Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Lasagna Rolls

Lasagna is my ultimate "grudge" recipe.  One I tried to make in my early days of cooking, before I had any mojo for cooking at all.  As I've mentioned before, most of the things I would make in those early days turned out so badly I would try to choke down as much as I could, weep over the waste of food/money and my ineptitude/failure, throw out the entire meal, and give up cooking for months before trying a recipe I might not fuck up.

Making terrible lasagna was particularly devastating for me since the recipe was from one of my favorite authors in a wonderful book: Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. This book was pivotal in my transition from a corporate food junkie to a cook-from-scratch home gardener.  I thought that the recipes included would have to be awesome, as they are favorites and frequents in the Kingsolver kitchen.  I was trying to do the right thing - learning to cook at home using local ingredients purchased at local small grocers instead of depending on a destructive, amoral global food system.  When my first attempt failed, it wasn't just a waste of my limited money, it was a reflection on my inability to affect change in the world.

Yes, I know, I take things (a little too) seriously.

When I recently found a recipe for Lasagna Cupcakes, I felt vindicated.  I mean, fuck lasagna!  With all its complications and nuances!  I'll show them!  I'll simply bypass the entire blase ordeal and make something much more interesting.

By the time I found a recipe for Lasagna Rolls, I had, in fact, made successful, non-sucky lasagna for my friend in the Emerald Valley Time Exchange who wanted some help making a weeks worth of meals.  Since I was making it for someone else, I put my heart and soul into making it not suck, and she was there to help me at every layer.  "A little more"  "that looks perfect"  "that way the noodles won't dry out"

But still, fuck lasagna.  I will always resent lasagna for being invented and being a thing that so many people like to eat.  Likewise, I will always have a special place in my heart for lasagna-related knock offs.  These rolls taste just as good as lasagna and somehow seem easier to make.  Lasagna rolls and cupcakes are more fun to take to a potluck or to serve for guests, and a very easy way to turn this traditional (predictable) dish into something unique and surprising.

The recipe I jotted down in a hurry was from what I think was a "Cooking School" edition of "Taste of Home" magazine.  I couldn't find the exact recipe, but here is a list of all the ones they had on their site, and here is the one that's closest to what I copied.  The second time I made these, I made some adaptations, noted below.

Lasagna Rolls

4 oz softened cream cheese
10 oz, 1 package, frozen spinach, thawed
1 1/4 cups mozzarella, divided (maybe more)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese (maybe more)
6 lasagna noodles, cooked and drained

Oven at 375 degrees.  Mix cream cheese, spinach, 1 cup mozzarella and Parmesan.  Mix until well blended.  Spread onto noodles.  Roll up tightly.

Place seam sides down in a 9-inch square baking dish with some sauce in the bottom.  Top rolls with sauce and remaining cheese.  Bake 30 minutes or until heated through.

How I Made These Even Better:

Increase noodles to 10, which all fit (tightly) in an 8-inch square pan.

Add a few Tbsp of the pasta sauce to the cheese mixture.

For 10 noodles, add 8 oz ricotta to cheese mixture, and use ~3 oz cream cheese.

Use fresh spinach! Tear into bite sized pieces.

Mix the cheese first, add dried herbs (like "Italian Seasoning" and let sit while the noodles are cooking.

Roll each roll in some sauce before placing into the pan. 

Bake covered with foil for the first 20 minutes, then take foil off and test for done-ness every 5 minutes or so until it's just right.

Once you have some kitchen mojo, you realize that most recipes are just loose templates.  It's one reason I forget to measure while I'm cooking for this blog.  You just kind of know what works and what doesn't.  You talk to people about food and they tell you what works and what doesn't.  You know what you like.  You learn more about how heat, chemistry, steam, moisture, etc work together to cook your food, and you learn how to manipulate them to do your bidding.

If you don't have kitchen mojo yet, TRUST ME it gets better!  You will make some truly awful things but after a while things will start to click.  I recommend picking a few foods you love and keep trying and trying to make them until they turn out good.  Research online and talk to people who cook about how to cook rice, how to cook pasta, or different tricks or tips to keep your shit from burning, drying out, getting mushy, etc.

Please don't give up.  If I can do it, you can too!

I know that's cheesy as hell but so is good lasagna.

Happy Cooking!

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