I did an average amount of cooking this past week, but it all started off with a very non-traditional Thanksgiving dish. The Sunday before the holiday, my brother asked if I could help him make something for his monthly company potluck. I didn’t hesitate to say yes, but was surprised when he told me he wanted to make lasagna. That’s quite the dish to a 20 something male to roll out to his coworkers. We made plans to meet the next day, but I quickly realized something:
I jokingly tell people that my family isn’t really that Italian. My grandparents didn’t speak the language, although we knew what our last name translated to. There was never a pot of marinara sauce simmering on the stove. We never had had the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve. My Slovak mother was the one that made the pizzelles at Christmas times. But I knew we had pasta in our blood and that Drew and I could easily handle this culinary challenge.
While I hadn’t had a traditional lasagna under my belt, I’ve made enough pasta dishes and bakes to figure we could handle it. One of these being the Cheesy Lasagna Rolls with Spinach and Ricotta from Whole Foods that my family enjoyed last year. While I knew the basics of what I needed, I went to my Bible of Mama LaVecchia recipes for some help:
God bless my mother, but she’s gotta stop leaving ingredients out of her ingredients listing – this wasn’t the first time I discovered something in the instructions what wasn’t listed in the needed ingredients!! I’m sure this is her way of keeping some things secret.
I ran to Marc’s before our meet up for all the necessary ingredients:
Yes, I bought jarred marinara sauce. Sorry, I’m not sorry.
Once in the kitchen, I got my brother working on browning the ground beef and the hot Italian sausage:
I got working on the cheese filling, made with Ricotta cheese, parsley, salt, sugar, pepper and our missing ingredient: egg.
My mom’s recipe isn’t shy with the cheese, so I also sliced up the ball of mozzarella cheese:
My dad was trying to talk us into those no-cook noodles, but Drew and I both agreed to take the extra step of using traditional noodles:
Once all our layering items were prepped, Drew got to constructing his first pan of lasagna:
Surprise, surprise: somebody wanted to help…
We had exact instructions on how to layer the dish: sauce, noodles, meat, shredded cheese, noodles, sauce, cheese mixture, mozzarella cheese slices, noodles, sauce, meat, shredded cheese, noodles, sauce. We were doing well… until we ran out of sauce.
“No worries” I thought, as my very Italian father was always fully stocked with at least two back up jars of marinara sauce. EXCEPT for on the day his children were making a lasagna big enough to serve an entire army. That’s what I get for using jarred sauce. Drew made a super quick grocery store run and we were done before we could say “Giant Eagle”.
We covered it up and threw it in the over for an hour at 350 degrees.
Since he was planning to take it to work the following day, Drew finished off the cooking process the following morning: popping it in the oven that morning for about 20 minutes uncovered to give the top layer a nice golden touch.
I waited patiently on Tuesday, hoping to get some feedback from my bother’s coworkers. After the lunch hour was definitely over, I shot him a quick text to eventually receive the response I hoped for:
See, maybe us two Italians aren’t so non-Italian after all!
LONG STORY SHORT: Sure it wasn’t an crazy epic dish that we made that day, but my brother and I still felt pretty accomplished by the end of Monday afternoon. Drew got a lot of great feedback from his coworkers, and even he felt it was as good as any of the lasagnas that my mom had made over the years. But what I got out of it was a joy of watching my brother jump right into the process. Like a patient bricklayer (gosh, where does he get that from), he carefully placed each element to construct something he could be proud to share with his beloved coworkers. And for me, I was just happy to share my joy of food with my brother on a random afternoon during a week where we should have been prepping a turkey and baking pumpkin pies. And again, I’m thankful for that.