The changing of a season is reason enough to celebrate– the first snowfall, the smell of the first fall wind, the first day bursting with summer warmth, the first spring morning are always some of the most amazing moments of every year. But with all the incredible foods that herald the beginning of springtime, it’s near impossible not to dream up a feast.
So. Why not create one?
The perfect excuse to gather family and friends and share a beautiful meal is never too difficult to create, but when it’s a spring celebration, there’s no need for explanation. Here’s how our family celebrated this year, with plenty of stories, too many (just enough) cooks in the kitchen, and a crowd of happy, full bellies at Ro’s and Ralph’s.
Mixed Italian Olives
Mozzarella & Tomato with Mint, Basil, Olive Oil and Sea Salt
Our Classic Lasagna
Sautéed Mushrooms with White Wine, Parsley & Garlic
Broiled Sweet & Hot Italian Sausage
Broiled Lamb with Garlic, Rosemary & Mint
Green Beans with Toasted Almonds
Fennel, Orange & Red Onion Salad with Mint
Assorted Italian Pastries from Veniero‘s in New York
A Few Notes…
This recipe is for 1 large 10 x 15 x 3 tray that will serve 12. (Multiply the recipe for as many trays as you need or scale it back a bit for a standard 9 X 13 baking dish.
We used to buy pasta sheets to pre-cook or make fresh pasta but as soon as soon as no-boil lasagna sheets were readily available in stores, we snatched them right up instead. This swap is a huge time-saver when cooking for a crowd and there’s no sacrifice taste or texture-wise. No-boil lasagna sheets are absolutely a pantry staple.
The night before cooking or a few hours before you start, place the ricotta in a colander or strainer lined with cheesecloth over a bowl to drain away excess liquid. Put a plate on top to cover and refrigerate. Let it drain until you’re ready to start the lasagna.
You can absolutely prep the entire lasagna a day in advance, cover it tightly, and refrigerate. Take it out the next day and let it sit at room temperature for an hour or so to remove the chill before you pop it in the oven– a stress-free meal! Ro had prepped the lasagna before we arrived (what a gal!) so we just had to focus on making the things that couldn’t be made ahead of time.
* * * *
Pre-heat oven to 350°
10 x 15 x 3 inch baking dish
18 sheets of no-boil lasagna sheets (six sheets for each layer)
8-9 cups of your favorite tomato sauce, plus extra to use for serving (about 1/4 extra per person)
3 15-oz. containers of ricotta, whole milk or part skim, drained (you’ll want to have about 6 cups in the end)
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated (or Pecorino Romano which is sharp and salty), plus
more for serving
½ cup of chopped parsley
Pepper and salt to taste
A generous bunch of fresh basil to add to your sauce
*In a large bowl mix the ricotta, beaten eggs, parsley, grated cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste.
* Either roughly chop your basil and mix into your sauce or just tear it up and sprinkle over the sauce as you spread it over the lasagna layers.
*Spread 2 cups of sauce over the bottom of your baking pan. If you’re sprinkling basil over your sauce layers, leave it out here.
* Lay 6 sheets of pasta on top of the sauce. Overlapping the sheets is fine. You can certainly break them instead, but they can be a little tricky to break where you want them to.
* Spread about 2 cups of the ricotta mixture over the pasta.
* Add another 2 cups of sauce on top. (You need enough sauce to cook the pasta and coat the layer, but not so much that your pasta is going for a swim.)
* Top this with another 6 sheets of pasta and follow with the ricotta and sauce as before.
* Add the remaining 6 pasta sheets.
* This final layer will be topped with the sauce first, then the ricotta mixture
*Cover the whole thing with foil and place in the oven for about 45 minutes, until it’s hot and bubbling.
*Remove the foil and pop back in the over for another 15-20 minutes, until the edges are a bit crispy but there’s still enough moisture in the lasagna. You don’t want it to dry out.
*Remove dish from oven and let rest for 15 minutes. This part’s important! The lasagna will be impossible to cut and you’ll end up with a big– though delicious– mess if you don’t let it sit for at least 15 minutes.
Serve with the additional sauce, grated cheese, and maybe a spring or two of basil.
Fennel, Orange & Red Onion Salad with Mint
1 bulb of fennel, halved with base sliced off and stalks and core removed
1/2 of a large red onion
2 large oranges
1 bunch of mint
Good olive oil
*Thinly and evenly slice your fennel, cutting horizontally across the bulb. You want the slices to be thin, but not so thin that they’re papery and there’s no crunch. Add to a large bowl.
*Do the same with your red onion, cutting it in half and then slicing horizontally across the sections so you wind up with half circles that are thinner than your fennel. You don’t want a mouthful of salad that tastes like all onion and nothing else. Add to the bowl of fennel.
*Cut the top and bottom off your orange and resting one of the now flat sides on a cutting board, work a sharp paring knife down the sides between the peel and the fruit. You want to make sure you’re slicing the white pith off, as well, so you have a totally orange piece of fruit when you’re done. Cut between the membranes of each section to create “supremes.” Add the segments to your bowl and squeeze the leftover part of the segments over the fennel and red onion. This juice is the acid portion of your dressing. (See a video here.)
*Drizzle a tablespoon or two of good olive oil over the salad and sprinkle with a good pinch of salt.
*Chop a handful of mint (or as much as you like) and sprinkle over the salad, as well.
Toss and serve.