage all meld together to form that layer of deliciousness between the noodles and meat. As for the sauce, since I’ve chopped six kinds of vegetables, browned three meats, and boiled a box of noodles, I take my favorite jar and pour!

This New Year, one of my resolutions is to convert my freezer from the eternal death sentence for food, to preservation and preparation central, storing and keeping meals and ingredients for later on and not wasting and forgetting about food. My lasagna recipe makes two full pans, so it’s perfect to feed the family with one and freeze another for later on. I am in total awe of those who can plan and prepare meals in advance, and all these folks have one thing in common – they freeze things! So this is my attempt!

Here’s my recipe… nothing completely unique but it is, as Granddaddy say, “Pretty musty…  must he have some more!”

The Farmer’s Lasagna 
  • 2 medium Vidalia or red onions
  • 2 tablespoons of minced garlic
  • 3 stalks of celery
  • 6 medium tomatoes cored and chopped or 1 large can of crushed tomatoes
  • A heaping ¾ to a cup of sliced mushrooms… I use a mix or baby portabellas
  • 3 medium zucchini chopped
  • A small head of cauliflower
  • A scant pound of ground pork or sausage, beef, and chicken respectively
  • 1 jar to a jar and a half of your favorite jarred red sauce… depends on how much sauce you prefer
  • 2 tablespoons of butter or Smart Balance
  • Olive oil for browning veggies and pasta water
  • 1 box of lasagna noodles
  • 2 large cartons of ricotta cheese
  • 1 large carton of cottage cheese
  • 1 cup of grated parmesan
  • Shredded mozzarella or favorite cheese blend for topping
  • Salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning to taste

Boil noodles as directed on the box…  add some olive oil and salt to the water to flavor and keep noodles from sticking. Drain and toss in olive oil. Keep covered with a warm cloth until “construction” of lasagna proper.

Melt butter in a large Dutch oven or pot. Brown onions and three meats, draining any excess grease… add garlic and seasonings when meat has browned and stir well.

Add chopped cauliflower, zucchini, and celery and mix well with meat and spices. Once they start to become tender, add tomatoes and remember to season with each step and to taste and try!

Continue to stir and cook vegetables until tender but not mushy. Add the sliced mushrooms and jarred sauce and bring to a simmer or at least warm throughout.

The pot is pretty full and needs to be stirred well. Reduce or remove from heat.

In a large mixing bowl, mix ricotta, cottage cheese, and parmesan thouroughly.

To assemble the lasagna, grease with olive oil or spray oil two large casserole dishes. I use the trusty French White corning ware…Mama, Mimi, Mary… we’ve all used it forever and its indestrubable!

Line the bottom with about 4 lasagna noodles. Cover with a layer of sauce and then a layer of cheese mixture. Repeat process… some like cheese first and then sauce layer or vice versa… take you pick!

Cover with shredded cheese mixture and bake at 350 until cheese is melted and beginning to brown…  about 20-30 minutes. Serve with a salad and good bread… Mangia, mangia ya’ll!