Sloppy Joes!

Preparing Sloppy Joe and Cheesy Joes

Preparing Sloppy Joe and Cheesy Joes

This is a variation of an heirloom recipe. In my family Sloppy Joes involved canned something-or-other, but my father-in-law made them from scratch, calling it “BBQ hamburger”. I’ve converted this to be vegetarian by eliminating the Worchestershire sauce (and adding a bit of liquid smoke) and using original Smart Ground as a meat substitute. If the Tabasco makes it a bit too tangy for your taste, cut back on it and use a bit more chili powder. I don’t usually measure anymore when I make this (but I did make it according to the recipe before posting this in order to give you precise measurements for my substitutions). I also sometimes throw in a bit of dried minced onion.

1 pkg Smart Ground
1 cup ketchup
1 tsp chili powder (I use Mexene)
1 tsp Tabasco
1/2 tsp liquid smoke (I use Colgin Mesquite)

Mix all ingredients in a skillet or pot, breaking up Smart Ground to fine consistency. Add (at least) 1/2 cup water. Bring to simmer on med-low heat. Simmer 30 minutes on Low. Stir occasionally.

Depending on your stove and how wet you like your Sloppy Joes, you may need to add more water, but add as little as possible unless you like your Sloppys soupy. If you overdo it on water, just simmer until it’s the consistency you want.

Option: add cheddar cheese (or vegan equivalent) for Cheesy Joes!

Sloppy Joe and Cheesy Joe

Sloppy Joe and Cheesy Joe

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Chili Pie Delight

Frito Pie (with green onions substituted for diced white)

Frito Pie (with green onions substituted for diced white)

I don’t know if this is a regional dish, but from what I’ve read chili pie —or Frito Pie as it was called when I was a kid —is not universally known. This is a classic festival food, a staple of festivals, flea markets and food trucks. In the festival version I ate as a kid, a small bag of Fritos was slit down the side, then a scoop of chili was ladled on top, then grated cheddar cheese and finely diced white or yellow onions were sprinkled on top. Traditionally the proportion of Fritos to chili was about even and the portions were small so that it could be eaten quickly before the chips got soggy. I tend to overload the homemade version with chili which results in having to add more chips to get that characteristic crunch. When I was a kid we’d sometime make this at home using canned chili without beans. You can use chili with beans if that’s what you’ve got on hand, but it’s better and if you omit the beans. I have already written about the bean-no bean controversy and posted my chili recipe which is made with beans. I alter that recipe slightly when I make chili without beans, taking down the seasonings a notch because without the beans the amount of chili is less.

A note about nomenclature: This was always known to me and everyone I knew as “Frito Pie” for most of my life. Then at some point I started noticing “Chili Pie” instead of “Frito Pie” turning up on menu boards at festivals. I don’t know why the name was changed unless it’s some copyright or trademark issue about selling food with the Frito brand name attached to it. Fritos are unique and you really can’t make anything like Frito Pie unless you have that crispy corn crunch of original Fritos. Anything else is just chili with chips. 😉

Vegetarian Chili without beans

My Crockpot is a 6 qt: adjust recipe accordingly for the volume of your slow-cooker.

3 med (14.5 oz) cans whole tomatoes
3 cups water
2 pkgs. Smart Ground
2 med onions, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, run through garlic press (or finely minced)
3 Tbls chili powder or crushed dried chile petine
1 tsp ancho chile powder
1/2 tsp habanero powder
1 tsp black pepper
1-2 tsp cumin
salt to taste
1/4 cup cornmeal

First a few notes about seasoning. If you use 3-4 Tbls of regular store-bought chili powder you will get a mildly seasoned chili. If you’re unsure about the heat, this is a good place to start, adjusting amounts to suit your own taste. I like to either supplement store-bought chili powder (I use Mexene) with small amounts of additional ground dried chilis (such as ancho and/or habanero listed above) or when I have enough of them I just use ground dried chile petines which grow wild in Texas (and my garden). They make a good chili seasoning. Again, if you’re not familiar with them, use sparingly. The heat and general seasoning of chili is very much a personal choice and I encourage you to experiment.

Put all the ingredients—except the cornmeal—into Crockpot and stir well. The whole tomatoes should be smashed with a wooden spoon or otherwise broken up into smaller pieces. (Note: If you use canned diced rather than whole tomatoes the flavor and consistency of the chili will be substantially different.) Cover and set the Crockpot to High, which is 4-6 hours on most Crockpots. (You could cook it on Low for longer, but I never do.)

About an hour before the chili is finished cooking, gently sprinkle in 1/4 cup cornmeal, a little at a time, stirring as you do to prevent lumps. (This is a thickener.) This final step may be considered optional, depending on how you like your chili. More than 1/4 cup cornmeal can be used, depending on your preferences. Thicker chili seems to me to work better for things like Frito Pie and chili dogs.

My Crockpot is programmable and rolls over to “warming” after the cooking time is finished. If yours isn’t automatic and you’re not quite ready to eat, turn the Crockpot from High down to Low (or off) after 6 hours, maximum.

For Frito Pie, serve over a generous amount of Fritos with grated cheddar cheese and diced white or yellow onion on top (some people consider this optional because it’s just too onion-y). If you have green onions on hand, they can be used instead of the diced onion. It’s not traditional, but heck, we’re not using meat in the chili, so I think we can further bend tradition if you want to use green onion. 😉 For further thoughts on the whole chili tradition — and why I think invoking tradition is pointless — see The Chili Controversy. 😀

Vegetarian Chili

IMG-20131002-03154

Vegetarian Chili in my 6 qt crockpot, ready to serve!

When I was growing up, chili came out of a can—until my mother got a crockpot. She started making chili occasionally from a recipe that I thought was in one of the two Crockpot cookbooks she had; I’ve since looked in those books but found no recipe even remotely like the rather bland original recipe, so perhaps my memory is wrong and the beginnings of this chili did come from some family recipe and I just don’t recall chili prior to the Crockpot, because with the advent of the crockpot it became a frequent meal.

That was decades ago (and not vegetarian), so almost everything about the recipe has been gradually changed, including the amount because my crockpot is somewhat larger than that her old crockpot. Only one thing remains the same: the parboiling and soaking of the beans. It works very well in a crockpot recipe. Now, before you get all bent out of shape about chili with beans in it, you should read my previous post about chili with and without beans. You’ll probably still be bent out of shape, but at least you’ll understand where I’m coming from on this. (No, I’m not a Yankee. Born and raised in Texas.) 🙂

My Crockpot is a 6 qt: adjust recipe accordingly for the volume of your slow-cooker.

1 1/2 cups dry pinto beans (approx 1/2 lb), rinsed
3 med (14.5 oz) cans whole tomatoes
3 cups water
2 pkgs. Smart Ground
2 med onions, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, run through garlic press (or finely minced)
3 Tbls chili powder or crushed dried chile petine
2 tsp ancho chile powder (optional)
1 tsp habenero chile powder (optional)
1 tsp black pepper
1-2 tsp cumin
salt to taste
1/4 cup cornmeal

First a few notes about seasoning. If you use 3-4 Tbls of regular store-bought chili powder you will get a mildly seasoned chili. If you’re unsure about the heat, this is a good place to start, adjusting amounts to suit your own taste. I like to either supplement store-bought chili powder (I use Mexene) with small amounts of additional ground dried chilis (such as ancho and/or habanero listed above) or when I have enough of them I just use ground dried chile petines which grow wild in Texas, seeded by the birds, often in my garden. These are very tiny, very hot, peppers. I picked em as they get ripe, dry them, and then crush them in a very small mortar and pestle which I only use for grinding dry hot peppers. They make a good chili seasoning. Again, if you’re not familiar with them, use sparingly. You may also note that my recipe uses cumin even though cumin is an ingredient in most chili powders. It adds a savory spiciness (without any heat) and I wouldn’t recommend omitting it (unless you make your own chili powder and use more cumin than most store-bought brands).

True confession here: I don’t measure my spices when I make chili. I did make this recipe with these measurements, because I know people need measurements, at least to start with. It’s got quite a kick to it, so be warned if you use all the options, you should measure—and it will be hot! I usually throw in a dash of this or that depending on what I’ve got on hand. The heat and general seasoning of chili is very much a personal choice and I encourage you to experiment.

Simmer the dry pinto beans in 3 times their volume of water of for 30 min. Remove from the burner, cover and let stand for a least an hour and a half. ( If you want to start the chili first thing in the morning this can be done the night before, then put in fridge overnight after it has cooled.)

Drain the beans. Put all the ingredients—except the cornmeal—into Crockpot and stir well. The whole tomatoes should be smashed with a wooden spoon or otherwise broken up into smaller pieces. (Note: If you use canned diced tomatoes the flavor and consistency of the chili will be substantially different.) Cover and set the Crockpot to High, which is 4-6 hours on most Crockpots.

About an hour before the chili is finished cooking, gently sprinkle in 1/4 cup cornmeal, a little at a time, stirring as you do to prevent lumps. (This is a thickener.) This final step may be considered optional, depending on how you like your chili. More than 1/4 cup cornmeal can be used, depending on your preferences.

My Crockpot is programmable and rolls over to “warming” after the cooking time is finished. If yours isn’t automatic and you’re not quite ready to eat, turn the Crockpot from High down to Low (or off) after 6 hours, maximum.

Note: You could cook it on Low 8-10 hours, I suppose, but I can’t recall ever doing this though I may have.  The main reason I go for the shorter, hotter, cooking time and temp has to do with timing. I parboil the beans in the morning and let them soak. Then I prep the vegetables at lunch time and put them into the Crockpot. The chili is ready by suppertime.

The next post has my My Vegetarian Chili Without Beans (and Frito Pie!) recipe. 😀

Stuffed Bell Peppers

This is a main dish and is very filling. (At least I think so.) You might want to plan on a light side dish, or at least not something massive and heavy.

Stuffed bell peppers, assorted colors.

Stuffed bell peppers, assorted colors.

You can use any color bell pepper you wish — or a colorful assortment. Different varieties of bell pepper have different flavors. Green peppers have a sharper flavor than red, orange and yellow peppers which are often referred to as “sweeter” than the green varieties. They aren’t sweet, but rather have a milder “bell pepper” flavor than the green varieties. Some people don’t like the flavor of green bell peppers, so using a variety of colors may be a hit with friends and family members. 🙂 I like the festive look of a variety of colors, but note than yellow and orange bell peppers look pretty much alike after they’re cooked. If the color scheme is important, keep that in mind. 🙂

4 large bell peppers, any color
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
1 pkg Smart Ground
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1/2 tsp basil
1/2 tsp parsley
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp paprika (for spicier use Hungarian hot paprika, but you might want to use less)
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
Olive oil
A few oz cheese or vegan cheese

Chop onion finely. It doesn’t have to be diced, but it definitely shouldn’t be coarsely chopped. Smaller pieces integrate into the sauce and fit the peppers better. Run the garlic through a garlic press or mince. Saute over medium heat in a medium size saucepan, using a small amount of olive oil, until onions are translucent. Add Smart Ground, breaking up with a spoon. Add tomato sauce. Stir well. Add seasonings and simmer over low heat while preparing the peppers.

Core peppers and remove seeds and ribs as much as you can. I use a small paring knife, then use my fingers to remove ribs and seeds. (You may need to rinse out the last few seeds.) Place peppers in 1 1/2 qt casserole and fill dish about halfway with water. Cover and microwave 4 minutes to partially steam peppers.

Some recipes I’ve seen call for boiling the peppers or blanching them to partially cook them before stuffing them. I don’t, but feel free to give that a try if you think it would work better than the pre-cooking in the microwave.

Stir panko bread crumbs into stuffing mixture. Remove from heat. Stuff peppers using a small spoon. You will probably have a small amount of the mixture left over, depending on the size of the peppers. Refrigerate this: it makes a good sandwich the next day. 🙂

Sliced in half.

Sliced in half.

Bake, in dish half-full of water, covered, 350 for 30 minutes. Grate, slice or crumble cheese (or vegan cheese), depending on type of cheese and your own preference. I’ve always used cheddar, but there are a number of varieties cheese (or vegan cheese) which would be good with this. The cheese is a nice finishing touch, but if you want to leave it off, you can. Put cheese in the top opening of the peppers or on top so that when melted the top has a nice cheesy plug of melted cheese. Bake uncovered another 10 mins or until cheese is melted or toasty.

Spicy Vegetarian Tacos

IMG-20130202-02164I’ve discovered Smart Ground Mexican is perfect (with a some added seasonings) for taco filling. I’d tried regular Smart Ground for tacos a number of times, adjusting the seasonings, but I could never get it to taste right. It always tasted “off”. But the adjustments LightLife made in flavor for the “Mexican” version works well for tacos. I didn’t try it plain, but instead added a mixture of spicy seasonings, figuring that the Mexican version of Smart Ground would be mildly flavored to allow it to be used in a number of recipes, and appealing to a wide variety of tastes. (You can always spice up something basic, but you can’t remove spices.)

So I spiced it up! 😀 If you don’t want your tacos to have quite as much kick, you can cut back (or eliminate) ingredients.

Approximately 1 cup water
1 Tbls dried minced onion
2 tsp chili powder (I use Mexene as my basic chili powder.)
1 tsp ancho powder
1/4 tsp Hungarian hot paprika
small amount of salt and black pepper

The package says to coat the pan with a non-stick spray. I prefer to coat a skillet with a small amount of Boyajian Roasted Chili oil. The oil is to keep the Smart Ground from sticking when you begin heating it up in the skillet. Stir a bit, then add the water and seasonings. Simmer on med-low heat until it has cooked down to the consistency you want for the filling. Stir occasionally. While it’s simmering, slice tomatoes, shred lettuce, and grate cheddar cheese.

Heat taco shells according to package directions. Fill warm shells with spicy filling, top with tomato, lettuce, and cheese. Enjoy!

Spaghetti With A Hearty Sauce

Spaghetti was one of the first things I learned to cook after I left home for college. Despite having a bunch of Italian relatives, I didn’t know how to cook any pasta dishes, not even spaghetti; I simply ate it at my aunt and uncle’s house. “Pasta and suga” it was called. I had no idea how to make even a simple pasta sauce. I didn’t really learn to cook until after I left home. Then it was a friend of a friend who introduced me to spaghetti from a box. 😯 I can hear everyone going “Oh, NO!” 😆 But it actually wasn’t a bad place to start for someone who didn’t know how to cook. Suddenly making a hearty spaghetti dinner from scratch didn’t seem so intimidating. I mean, it was all in a box…how hard could it be? So I began with a box which had noodles and a flavoring packet and cooking instructions (which included the addition of tomato sauce and meat). Then I started tweaking it. Adding more of this or that seasoning. Adding a chopped onion, fresh garlic, canned mushrooms. Sometimes sauteing fresh mushrooms in olive oil instead of using canned. Within no time spaghetti was my “go to” meal when I cooked for friends (or, even better, with friends). It was the “thanks for help moving” meal, the communal meal. Spaghetti, more than anything, was my confidence builder as a cook. I stopped measuring seasonings and it always came out good. (I did measure for the recipe below, though.)

Over the years my own spaghetti sauce recipe branched into myriad variations. Here’s the most important thing you need to know about making spaghetti sauce: the time and effort it takes to make a good spaghetti sauce from scratch is not substantially greater than if you heat up a jar of sauce. It takes a little bit longer, but quite honestly if you feel you have to use sauce from a jar because sauce takes too long to make, then…umm…maybe you should sit back and rethink your life…because this is not something that takes a lot of effort or time. 🙂

Below is the basic no-frills sauce. After that I’ll tell you various ways to change it up (which makes it even better).

1 pkg Smart Ground or Simple Truth Meatless Crumbles
2 15 oz cans of tomato sauce
1 4 oz can of sliced mushrooms
1 onion, chopped
a few cloves of garlic, depending on how much garlic you like, run through a garlic press or minced
1 Tbls basil
2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp marjoram
2 rounded spoonfuls of brown sugar
1/4 tsp black pepper
olive oil

Saute chopped onions and garlic (minced or preferably run through a garlic press) in olive oil. If using fresh mushrooms (see variations below), saute mushrooms too. Add tomato sauce, canned mushrooms (if not using fresh), meatless crumbles, seasonings and brown sugar. Stir well. Simmer covered over medium to low heat at least 30 minutes. (High enough to simmer, but low enough not to bubble like lava and splatter you.) Stir occasionally. If the consistency of the sauce looks too thin, cook uncovered until about right. If the consistency of the sauce looks too thick, add a small amount of water. Set the table. Throw together a salad. Pour your friends a glass of wine.

I’m not absolutely sure who told me to put a small amount of brown sugar in the spaghetti sauce, but I think it was the friend’s brother’s girlfriend who first introduced me to the spaghetti-in-a-box. Or maybe it was someone else later. It does not make the sauce sweet. What it seems to do is to moderate the sharpness of the herbs. If you stumped your toe when you were adding the oregano, the brown sugar will make it less obvious. At least this is what it seems to me that the brown sugar is doing. I know that if I overdo the seasonings (remember, though I tested and measured for these recipes I usually don’t measure when I make it myself), and if I don’t put a small amount of brown sugar in, I can taste my mistakes more. I think of the brown sugar as my safety net. 😉

misc 007Cook pasta for the amount of time recommended on the package. I add a splash of oil to help avoid boil-overs. It helps but is not fool-proof. Using a big pot is recommended. You can cook spaghetti in a pot that’s too small, but that makes boil-overs unavoidable. Of course, the bigger the pot the greater the volume of water, and the longer it takes to get to a boil. Depending on your stove and the size of pot you use the amount of time to get water boiling will vary. I don’t even want to guess. You should try to time it so that the pasta is not done before the minimum cooking time for the sauce. It won’t hurt the sauce to cook a longer, but the pasta will be a cold gummy mess if it has to wait on the sauce. Drain the pasta in a colander. Do not rinse! Serve immediately heaped with the sauce. 😀

This recipe makes four big hearty servings. With salad, bread, and wine (and the promise of dessert!), it can go 5 servings. Some of the variations below extend the amount of sauce by adding additional ingredients, but if you need to feed 8-10, double the recipe.

Variations:

Below are some variations and at the very bottom is my ultimate spaghetti sauce combining variations.

This sauce and the variations below can be used with a variety of pastas. A number of companies make flavored pastas. As flavorful as this sauce is (especially if you do some of the variations below) it may overwhelm the flavor of a mildly flavored pasta or on the other hand the flavor of the pasta may throw the balance of seasonings in the dish off. Flavored pastas are worth experimenting with. I recommend trying them with just a light dressing of olive oil and parmesan cheese to assess the flavor before using them with sauces which have a more complex blend of flavors.

I have sometimes found that I don’t have quite enough tomato sauce on hand which is how I came to substituting a can of diced tomatoes for one of the cans of sauce. The sauce with diced tomatoes seems thin to me so I also add a 6 oz can of tomato paste to thicken it up. Having the tomato chunks in the sauce gives it a nice texture and flavor. If you want to stretch the sauce a bit further you can add a can of diced tomatoes in addition to the 2 cans of tomato sauce. You will need to tweak the seasonings if you add an extra can. If you double the cans of tomato products in the recipe above, add another package of Smart Ground and also adjust the seasonings accordingly.

Fresh mushrooms are a nice addition to the sauce if you have time to clean and chop them. (I don’t buy pre-sliced mushrooms because they’re still dirty and take longer to clean than whole caps.) White button mushrooms, cremini mushrooms or portobellas are all good in spaghetti sauce. Clean, remove stems, coarsely chop, then saute. If you’ve got a big enough skillet or pot, they can be added with the onion and garlic. Mushrooms will cook down quite a bit, but nevertheless, .2 (or less) oz fresh is about the right amount for one batch of sauce unless you’re making a larger amount of sauce. (If you get more than that you can always saute them up and use them another night on pizza or in quesadillas.)

If you’ve got a bottle of wine open to go with the meal, a splash (no more than 1/4 cup) of a “good spaghetti wine” such as Chianti or a Sangiovese (the primary variety of grape used in Chianti) would be good in the sauce—or whatever wine you like with spaghetti. If it goes great with the meal, it will go well in the sauce —or the cook! 😉

Some people like bell pepper in spaghetti sauce. I have added a bit of bell pepper on occasion, but it always seems to me like it doesn’t “fit” the flavor of the sauce somehow. If you like it, then go for it! 🙂

If you want a spicier sauce, something with a zing of heat to it, try adding a bit (1/4 tsp) of Hungarian Hot Paprika. Not all Hungarian paprika is hot, so double check the tin when you buy it. This seasoning is one of my favs for increasing the spiciness of dishes. It’s not as hot as cayenne but far spicier than regular paprika. Definitely worth seeking out and experimenting with.

misc 006Ultimate Spaghetti Sauce

1 pkg Simple Truth Meatless Crumbles (or Smart Ground)
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1 6 oz can tomato paste
1/4 cup Sangiovese wine
.24 oz fresh mushrooms (white button, or your favorite), de-stemmed, coarsely chopped
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, run through garlic press, or minced
1 Tbls basil
2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp marjoram
2 rounded spoonfuls of brown sugar
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp Hungarian hot paprika
olive oil

Saute onions, garlic and mushrooms in olive oil until onions are translucent and mushrooms have mostly changed color. Add tomato products, Smart Ground, wine, seasonings, and brown sugar. (The Hungarian hot paprika will add a slight spiciness but not make the sauce hot. If it’s too mild, increase the amount the next time you make the sauce.) Add a small amount of water until consistency of sauce looks about right. Simmer covered for 30 minutes minimum on low heat, stirring occasionally. Serve over hot, drained spaghetti or pasta of your choice.

Lasagna

There are a number of variations to making lasagna. The best lasagna variation I’ve made so far used Pappardelle’s red pepper lasagna noodles and a basil ricotta cheese, both of which I got at a local farmer’s market. One thing that may make my lasagna a bit unusual is that I only use basil, no other herbs. This recipe has been developed from experimentation over the years. I wanted something with a flavor substantially different from my spaghetti sauce and my pizza sauce, so I do tend to go a bit overboard on the basil. Using basil flavored oil and basil ricotta cheese may be overkill for some people — and I don’t always or usually go to that extreme, but if you prefer to use a premixed blend of Italian herbs for your Italian tomato-based sauces, throwing in extra basil in the form of flavored oil or ricotta cheese, could be a way to tweak your seasonings. Ditto, if you’re a garlic fiend (or suspect one of your dinner guests may be a vampire) the bit of extra garlic in garlic oil might do the trick. I would urge caution, though, because you can overdo it with too many extra flavors or too much of one flavor. If you’re using a flavored pasta that you haven’t tasted before, cook it and give it a taste before throwing all the ingredients into the sauce, just to make sure the flavors will play well with others.

There are two different types of lasagna noodles: those that you boil before assembling the lasagna and those that you don’t cook beforehand. Most noodles, including the aforementioned Pappardelle’s flavored lasagna, you need to cook first. However Barilla makes “oven ready” lasagna noodles that don’t need to be cooked. This noodle is a flat strip, no wavy edges. You just lay the dry flat sheets down when you’re assembling the lasagna. (Barilla also make the classic “wavy edged lasagna” which does need to be boiled before assembling the lasagna. Check the package when you buy to make sure you’re getting the type you want.) I use Barilla’s no-cook over-ready lasagna noodles unless I’m using a flavored noodle that must be pre-cooked. As always, follow the instructions on the package regarding boiling the noodles or not. (This was written before the Barilla’s controversial statements in 2013 and should not be construed as an endorsement of their corporate policies and attitudes. I am trying to find an alternative no-preboil lasagna noodle to recommend, but so far have found only one I can’t recommend.)

Flavored olive oils (such as Boyajian’s basil, garlic, rosemary, chili etc.) can be used to saute the onions and garlic; if you’re “doubling up” by using an oil with some of the flavors in the sauce (ie: basil, garlic) you may want to adjust your seasonings.

1 pkg lasagna noodles
a small amount of olive oil (or flavored olive oil such as Boyajian’s )
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 med onion, chopped
1 (12 oz) pkg LightLife’s Smart Ground
black pepper, perhaps a pinch of salt
1-2 tsp dried basil, crushed
12 oz tomato paste
1 1/2 cups hot water
15-16 oz oz ricotta cheese
1/2 lb mozzarella cheese, grated (or sliced thinly)

Lasagna noodles: boil as directed (usually about 10min) or don’t cook if using Barilla’s oven-ready noodles (or some other noodle which doesn’t require pre-cooking). Check the instructions on the box to make sure which kind you have!

Heat oil in skillet, saute the onions and garlic. Add black pepper, basil, and Smart Ground. Stir until well blended and crumbly. Add tomato paste and water. Stir until it’s a homogenous sauce. Simmer on low heat about 5 minutes. (Really, this shouldn’t cook for a long time. Just simmer a bit.)

In a 9×13 baking pan, (spraying pan with PAM optional) spread a thin layer of sauce. This won’t be a layer that completely covers the whole bottom of the pan. You’ll see the bottom of the pan. Use very little sauce for this. The idea here is to smear some sauce on the bottom to keep the noodles from sticking. Then add a layer of noodles, all the ricotta on top of the noodles, then half the mozzarella cheese on top of the ricotta. (Ah, cheese!)

For the next layer, you can be more generous with the sauce. Layer half the remaining sauce, then a layer of noodles, then the remainder of sauce and the rest of the mozzerella on top.

Baking instructions for different brands of noodles: If using the Barilla pasta that doesn’t require pre-cooking, cover with foil, preheat oven 375, then bake 55-60 minutes. Remove the foil and bake another 5 minutes. Let stand at least 10 minute before serving.

If using pre-boiled noodles, bake at 350 for 35 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before cutting.

To make ahead If using oven-ready Barilla …After assembling the lasagna, cover with foil and refrigerate. Bake 60 minutes at 375, then another 5 without foil, let at least stand 10 minutes.

I have only done the make-ahead thing using the over-ready Barilla noodles, so I’m not sure if there is any difference with pre-boiled noodles. Cooking time (and possibly oven temp) will probably be slightly longer as with the variation above.