Sunday, July 21, 2013

Freezer Meal: Lasagna Casserole

When it comes to cooking, I've found that there are two kinds of people: those who follow a recipe to the letter and those who wing it. From the time I started cooking, I was most certainly a recipe-follower. My husband, however, has always loved experimenting in the kitchen (to which I say, "Go right ahead, honey!").

After observing the way he threw a dish together, I discovered a few traits of a "winger":

  1. Have a plan: Often he will start by looking at several recipes for the same type of dish and use those general ingredients and amounts as a guideline to make his own. 
  2. Make adjustments: He'll also taste what he's making and adjust accordingly.
  3. Give it a try: Not sure how something will work? There's one way to find out!
  4. Don't be afraid to fail: Hubby's recipes are usually delicious, but we've had a few duds. The meals were still edible, and it never stopped him from cooking another meal.
  5. Experience is the best teacher: The more you cook, the better you get at knowing what works, what doesn't, how much of an ingredient to use, how long to cook it, etc.
Thanks to hubby's wing-it personality in the kitchen, I have branched out. And I have decided there is a third type of cook - the "tweaker." I usually start by making a recipe the way it's written and then tweak it each time I make it until it's just the way I want it. I love the flexibility and freedom I've discovered! 

Which brings us to the recipe I'm sharing today. I started with Laura's Lasagna Casserole from Heavenly Homemakers,* but tweaked it considerably to make it more like the lasagna I used to make.

Lasagna Casserole

1 box whole wheat rotini pasta (any other type should work)
1 jar marinara sauce (store-bought or homemade)
1 pound meat 
(I usually use half ground meat and half sausage. 1-2 cups of chopped or shredded chicken also works well)
1 small onion, chopped (optional)
7.5-8 oz Ricotta cheese (half of a small container)
Parmesan Cheese, to taste
Parsley, to taste
2 cups mozzarella or Italian blend cheese

Boil pasta 2 minutes less than indicated on package directions (this keeps the pasta from getting mushy when it bakes).
While the pasta cooks, brown the sausage, ground meat, and onion (if using).
Drain the pasta in a colander, return the pasta to the pot (off the heat), and add the meat and sauce. Pour an inch or so of water into the bottom of the jar, swish it around, and pour it into the pot (we don't want to waste anything!). Stir until combined.
Lightly grease a 13x9 casserole dish and add half of the pasta. Dollop the ricotta onto the pasta, sprinkle on 1 cup of mozzarella, and top with parsley and Parmesan cheese to taste.
Add the rest of the pasta, and top with the remaining mozzarella and desired amount of parmesan and parsley.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, until cheese is melted and bubbly.
Serves at least 6. Our family of three usually gets 2-3 meals out of one casserole, depending on appetites.

This is an easy, convenient freezer meal that is kid-friendly and great to serve to company. I always make at least two at a time so we have an extra one in the freezer. Before we went to the beach a few weeks ago, I made four pans to freeze. We took two to the beach to feed our extended family and still had two left for when we got home.

For easy reference, I label the top layer with the contents and cooking instructions. If freezing this recipe, you will need to let the casserole thaw for a day or two in the fridge before baking.

And here it is, all cooked and yummy. Of course, I only remembered to take a picture right after hubby served himself!

And here it is served up with some sauteed yellow squash from our garden. It was our second round of leftovers before I actually remembered to take a picture of it on a plate. I'm still getting a hang of this whole blogging thing!

* If you haven't checked out Heavenly Homemakers, you definitely should! I've been a huge fan for about two years. Laura is a homeschooling mom of 4 boys and a proponent of easy, nourishing, real food. Her posts are witty and real. Heavenly Homemakers is my go-to for whole-wheat baked goods (seriously, try her applesauce bread or butterscotch bars), and she has a whole series of High Five Recipes made with 5 ingredients or less.

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