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Every time at around this time of year, I crave a long project.  Something that will completely consume my time.  I want to pull out a 1000-piece puzzle, I want to get drawn into a thick plot in a t.v. drama.  I look for a fat novel to read for a long time.  There’s something about getting pulled into something big that produces a great deal of satisfaction.

one piece

Last year was the same way.  I didn’t read a particularly long book, but I did get sucked into this.  And I found myself thinking endlessly about the characters in this show.  When I finished both of those stories, I felt like I was in a daze, realizing that everything had come to an end, but feeling so fulfilled by the entire experience.

the book

But now that we’re in the thick of winter, with no major holidays approaching (besides Groundhog Day), no prep, no events, or trips, it’s time to get into some big, long projects.

The Book: Poisonwood Bible

The [possible] t.v. series: Homeland

The exercise routine: Ultimate Yogi (thanks Mom)

And with all of these projects comes a food project.  In this case, it was lasagna, and it was delicious.  It takes hours, literally, to make, but it is so worth it.


Classic Lasagna

Note: You can make the sauce a day ahead.

Slightly adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook

For the Sauce

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 large red onion, finely chopped

6 garlic cloves, two left whole, 4 minced

1/2 pound sliced pancetta, diced

Salt and black pepper

1 1/2 cups dry red wine

2 28-ounce cans crushed italian tomatoes

3 tablespoons tomato paste

2 cups lukewarm water

3/4 pound ground beef

1/4 cup grated parmesan

2 eggs

10 sprigs parsley, leaves only

1/2 cup flour

1 pound italian sausage

For the Lasagna:

1 15 ounce container ricotta cheese

2 eggs

2 cups grated parmesan cheese

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1 pound shredded mozzarella cheese

salt and pepper

16 pre-cooked lasagna noodles

1. For the sauce: Heat 1/2 cup oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy pot over low heat.  Add onions, minced garlic and pancetta and cook until the onions have wilted.  Season liberally with salt and pepper.  Raise the heat to medium-high, add the wine, and cook until it has mostly evaporated, about 20 minutes.

2. Add tomatoes, paste, and water, and simmer for 1 hour.

*If you’re making this a day ahead, you can stop here, and store the sauce for the next day.  Heat the sauce in the Dutch oven before starting step 3.

3. Combine the beef, cheese and eggs in a large bowl.  Chop parsley with the whole garlic cloves until fine, then stir into beef mixture.  Season liberally with salt and pepper.  Using your hands, mix until ingredients are well blended.  Shape into meatballs and set aside.

4. In a large skillet, heat remaining oil over medium-high heat.  Dust meatballs with flour, shaking off excess, and add to hot oil.  Brown meatballs on all sides, then transfer to sauce.

5. Wipe skillet clean with a paper towel, and brown the sausage over medium high heat.  Drain excess grease through a strainer, then add to sauce.  Simmer for 1 1/2 hours.

6. For the lasagna: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Combine ricotta, eggs, parmesan, parsley and all but 1 cup of the mozzarella in a large bowl.  Season well with salt and pepper and mix well.

7.  Remove meatballs from the sauce, and coarsely chop.  Spoon a thin layer of sauce into the bottom of a 9 by 12 inch baking pan.  Cover with a layer of 4 noodles.  Spoon more sauce on top, then add a quarter of the meat and a quarter of the cheese mixture.  Repeat for 2 more layers.  Top with a layer of noodles and cover with sauce.  Sprinkle extra mozzarella on top.  I needed an extra pan, so I used the rest of the ingredients in a smaller, 8 X 8 pan, following the same layer order as in the big pan, but only using 2 noodles for each layer.

8. Bake until heated through and bubbling, about 30 minutes.  Let stand 10 minutes before serving.