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Homestead Camp Liz-agna

Making homemade pasta is one of my favorite things to do with campers during Ekone’s Homestead Camp, and over the years it has become our tradition for Homestead campers to spend an afternoon making a big ol’ lasagna feed for everyone to enjoy for dinner. Today I was missing all the Homestead campers and staff I’ve gotten to hang out with, and I decided that the best way to remember all the good times would be to make an acre or so of lasagna for everyone we know! And I was thinking that maybe some of you might also want to make a big ol’ lasagna feed for some comfort food.

During this time of COVID-induced quarantine for some folks, others are out there, on the front lines, taking care of sick patients, bagging groceries, delivering mail, and doing all the other myriad of tasks required to get us to the other side of the pandemic. And then there are the folks who aren't necessarily working on these front lines, but who are there in the background, supporting those workers and others through mutual aid organizations and on their own. These folks are volunteering to make meals for essential workers, create home-made hand sanitizer, and provide goods for people experiencing houselessness. Do you know anyone working on the front lines who could use a homemade lasagna, made from scratch and with copious amounts of love? Who do you know working in a hospital, grocery store, delivery service, or other essential job? Today we challenge you to step up and help support your community by getting a prepped meal to someone who could use some loving kindness.

Fair warning: this is not a quick or fast recipe… part of the whole point of making lasagna from scratch  is to either make it together with other people while you chat and tend to various things, or to make it by yourself when you want to just groove on your own and be artisanal and rock out to some awesome music. All told, this experience could take 3-4 hours…or more, depending!

Basic components of Ekone Lasagna:

  • Homemade egg noodles

    • All-purpose white flour, about 5 ½  cups

    • Eggs, about 6-7

    • A drizzle of olive oil, about 3 Tbsp

    • Salt, two pinches

    • A pasta-rolling machine makes things go fast, but lasagne noodles can totally be made with a rolling pin—and if you don’t have a rolling pin, a wine bottle works well too!

  • Red Sauce

    • Diced or chopped or stewed tomatoes, canned or fresh, about 24-30 oz

    • Tomato paste, about 8 oz

    • Onions, 1 large, chopped medium fine

    • Garlic, 2-6 cloves depending on your love of garlic, diced very fine

    • Carrots, 1 large or 2 small, diced very fine

    • Bell peppers, fresh or frozen, about 2 cups, chopped medium fine

    • Spices: some suggestions are thyme, rosemary, basil, oregano, fennel

    • Sausage or ground beef can be used if desired, about 1 lb

    • Olive oil, or use the fats/grease from the meat, about ½ cup oil or fat total

    • Salt and pepper to taste

    • A touch of sugar or honey, about 1 Tbs

  • Ricotta Filling

    • Ricotta cheese, about 32 oz

    • Eggs, 3

    • Spinach, kale, and/or chard, about as much as you can grab and squish with 2 hands

    • Salt

  • And of course… LOTS of mozzarella! (About 2 lbs, grated or thinly sliced)

  • Pans: Two 9x13 pans, or three 8x8 pans

 

Step 1: Wash, Clean, and Prep


The first step is always to WASH HANDS for 20 seconds, and to clear a goodly amount of clean working space in the kitchen. Lasagna has a lot of different parts, and takes a lot of space to make and assemble. Start by making sure surfaces are clean and clear and that you have plenty of counter space available. (Wash any dishes left over from breakfast, as you may need to use the sink as a staging area!)

 
 

Step 2: Get Saucy


Next is to get the red sauce started, so that it can simmer down and meld flavors while you work on the rest of things.
 

  • Start by chopping onions, garlic, carrots, and bell peppers. (The carrots may seem weird, but they are essential because they add a sweetness to the sauce and cut the acidity of the tomatoes. It is important to chop them VERY fine, so that they pretty much disappear in the sauce.)

  • If you are using sausage or ground beef, brown the meat while you chop the veggies, so that you can then remove the meat to another bowl and sauté the veggies in the good sausage/beef fats—add olive oil or other oil/fat if needed.

  • If you are going vegetarian, sauté the veggies in at least ½ cup of oil, and in either case sauté over medium heat until the onions are slightly translucent and starting to caramelize. Also, whether or not you go vegetarian, you can also add mushrooms to the sauce to increase the depth of flavor and “meatiness”. (It will seem like the veggies are just *swimming* in oil, but that is on purpose and is essential for extracting all the good flavors and adding richness to the sauce. If you’ve ever had a ho-hum, bland lasagna, it was probably because there either wasn’t enough oil in the sauce, or enough cheese!)
     

Note—all of this is based on using cast-iron pans… if using other types of pans, add an additional 2 Tbs of oil or grease to ensure things don’t stick. Also, when browning the meat, if it is super lean, or if doing it in a non-cast-iron pan, add another 2 Tbsp of oil or fat.
 

  • Then put the diced tomatoes and tomato paste into pot (at least a 4 quart/1 gallon pot, 6 quart is better) and add the sautéed veggies and alllll the oil they cooked in. Scrape that pan to get all the good veggie bits and the awesome flavorful oil they cooked in! (If using meat, add the browned meat and allll the good fats and pan scrapings at this point.) If using whole stewed tomatoes, chop them first until they are about ½” to 3/4”… if cooking for kids with texture issues who can’t handle chunks of tomato, you can also puree some or all of the diced tomatoes in a blender or food processor to make a smoother sauce. Use the tomato paste can to add 1.5 times as much water as there was tomato paste, and scrape/mix the inside of the tomato paste can while there’s water in it to get all the last good bits out of it.

  • Now you get to spice up that red sauce with your own personal special BAM! 😊 This is all personal preference, and I can’t tell you any *best way*. Personally, I like my red sauce rich with spices, but not so overdone that you can’t taste the full tomato flavor… in doing this sauce for myself, I’d do about...

    • 1 Tbs oregano, 1 Tbsp basil, 1 tsp thyme, 1 tsp rosemary (if dried, crumble in your fingers to make small, if fresh chop it real fine), 1 tsp fennel (ground in a mortar and pestle, or chopped fine, which can make the little seeds jump around, so it’s important to use a big chef knife and cup the blade-holding hand over the seeds to keep them from escaping), ½ tsp chili flakes (doesn’t make it spicy at all, but adds a warm mouth-feel), and a tiny bit of lemon juice or fine lemon peel.

    • If you’re using home-grown tomatoes, I’d recommend lightening up on the spices to really let the sweetness and richness of the tomatoes shine though. I’ve had incredible red sauces that only had salt, pepper, and the tiniest hint of basil and oregano added to the tomato/veggie base. Some people just don’t like the flavor of a certain spice, so just omit those you don’t care for.
       

The most important thing is that the red sauce gets to simmer for AT LEAST an hour—2 hours is even better. And when I say “let the sauce simmer”, what I mean is: bring the sauce up to a light boil (bubbling quite a bit, all the time, even when you stir it) and then turn the heat down to very low or until you see only occasional bubbles, but it’s steaming all the time.

 
 

Step 3: Noodles!


While the red sauce is simmering down, it’s time to get started on the egg noodles—this part is so much fun! Now, you can make the egg noodles in a big bowl, but if you have enough counter space, the traditional way is to mound up your flour right on the counter and mix in the eggs right there.

  • Start with your mound of flour, and make a well in the center like a big crater in a volcano. In the crater, crack your eggs, add the sprinkle of salt, and drizzle the olive oil over top.

  • Now for the hands-on fun! Using your hands, start bringing flour from the outside of the volcano into the inside, over top of the eggs until they are totally covered in flour. Then start to push down on the top of the volcano to break up the egg yolks, while also pulling more flour from the outside into the inside.

  • At some point the eggs will try to escape their crater and run like lava across the counter, and then you gotta work fast! Continue to scoop the runny egg and flour back to the center, pressing it together with your hands until it starts to form a dough.

  • Start pressing (kneading) the dough together. It can be tempting to squeeze it in your hand so that the dough squeezes out between your fingers, but this will break up the gluten proteins and you don’t want that, so try to resist the urge!

  • Once the dough is mostly together in a ball, start to clean the sticky dough off your hands by rubbing them together.
     

A note on texture: the weather, age of your flour, size of your eggs, and numerous other factors can influence the dough's texture. If the dough is dry and crumbly, sprinkle with a bit of lukewarm water until it becomes pliable. If too wet, add flour, about a tablespoon at a time, until you can handle it well. Roll the dough into a smooth ball.
 

  • Knead and knead (and knead).  Lightly flour the work surface again. Knead the dough: press the heel of one hand deep into the ball, keeping your fingers high, then press down on the dough while pushing it firmly away from you. The dough will stretch and roll under your hand like a large shell. Turn the dough over, then press into the dough, first the knuckles of one hand, then with the other; do this about ten times with the knuckles of each hand. Then repeat the stretching and knuckling process, using more flour if needed to prevent sticking, until the dough is smooth and silky, for about 10 to 20 minutes.
     

Next, it’s time to let the dough rest for 20-30 minutes. During this time, we can prepare the ricotta mixture!

Step 4: Ricotta Yumminess


If you have a food processor, that makes this really easy, and results in a fun pale green cheese mixture.

  • In the food processor, put about half of each of the ingredients, and blend until the greens are chopped relatively fine.

  • Put this mixture into a bowl, and then blend the other half of the ingredients in the same way, then adding that to the bowl.

Step 5: Pasta Rolling


Next you can get your pasta rolling area set up, and your lasagna assembly area set up. You’ll need a bit of counter space for this, so at this point in time I like to do a quick clean of the kitchen while I’m letting the pasta dough finish resting. Wash any dirty dishes, put food scraps in the compost, wipe counters, and put away ingredients that you’re done with.


If you have a pasta machine, find a good counter spot to set it up on. If you’ll be rolling the pasta by hand, clear off a sizable area of counter space and sprinkle with flour. Find your lasagna pans—you’ll need two pans that are about 9x13 inches, or three that are 8x8 inches.


Take your red sauce off heat, get your grated mozzarella ready, and start preheating the oven to 350 degrees if you’ll be cooking lasagna right away. (These will also store covered in the fridge for up to 3 days, or in the freezer for several months.)


To roll out the pasta dough:

  • first cut your ball of dough into pieces about the size of a clementine.

  • If using a pasta machine, put the thickness dial on the 1 setting. Smoosh your ball of dough into a flattish rectangle, and feed it through the machine. Lay it on the counter and sprinkle a little flour on it. Then run about half of the other pieces through the pasta machine on the 1 thickness setting, stacking them on top of the first, with a little flour between each piece.

  • Then move the thickness setting to 2 and run those pieces through, again stacking with a little sprinkle of flour between each piece.

  • Do the same for thickness settings 3 and 4.

  • For the final pass at thickness setting 5, be ready to start assembling your first lasagna as each sheet of dough comes off the machine. (Also have a pair of clean scissors handy to trim the sheets.)

If you don’t have a pasta machine, no worries!

  • Take each piece of dough and roll it out with a rolling pin into lasagna sheets.

  • Have some flour handy to flour the counter surface and the rolling pin so that they don’t stick to the dough.

  • Roll out each sheet of pasta until it is about the thickness of a tortilla.

  • Be ready to start assembling your lasagna as you roll out each sheet of pasta.

 

Step 5: Assembly!

  • First put a small amount of red sauce in the bottom of the pan, before the first sheet of pasta.

  • Then lay your first strip of pasta dough —it will likely be too long for the pan, so trim off the end with scissors. This part can be kind of a tetris-situation, because your sheets of pasta will all be different lengths and widths. Lay another sheet of pasta next to the first, or use the cut-off piece of the first sheet if it’s big enough. It doesn’t matter how many individual pieces of pasta strip make up the pasta layer, you just want there to be a full layer, and it’s totally okay for the sheets to overlap somewhat.

  • Then add a layer of red sauce—about 2-3 ladlefuls, and spread it around so that it’s more or less even. (One note on the red sauce—because the pasta noodles are uncooked, the red sauce needs to be somewhat watery, so that the pasta noodles cook in the liquid while it is baking. If your red sauce is very thick—like the consistency of red sauce from a jar—add about 1-2 cups of water after you take it off the heat.)

  • Then take the ricotta mixture and add 6-8 spoonfuls on top of the red sauce, spreading them out gently.

  • Then roll out two more sheets of pasta on thickness setting 5 and lay them on top and continue with the same layering.

  • The whole thing will have 4 layers of pasta dough, so from top to bottom, this is what it will look like:

 

Hearty layer of mozzarella (top)

Red sauce

Pasta

Ricotta filling

Red sauce

Pasta

Light sprinkle of mozzarella

Ricotta filling

Red Sauce

Pasta

Ricotta filling

Red sauce

Pasta

Red Sauce (bottom)

At this point, for a 9x13 pan, you should have used about half of the pasta dough, and half of all your other ingredients.

(If you’ve used more than half your ingredients, you may want to make your second lasagna in an 8x8 pan instead of a 9x13 pan, so that you can still get 4 layers of pasta and filling.)

If you started with an 8x8 pan, you should have used about a third of all your ingredients. Lasagna can be made in any size or shape pan (you can even use a bread loaf pan or a round pie pan if you want!) The important part is to make sure you have enough ingredients to finish all the layers in whatever size pan you’re using.

Repeat the pasta rolling procedure and layering for your second (and maybe third) pan of lasagna.

Step 6: Bake Your Lasagna!

For baking, cover lasagna pans with foil and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for about 40 minutes.

  • Then uncover, turn the heat up to 400 degrees, and bake another 10 minutes or until the cheese on top starts to bubble and brown.

Step 7: Enjoy! And SHARE!

Brava, molto bene! Enjoy your awesome homemade lasagna, and send us some pictures!

Fair warning for food allergies and dietary sensitivities: I have tried to make GF lasagne noodles, and was not able to get really good results. If you do want to try making GF noodles, definitely plan to use a rolling pin rather than a pasta machine, and be prepared for them to be fairly fragile. Or, you could use commercial GF pasta of any shape in this recipe. My mom used to do that a lot when she wanted to make a lasagna but didn’t have any lasagna noodles and only had macaroni or spaghetti or whatnot, and she called it “Quasi-Lasi” 😊

And please send us photos of you making your lasagna, or delivering it to your community, or the mess you had to clean up in your kitchen! We want to hear from you <3 
 

We will post any that we get here on the page for inspiration for others.

Send in photos of your masterpieces to michelle@ekone.org


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September 24-27

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Ekone Ranch...a place for children of all ages!

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