Thursday, December 1, 2011

Kick Ass Lasagna (Gluten Free and Dairy Free)

Italian Heritage + Gluten Free + Dairy Free = One Very Sad Woman 

Italian + Gluten Free + Dairy Free x a Love of Cooking / Experimental Approaches in the Kitchen = A Shining Moment of Culinary Brilliance 

Are you following my math here? After many years preparing food for a gluten and dairy free household, living without lasagna was no longer acceptable in my book. 

How sad is this... My kids didn't even know what I was referring to when I said I had made lasagna for dinner. Zero frame of reference. Completely unacceptable in the kitchen of a woman with rich Italian heritage. I became bound and determined to create a lasagna that was a fair match for the real thing that my grandmother would make for me as a child. 

This recipe has been a long time coming, friends. Try it out. And if you've been gluten and dairy free for a long time, allow yourself to radiate with joy after your first bite. Go ahead and take a deep breath. Now sigh. And smile.

Kick Ass Lasagna (Gluten Free and Dairy Free)


Red Sauce
2 TBS olive oil
1 large red onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves garlic, diced
1 TBS dried crushed oregano
1 tsp salt
1 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground Italian sausage
1 cup red wine (Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon would be a fine choice here)
14 ounce can diced tomatoes
28 ounce can tomato sauce

Cashew Cream "Ricotta"
2 cups raw unsalted cashews, soaked for at least 30 minutes
1 1/2 cups water
2 eggs
1 tsp salt
2 large handfuls fresh Italian parsley

Lasagna Noodles
Tinkyada brand - 10 ounce package

The Preparation Method:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Begin soaking the cashews, if they are not already set out to soak.

Set large pot of water to boil. 

Follow package directions for cooking the lasagna noodles. Word to the wise, use the noodles you have to cook first. I tried this recipe with the no-cook variety and it did not have the right consistency. In fact, it was quite icky in comparison to the Tinkyada version.

First step: Prep vegetables.

Take a moment to reflect on the beauty all around you.

Saute onions, mushrooms, green peppers, and garlic in olive oil until soft over medium-high heat, approximately 8 minutes.

Add ground beef and ground Italian sausage. Brown it up, baby.

While cooking, season the meat with the oregano and salt.

Once the meat is browned and fat has been drained, add the wine and continue cooking until reduced, about 5 minutes. For a nice article on choosing your cooking wine check out this New York Times article from March 2007.

Now add the cans of diced tomatoes and tomato sauce. Stir well to combine. Allow to simmer over low heat for the next 20 minutes or so.

And now on to the cashew cream "ricotta" cheese...

What we'll be doing in this segment is recreating the ricotta cheese flavor and consistency for the sake of actually enjoying our gluten and dairy free lasagna when it's all said and done.

We've been soaking the cashews for at least 30 minutes. But perhaps for as long as 6 hours.

Drain the water away from the soaked cashews.

Place the cashews in the blender with 1 1/2 cups water. Puree until the cashews are smooth as smooth can be. Depending on the strength of your machine this could take up to five minutes of blending. The smoother the better here folks.

We've got our Italian parsley washed up. Grab two handfuls of the parsley and throw it into the blender with the two eggs.

Give it a spin. Not too long though. Just enough to mix the egg and parsley into the cream. Too much blending of the parsley and the "ricotta" will turn completely green. Ewwww.

And now begins the fun part of making lasagna from scratch. Layer a few spoonfuls of red sauce on the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish. Spoon some cream sauce in there too and mix it around to create a nice nonstick surface for the first layer of lasagna noodles.

Layer #1 of noodles. And yes, what you see here is a classic example of rice noodle behavior. They do not perform like normal wheat noodles. They break apart all too easily. But hey, no one will know the difference once it's all baked together in a fantastic casserole of Italian goodness.

Next a layer of cream sauce. Use approximately 1 cup's worth here. Spread it around, sister (or brother).

And another layer of meat sauce.

You get the idea here. I need not describe the process any further.

End with a nice thick layer of cream sauce with the remaining meat sauce placed carefully on top.

Cover with tin foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Take the cover off and bake another 5 minutes.

Let cool a bit before diving in. Enjoy!

It's December. You know what that means around here. It's a Christmas music bonanza! This is one of my absolute favorite Christmas tunes of all time. An ode to my old Italian grandmother — a little Frank Sinatra for your listening pleasure.

Frank Sinatra - Mistletoe and Holly

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