One of the most frequent requests I get is for is to organize a category of recipes that freezes well, or can be packed up and brought to new parents with bigger (er, tinier) things on their agenda than stirring pots. And you’d think I’d be an expert on this, having been in their shoes just one year ago but I never bothered. New York City is not a place where you have to stock your freezer to get a good meal in; we can get literally anything delivered to our door in under an hour, even food that is both healthy and better than I make at home. (Well, almost.) Plus, almost anything that sits in my freezer for more than two weeks smells… freezery. It was hard to summon enthusiasm to store anything worthwhile inside it.
But there are few dishes more freezer-friendly than a lasagna, and I love a good one. Unfortunately, it took me a while to find what I considered “good”. Most of the lasagnas I’ve had fall in the American-style ricotta/tomato sauce/mozzarella/ground meat style and I never took to them, finding them both heavy and yet, still dry. So it surprised nobody more than me that I found my lasagna nirvana in the tomato-free béchamel-ed variety, which managed to be light and almost delicate. White sauces are not the kind of thing people associate with a lightweight meal, especially over pasta, but paired with salad this was surprisingly refreshing meal without making us feel like we’d need to bust out the fat pants. Well, most of us, that is.
The magic is in the recipe, which is from Ina Garten. Rather than loading the sauce down with two or three cheeses, she only opts for parmesan. The mushrooms are sauteed and seasoned and … that’s it. Layers of noodles, parmesan, sauce and mushrooms are stacked and baked together and the result is ridiculous, so good that although I’d planned to pack up the second half to store in the freezer of a family member on the mend, I fear it won’t make it. Good thing I bought enough ingredients for two.
Freezer-friendly recipes: I need your help. I wasn’t kidding when I said I’m a little bit clueless about what can be tucked easily away for a month, though I’m learning quickly. Meatballs? Baked pastas? Stuffed eggplant? Quiche? Pot pies? If you’ve made something from this site that you believe is itching for longer-term storage, I’d love to hear your suggestion. As it stands now, this category is slim pickings, sniffle.
Adapted, only a little, from Ina Garten
Last time I posted, I joked about the number of changes I make to the average recipe. However, Ina Garten doesn’t write average recipes. Her recipes never fail to produce dishes that require no tweaking to receive rave reviews, and this one was no different. The only things I messed with were adding a clove of minced garlic to the sauce, because it’s so wonderful against the creaminess and swapping out portobellos with cremini, or brown mushrooms as portobellos are more expensive, harder to find, break easily and are nothing but overgrown brown mushrooms.
My only gripe with this recipe is the number of pots it uses; I counted 4 in the original (not including the colander, cutting board and knife, ugh) and managed to trim it to 3 in my version, below. However, I did forget all about the inconvenience of dishes once I tasted the final dish — completely and totally worth it.
Serves 6 to 8 (more as a first course)
3/4 pound dried lasagna noodles
1 large clove garlic, minced
4 cups whole milk
3/4 cup (12 tablespoons or 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg (I used less, because this seemed like a lot)
1 1/2 pounds cremini or portobello mushrooms
1 cup freshly grated parmesan
Preheat your oven to 375°F. Bring a large, wide (if you use a wide one, you can save a dish later and saute your mushrooms in the bottom of it) of water to boil with salt and a splash of oil, that will help keep your noodles from sticking together as they drain. Add the lasagna noodles and cook for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Make béchamel: Bring the milk and garlic to simmer in a saucepan, or heat it in your microwave, and set it aside. Melt 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons or 1 stick) butter in a large saucepan. If your name is Deb, you will probably brown this butter, too. Add the flour and cook for one minute over low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk or wooden spoon. Pour in the hot milk, a little at a time at first and stirring until combined. Once you’ve added half of it, you can add the second half all at once, along with 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt, the pepper, and nutmeg. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring or whisking frequently, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until thick. Set aside.
Prepare mushrooms: Discard portobello mushroom stems and/or trim the ends of the cremini stems. Slice mushrooms 1/4-inch thick. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter over medium in the bottom of the large, wide pot you used to cook the noodles earlier, or in a large sauté pan. Cook half the mushrooms with a couple pinches of salt for about 5 minutes, or until they are tender and release some of their juices, tossing to make sure they cook evenly. Repeat with additional oil and butter, and remaining mushrooms.
Assemble lasagna: Spread some of the sauce in the bottom of an 8 x 12 or 9 x 13 baking dish. (Ina recommends the former, I only had the latter; if you’d like to freeze or give this dish as a gift, remember to use a foil pan). Arrange a layer of noodles on top*, then more sauce (about 1/4 of what remains), 1/3 of the mushrooms and 1/4 cup grated parmesan. Repeat two more times then top with a final layer of noodles, your remaning sauce and last 1/4 cup of parmesan.
Bake for 45 minutes, or until top is browned and the sauce is bubbly. Let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving. To freeze for future use, allow it to cool completely and wrap two to three times in plastic wrap before freezing.
* Burning question: Do you overlap your lasagna noodles on each layer? I think that’s the way it is usually done, but it has been so long since I made lasagna, I couldn’t remember. I decided to line mine up, and ended up with three neat rows down my 9 x 13 pan (I trimmed the ends of the noodles, because I can occasionally be a neat freak) and found it exceptionally neat and pretty to serve, as each piece could have two ruffly edges. This meant I only used 12 noodles total, or about 2/3 of a one-pound box.