Lasagna Reinvented

For several weeks, a tray of seedlings has sat on the floor beneath the front window in our living room. The young plants have been done pretty well there, but I’m anxious to get them planted outdoors where they can really begin to flourish.

The tray contains a few flowers, planted from seed, but one whole section is devoted to basil. Hubby Bryan and I have become addicted to basil over the years, and most of my herb patch is devoted to it. Once the basil leaves are large enough, I will gleefully begin to harvest them on a regular basis and basil will get thrown in everything we make — salads, pasta, potatoes, veggies …

But basil doesn’t like cool weather. It likes it hot. So it won’t go out into the garden until the weather has become decidedly warmer, and when cooler weather rolls around once again a few months hence (I don’t even want to think about it), I will do a mass harvest and freeze a bunch of rolled-up basil leaves for off-season use.

I had occasion to use some of last year’s (or maybe even the year before that) basil crop just the other day, when I made a modified version of lasagna, suggested to me by newsroom co-inhabitant Justine Wettschreck.

I make lasagna once or twice a year. Since it’s a labor-intensive process, I usually assemble a couple of extra pans to put in the freezer for later consumption. The recipe that I utilize calls for uncooked lasagna noodles, so that eliminates having to boil a big pot of water and deal with the hard-to-handle cooked noodles, but it still feels like a lot of work because the sauce is made from scratch.

In Justine’s method, you do cook pasta, but it’s the type of pasta and the assembly method that makes it different. It really did go together quite quickly. Since it makes a large amount and I’m only cooking for two, I split the batch into two pans, freezing one for future use.

Lasagna Reinvented Casserole

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook one 16-ounce box penne pasta until al dente according to package directions. Drain. Combine pasta with one 15-ounce carton ricotta cheese and 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning.

Meanwhile, brown 2 pounds ground beef with ½ onion, chopped. Add 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning and 2 cans (or jars) spaghetti sauce.

Using a 15- by 10-inch pan coated with cooking spray, spread pasta in the bottom of the pan. Top with 1½ cups shredded cheese, then add the meat sauce. Top with another layer of cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until cheese on top is brown and bubbly.

Recipe Notes: When I made this last week, I was only going by what Justine had described. So I started with a layer of half the noodles, topped with half the cheese and meat sauce, repeating the layers, ending with cheese on top — just as I would have layered for lasagna. Either method will work

Instead of the Italian seasoning, I went for all basil, per our household tastes. The fresh-frozen basil was especially good mixed in with the ricotta. For the cheese, I utilized a finely shredded Italian blend; Justine suggests cheddar or co-jack. I guess it all depends on what you have on hand or prefer.

Calling all cooks: The recent wet weather hasn’t done much for our spirits, but it has certainly produced a bumper crop of rhu-barb. Do you have a favorite rhubarb recipe? Share it with your fellow Lagniappe and/or Daily Globe readers by e-mailing it to me at brickers@dglobe.com; or send to Daily Globe, Box 639, Worthington 56187. And don’t limit your submissions to rhubarb— recipes of all sorts are welcome.