Rome is home to some of the best food, most beautiful art, and ballsiest pidgeons in the world. I’ve been trying really hard to act like a local, and not be such a tourist, and this involves making a few changes to my normal behavior. I no longer flip out when a pidgeon gets so close to me that I accidentally kick it. I now walk boldly into oncoming traffic, crossing my fingers that cars and scooters will screech to a halt. Roman drivers, if transplanted into some other part of the world, would probably be promptly admitted into a facility for treatment of the psychotic and sociopathic, but nevertheless, streets must be crossed.
Part of being a local also involves cooking for myself in my “kitchen” (pictures to come soon). I think it will be a long time before I tire of eating pasta (if ever), but so far I had been going the easy route, boiling pasta and using store-bought sauce. A few nights ago I decided to step up my game, and tackle something new while still satisfying my pasta craving. I was in the store and noticed lasagna sheets, and I grabbed them. I also picked up some fresh mozzarella, and headed for the canned tomatoes. After scowling at all the various forms of canned tomatoes on the shelf for 10 minutes, I decided on the whole, peeled tomatoes. I think that next time I would use the canned, diced tomatoes, because that would probably speed up the sauce-making process a little bit, but anything would probably work. One white onion completed the list, and I had everything I needed for a delicious, simple lasagna.
The key to really delicious tomato sauce is simplicity – this is something the Italians really understand. There is no need to overload a sauce with spices, however tempting it may be. In this sauce, I started by melting a teaspoon or so of butter, sprinkling in a tiny pinch of crushed red peppers, and a tiny pinch of dried rosemary. Next, I added a quarter of the onion – there is no need to chop the onion further, because its only job is to give flavor while the sauce is cooking, then it gets thrown out. Then the tomatoes get thrown in, along with salt to taste, and from here on out its a waiting game. Because I used whole tomatoes, it took a while for them to break down completely. All you have to do is stir occasionally, and listen to the sauce gurgling happily on the stove while you clean your room for the love of god, your mother would be horrified.
Once the sauce is ready, just start layering. Oh, a note about the cheese. I don’t like really cheesy lasagna, because there is probably something wrong with me, so I nixed the ricotta and decided to use only mozzarella instead. Like I said earlier, I bought fresh mozzarella. Once I opened it up, I realized that the heavy moisture content of the cheese might result in a watery finished product, so I sliced it up and pressed it between two paper towels. This worked really well, and I think the fresh mozzarella adds a nicer taste than the pre-shredded stuff we use at home. Layer the lasagna however you like; I usually start and end with a sauce layer (and then cheese on top), but whatever you do in between is your own business. Like I said, I opted to keep this simple, but next time I’m going to throw in some spinach and maybe some zucchini too.
Tomato Sauce Recipe
- 2 cans whole, peeled tomatoes
- 1-2 tsp butter
- 1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 pinch dried rosemary
- 1 quarter of a white onion
- Salt to taste
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add spices and onion and simmer for 1-2 minutes. Add tomatoes and stir. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. The longer you let the sauce simmer, the thicker it will get.
Start with a light layer of sauce. Add lasagna noodle. More sauce. Some cheese. Another noodle. Continue in this fashion, ending with a layer of sauce and cheese. Bake at 325° for 30 minutes, or until sauce is bubbling.