lasagna

After I took the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) back in December, I really wanted to celebrate the end of it by having some hearty delicious meal.  What better method than with pasta, meat, tomatoes, and LOTS of cheese? YES, LASAGNA!

But speaking of cheese, it is extremely difficult to find a variety outside of the standard Camembert, cheddar, cream cheese, waxy something, or candy (I am not kidding) cheeses that regular Japanese supermarkets have to offer.  If you can get your hands on ricotta, awesome, but be prepared to pay around  ¥2000 for a teensy tiny bit.   If you are insistent on getting ricotta, you can try the following options:

1. Make it by yourself with milk & vinegar (via About.com).  Set aside 1.5-2 hours for this.  You can freeze this afterward if you make a bunch. 

2.  Nihonhacks has a great article giving you directions on how to find/order/get cheese delivered to your door.

If you really are nonplussed about doing the above, then continue onto my style of the cheap and not necessarily authentic, but it gets the job done.  At least everyone who has tasted this recipe says so!  It is also easy to adjust this recipe (ie- make it vegetarian by nixing the meat and layering zucchini or eggplant instead) to any tastebuds.

Lasagna

Prep time: 45 minutes                Baking time: 25-30 minutes              Servings: 4

Budget for ingredients: ¥2500 (more if you use more expensive cheese)

Equipment:

1 big bowl
1 frying pan
Electric mixer
Spatula
20 x 20 x 5 cm square baking pan
Toaster oven

Ingredients:

300 g cream cheese (or whatever cheese you want to spend money on, mascarpone or kiri worked well for this too), at room temperature
1 egg
1/2 t nutmeg
2-3 sprigs Italian parsley, chopped

1 T garlic (either chopped garlic cloves or garlic paste)
1/4 onion, finely diced
200 g ground beef (or if you want cheaper, ground beef/pork)
1 can crushed tomatoes
1/2 T oregano
1/2 T basil
Salt and pepper to taste

40 spinach leaves *
8-10 lasagna noodles
1 cup mixed cheese (the shredded stuff every supermarket sells)

* Note: Spinach is called ほうれん草 <hourensou>.  It is green with red at the end! There is usually a bunch of sand in these, so make sure you wash thoroughly. 

Directions:

1. Cream together egg, cream cheese, and nutmeg and parsley.  Works best with an electric mixer to fully blend.

2. In a pan with medium heat setting, combine olive oil, garlic, onion and beef and cook until the meat is browned.  Should take around 5-10 minutes.  Remove the beef grease that forms.  You don’t want your piece of lasagna dripping with oil later!

3. Add the can of tomatoes and spices to the meat.  I usually simmer this on low for 30 minutes, but I hear the longer the better.

4. Spread cheese mixture on the bottom of the pan with spatula.  Stick two pieces of lasagna noodle next to each other.  Pour 1/4 of the meat mixture on top of this, then layer with 8 spinach leaves.  Next use the spatula again to directly apply cheese mixture to lasagna noodles.  Repeat until you are near the top of the pan!

5. Cover the lasagna with mixed cheese.  Make sure it completely covers the top because you don’t want any of the flavors to come out while baking, or for the lasagna noodles to burn!

6. Bake in a  preheated toaster oven at 180°C for 15 minutes, and then 160°C for 10-15 minutes. 

7.  After it is done baking take it out and let it rest for 15-20 minutes.  Slice, serve, and share.  Not that you really want to share it.

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