ELKO — Crushed garlic mixed with the smell of diced onions and Worcestershire remind me of my first cooking lesson as a child.
When I was young, my mother had to cook for a family of eight, so pasta was a staple in our house. When she had a lot of mouths to feed, a lasagna or spaghetti and meatballs would always satisfy everyone and still have enough for leftovers.
My mother’s lasagna recipe was born out of necessity. She doesn’t quite remember where it came from, but thinks she modified a recipe from my Uncle Skunk — an unfortunate nickname given to a family friend. Mom used cottage cheese instead of ricotta.
She usually couldn’t find ricotta and when it was in the grocery store it was too expensive. Mom said she was buying 5 gallons of milk every week, so she couldn’t afford to spend extra on a fancy cheese.
To this day I won’t eat lasagna with ricotta. I can’t stand the smell and texture of it. When it does accidentally end up in my mouth I probably look like a 5-year-old trying to scrape the taste off my tongue. I will be forever grateful for cottage cheese.
The other part of lasagna I always enjoyed was the layering process. Even when I was too little to see over the counter, I was allowed to help put the dish together. My mother would push a stepstool up to the counter or table and I would place the noodles after she spooned on the rest of the ingredients. Then I would sprinkle on the cheese.
My mom always made kitchen duties fun instead of a chore, so when she needed someone to mix up the meatball ingredients I was more than willing to volunteer. Even today it is still fun to squish my fingers into the ground beef and evenly mix up the ingredients.
My family’s recipe for meatballs came from my Aunt Rita. Her father was Italian and her mother was Slovak, so this might be why she used oatmeal instead of bread crumbs and added raisins to the concoction.
I have yet to meet anyone else who uses raisins in their meatballs, but I also have never met anyone who didn’t like them.
Start to finish: 40 minutes
1 pound of ground beef (for a meatier
lasagna use 2 pounds)
1 jar of spaghetti sauce (if extra meat is
used add 1⁄2 jar)
1⁄2 pound mozzarella shredded
1⁄2 pound provolone shredded
2 cups cottage cheese
9 to 15 lasagna noodles
(This will vary depending on the width of the noodles and the size of your pan. You need enough to cover the dish for three layers. My 9-by-13-inch square pan will needs 15 noodles because the sides widen at the top.)
Heat the oven to 350 F.
In a large pot, boil the lasagna noodles according to packaging. Oven-ready noodles do not need to be boiled and speed up the process.
In a large skillet, cook the ground beef. Use a strainer to drain the grease from the browned meat.
Set aside a 1⁄4 cup of spaghetti sauce.
In a large bowl, mix the cooked meat and the remaining spaghetti sauce.
In a separate medium bowl, mix the cottage cheese and eggs.
Shred the mozzarella and provolone. In a large bowl, mix the cheeses together.
In a 9-by-13-inch square pan, spread the 1⁄4 cup of spaghetti sauce on the bottom of the pan.
Place cooked or oven-ready noodles over the sauce. Do not overlap the noodles.
Spoon half of the cottage cheese mixture over the noodles.
Spoon 1⁄3 of the ground beef mixture on the cottage cheese.
Sprinkle 1⁄3 of the shredded cheese.
Repeat the noodles, cottage cheese, ground beef and shredded cheese layers.
After the second layer of shredded cheese place noodles, then spoon the remaining ground beef mixture and shredded cheese.
Bake for 30 minutes or until cheese is melted and golden.
Aunt Rita’s Meatballs
Start to finish: 40 minutes
1 pound ground beef
1⁄2 cup raisins
1⁄3 cup oatmeal
2 tablespoons milk
1⁄2 cup diced onions
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon parsley
1 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic (crushed)
Heat oven to 325 F.
In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients.
Shape into balls the size of golf balls.
Place meatballs on broiling pan or cookie sheet with sides.
Bake 30 minutes. Cut the biggest in half, if it is no longer pink inside it is done.
Follow Marianne Kobak McKown on Twitter at @marianneEDFP.