Posted March 4, 2014 01:40 pm - Updated March 5, 2014 10:41 am
If you're looking for easy meatless meals to prepare during Lent, you can't do much better than a panful of lasagna or macaroni and cheese.
Seems like Christmas was just yesterday and here we are — at the beginning of the Lenten season and on our way to spring.
For many, Lent means meatless meals, among them those that include cheese. Two favorite cheese-laden dishes for Lent are lasagna and macaroni and cheese.
Over the years, I’ve offered many macaroni and cheese recipes, and to be perfectly honest, kids seem to always prefer the kind that comes straight out of a box. And, it’s not just the children who lick their plates clean when served a bowlful of Kraft’s macaroni and cheese, but some adults, too, who grew up with the stuff. A recipe found in a vintage Sunbeam frypan recipe and instruction booklet comes pretty close to having the taste many folks yearn for from their macaroni and cheese, due surely to the use of processed sharp American cheese, which guarantees a smooth, curdle-free velvety sauce. (I used Velveeta, also a product of Kraft, for the Sunbeam recipe.)
Besides its ease of preparation, the lovely part about this version of macaroni and cheese, lies in the butter-browned fresh bread crumbs that top it, sublime when homemade bread is available.
And, while we’re on the subject of things that come out of a box, there’s no doubt that no-boil lasagna noodles makes fixing the once laborious Italian casserole easier than ever. Four-layered No-Boil Lasagna, prepared from a recipe that originated on the back of a Barilla no-boil lasagna box, has become a favorite of mine — and you have told me, yours, as well.
Of course, any recipe that comes from a box can be improved upon with our own homemade touches, but as a place from which to start, during Lent and other times of the year, these recipes are good meatless ways to begin.
Sue Ade is a syndicated food writer with broad experience and interest in the culinary arts. She has worked and resided in the Lowcountry of South Carolina since 1985 and may be reached at email@example.com.
Adapted from a recipe by Barilla America, Inc.
1 (9-ounce) box Barilla no-boil lasagna
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
4 cups (16-ounce package) shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
½ cup (2 ounces) grated parmesan cheese, plus additional cheese for serving
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, plus more for garnish
¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
2 (24-ounce jars) Barilla Marinara Sauce
Non-stick cooking spray for coating baking pan
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 13 x 9 x 3-inches deep baking pan with non-stick cooking spray. (If you don’t have a deep baking dish, just make 3 layers to avoid spillovers in your oven.)
Remove 16 no-boil lasagna sheets from box. Do not boil. In a medium bowl, beat eggs. Stir in ricotta cheese, 2 cups of the mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, parsley and pepper.
Spread 1 cup of sauce on bottom of baking pan. On top of sauce, layer 4 uncooked lasagna sheets, 1/3 of ricotta cheese mixture, 1 cup of mozzarella cheese and 1 cup of sauce. Layer again, with 4 uncooked lasagna sheets, 1/3 of ricotta cheese mixture and this time, 1½ cups sauce. Repeat, with another 4 lasagna sheets, the remaining ricotta mixture and 1 cup of sauce. Finally, top with remaining lasagna sheets, the remaining sauce and remaining mozzarella cheese.
To cook and serve
Bake, covered with foil, until bubbly, 50 to 60 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking until cheese is browned, about 5 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes, sprinkling with additional parmesan cheese before cutting. To serve, garnish with chopped fresh parsley. Makes 12 servings.
The recipe here, designed for use in a three-quart capacity electric skillet fitted with a vented lid, was found in a vintage Sunbeam frypan recipes and instructions booklet. Kids love it.
½ pound elbow macaroni, or similar size dry pasta product
3 tablespoons butter
½ cup fine fresh bread crumbs, from store-bought or homemade bread (see recipe below)
2 tablespoons grated onion*
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon dry mustard
2 cups milk
1/3 pound processed sharp American cheese, grated
Cook the macaroni as directed on the package label. Drain. Preheat the frypan to 300 degrees. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add the bread crumbs and brown. Remove from the frypan and set aside. Add the remaining butter to the frypan and sauté the onion at 240 degrees.* Blend in the flour, salt, pepper and mustard. Add milk gradually, stirring until smooth. Stir in ¾ of the cheese. Turn the temperature dial to OFF. Fold in the drained macaroni. Mix lightly with a fork. Top with the remaining cheese and bread crumbs. Sprinkle with paprika. Cover, with vent open.
Bake at HIGH SIMMER for 25 minutes, until bubbly and hot.* Serve directly from the frypan. Makes 4 to 6 servings. *Kitchen Ade note: If you do not like the taste of onion in your macaroni and cheese, just leave it out. Be sure to adjust the heat on your frypan so that the dish is not cooking at too high a temperature. Set at MEDIUM SIMMER, my macaroni and cheese was ready in just over 15 minutes.
Homemade Bread Crumbs
The use of homemade bread (recipe follows) in a dish calling for bread crumbs makes more difference than you can image. It’s fine, even desirable, to use bread that is a day old for making crumbs, but never use bread that has become stale.
■ For fresh, soft crumbs, 1 average slice of crustless bread equals about ½ cup crumbs. Do not use bread that is overly soft.
■ For dry bread crumbs, use bread (with some crusts left on) that have been placed in a single layer on a cookie sheet and allowed to dry in a 300 degree oven for one hour. 1 average slice of dried bread equals about ¼ cup crumbs.
To make bread crumbs in a food processor, place torn pieces of bread into work bowl and pulse until crumbs are desired size, processing no more than 4 slices at a time. If using an electric blender to make crumbs, best results will be achieved by breaking each slice of bread into 5 or 6 pieces and processing only one slice of bread at a time.
Old-Fashioned Basic White Bread
(For an 8.5 X 4.5-inch loaf pan)
1 cup warm (110 degrees) water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or light olive oil
3 cups bread flour (I like King Arthur brand)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
1 envelope (2¼ teaspoons) rapid rise or bread machine yeast
Non-stick cooking spray, for greasing pans
Butter for spreading on baked bread (optional)*
Spray canister of an electric bread machine lightly with non-stick cooking spray. Place water and oil in canister, then add flour, sugar and salt. With your finger make an indentation in the flour and carefully pour in yeast. (Do not allow yeast to come into contact with liquid). Start machine on dough cycle. When cycle completes, remove dough from canister and place on a lightly floured surface. Knead dough for a few seconds, then roll into an even log, approximately the same length and width (8 x 4 inches) as the bread pan you will be using to bake the bread. Lightly spray an 8.5 x 4.5-inch bread pan with cooking spray. Place dough in pan and cover pan with a lightly greased piece of plastic wrap. Let dough rise until it just crowns, about ¾ to 1 inch above sides of pan. (Do not let dough rise beyond sides of pan, or your loaf will be misshapen.)
Remove plastic wrap, place pan in a 350-degree preheated oven, and bake for approximately 35 minutes. The bread should be golden brown with an internal temperature of 190 degrees. (Test bread with an instant read thermometer.) Remove bread from pan and allow to cool on a wire rack. Makes 1 (8-inch) loaf.
*Kitchen Ade note: For a soft crust, gently rub a thin coating of butter (you can use a stick of butter straight from the refrigerator) over the top of bread while it is still hot.