Monday, June 15, 2009

Is that Pork in my Lasagna?

After getting back from Shanghai with a couple boxes of no-boil lasagna noodles in my suitcase, I decided to try making lasagna with the homemade ricotta recipe I tried a couple weeks ago. But of course in Xiamen, ground beef is nowhere to be found, except allegedly at Metro which is an hour away. So I went in quest of ground pork. After a slight argument with the butcher over the price (there was a heavy bag of meat leaning against the meat scale, which somehow made my one pound of pork weigh about 4 pounds), I returned home to assemble the lasagna in time for a couple of dinner guests.

The ricotta recipe is REALLY simple (see the post below). I had fresh ricotta in about 20 minutes, while chopping up the other ingredients. You basically need about 1/4 cup of lemon juice per litre of whole milk.

While the cheese was draining I tried to figure out what to do with the pork to give it more flavour, as I find it is usually a bit bland when I use it in spaghetti sauce. So, improvising, I mixed the ground pork with a handful of fresh herbs, some pepper and salt, dried oregano, and a bit of oil. I let it sit for a bit while I prepped the other stuff. The rest was typical lasagna - mixed the pork with tomato sauce, layered it with the ricotta in a pan, topped it with cheese, and baked the whole thing for about 25 min.

Our Chinese friends had never had lasagna before. In fact, when we mentioned that we would be having Western food, they looked blankly at each other as if that was an entirely foreign concept (well, I suppose it was, literally). So I was highly gratified when at the first bite both of them said, "Mmm!" They weren't such great fans of the Caesar salad or the broccoli with balsamic dressing, but they liked the lasagna =).

Lasagna in a land where beef is scarce

My casserole dish is small because I have to use a toaster oven to bake things, so you will want to double the recipe for use in a standard size casserole dish.

1 jin (aka 500g) of ground pork
1/2 cup of chopped fresh parsley and basil
1 tsp dried oregano
3/4 cup fresh ricotta cheese
1 can tomato sauce (or about 2.5 to 3 cups of homemade sauce)
1/2 cup shredded cheese (Mozzarella or whatever is available)
1 medium onion
1 green bell pepper
1/2 package no-boil lasagna noodles
olive oil
salt and pepper

Mix pork with fresh herbs, oregano, and a tbsp olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.
Dice onion and bell pepper up small. Saute onion till transparent, then add bell pepper and cook till bell pepper is slighly softened. Remove to a plate.
Fry pork until browned, breaking up any lumps. Add onion and bell pepper and mix in pan, then add tomato sauce and cook till hot.
Start with tomato sauce mixture and layer noodles, ricotta, and tomato sauce in casserole dish, ending with tomato sauce. Sprinkle shredded cheese over top.
Bake in 350 degree oven for about 25 min, or until noodles are tender when a fork is inserted into lasagna.

I'm not sure whether the fresh herbs are best mixed into the pork or stirred into the sauce later. I liked that the pork seemed to be more flavourful with them added, but I wonder if their flavour would be stronger if they weren't cooked so long. For a future experiment, I guess.

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