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Lasagna love: ‘World’s best’ & Bolognese a contrast in flavors

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Lasagna love: ‘World’s best’ & Bolognese a contrast in flavors

Casseroles have long been a favorite for family meals and gatherings, because one-pan dishes are usually easy to make, a dream to portion and can feed a crowd.

Lasagna is a particular favorite for many because who doesn’t love the magical marriage of cheese, pasta and tomatoes? Add that it can be composed ahead of time, taking some of the stress out of weeknight cooking, and you’ve got the perfect comfort food. It’s especially life-affirming in winter, when we crave rich and hearty dishes jam-packed with carbs.

Like just about everyone else impacted by COVID-19, I haven’t had many chances to cook for people outside my family lately. Then last weekend, on a visit to Washington, D.C., my daughter brought the boyfriend we hadn’t yet met to dinner.

I saw this as my chance to try what the internet says is the best lasagna ever. In 2001, John Chandler of Dallas submitted a version of his mother’s lasagna to the food-focused online social networking service Allrecipes.com. In a bold move, he named it the “World’s Best Lasagna,” and the rest is history.

In the years since, the recipe has been rated by nearly 20,000 home cooks and has the most reviews of any recipe on the site, according to Esmee Williams, the site’s consumer & brand strategy vice president. Last year, at the height of the pandemic, it was Allrecipes’ third most-viewed recipe behind only Good Ol’ Fashioned Pancakes and Easy Meatloaf.

“Clearly this recipe has the flavors and features cooks are looking for — especially when feeding a crowd,” Williams said by email.

Whatever recipe you choose — we offer both the World’s Best Lasagna and a Classic Lasagne alla Bolognese to compare and contrast — be sure to follow these simple rules from experts:

  • Thinner is better when it comes to noodles, whether you’re making it from scratch or choosing a boxed variety. You also probably want to avoid no-boil noodles, as it can make your lasagna heavier and drier if there’s not enough liquid in the sauce.
  • Use the best ingredients you can afford — premium cream, real Parmesan-Reggiano, Italian plum tomatoes and quality meats.
  • Cook the sauce until it’s thick, or your lasagna will be watery.
  • Choose a casserole dish that’s deep enough for easy layering, and make sure the final layer of pasta is completely covered by sauce and topped with cheese.
  • Don’t overcook! Fresh pasta is quite soft and will get mushy if baked too long. Even if you use boiled lasagna noodles, you’re really just rewarming all the ingredients once the pan goes into the oven.
  • Let the lasagna sit for at least 15 minutes before portioning it, or it will disintegrate into a sloppy mess.
The World’s Best Lasagna. (Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)

WORLD’S BEST LASAGNA

1 lb. sweet Italian sausage

3/4 lb. lean ground beef

1/2 c. minced onion

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 (28-oz.) can crushed tomatoes

2 (6-oz.) cans tomato paste

2 (6.5-oz.) cans canned tomato sauce

1/2 c. water

2 T. white sugar

1 1/2 t. dried basil leaves

1/2 t. fennel seeds

1 t. Italian seasoning

1 1/2 t. salt, divided, or to taste

1/4 t. ground black pepper

4 T. chopped fresh parsley

12 lasagna noodles

16 oz. ricotta cheese

1 egg

3/4 lb. mozzarella cheese, sliced

3/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese

In a Dutch oven, cook sausage, ground beef, onion and garlic over medium heat until well browned. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce and water. Season with sugar, basil, fennel seeds, Italian seasoning, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper and 2 tablespoons parsley. Simmer, covered, for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook lasagna noodles in boiling water for 8-10 minutes. Drain noodles and rinse with cold water.

In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese with the egg, remaining parsley and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

To assemble the lasagna, spread 1 1/2 cups of meat sauce in the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Arrange 6 noodles lengthwise over meat sauce. Spread with one half of the ricotta cheese mixture. Top with a third of mozzarella cheese slices. Spoon 1 1/2 cups meat sauce over mozzarella and sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Repeat layers and top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil. To prevent sticking, either spray foil with cooking spray, or make sure the foil does not touch the cheese.

Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 25 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes before serving. Serves 12.

(From Allrecipes.com)

The Italian Academy of Cuisine added this recipe for Green Lasagna alla Bolognese to its archives in 2003. It features green pasta noodles made with spinach, a classic Bolognese ragu, bechamel sauce and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

CLASSIC LASAGNE ALLA BOLOGNESE

For the bolognese sauce:

5 oz. porchetta or bacon

2 T. butter

2 1/2 oz. finely chopped carrot

2 oz. finely chopped celery

2 oz. finely chopped onion

11 oz. ground beef

1/2 c. red wine

10 oz. tomato puree

Beef broth

1 c. milk

Salt and pepper

For the pasta:

12 oz. flour, preferably “00”

2 eggs

7 oz. boiled spinach, squeezed well and chopped

For the bechamel sauce:

4 T. unsalted butter

4 T. all-purpose flour

3 c. whole milk

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

To prepare the bolognese sauce, dice the bacon, chop it and fry in a large Dutch oven until crispy. Add 2 tablespoons butter and finely chopped carrot, celery and onion and saute gently. Add the ground beef. mix well and cook until it is brown and “sizzles.” Add the wine, mix gently and cook until it has completely evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add tomato sauce, cover and simmer slowly for about 2 hours, adding broth when needed. When sauce is just about done, add milk to reduce the acidity of the tomato. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To prepare the the pasta, mix eggs, flour and the boiled spinach, squeezed well and finely chopped, until a ball of dough forms. (I used my stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.) Continue to knead for 3 minutes, either by hand or in the mixer, so the dough develops elasticity and silkiness.

Cover the dough ball in plastic wrap and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes before using. Or let the dough rest for up to 24 hours in the refrigerator.

Roll out the dough, which must be light green and not excessively thin. (I used a pasta maker, working my way down through the settings, but you can also roll out the dough by hand.)

Put a pan three-quarters full of salted water on the stove and bring it to a boil. Cut the pastry into rectangles or squares (mine were about 3 by 5 inches), throw them in boiling water and remove them as soon as they come to the surface. Rinse in cold water to stop cooking, then dry them on a clean white cotton or linen cloth.

To prepare the bechamel, melt butter in a saucepan over low heat, add flour and whisk to form a paste. Continue to cook, stirring, until raw flour scent is gone, about 1 minute. Whisking constantly, add milk in a thin, steady stream, whisking thoroughly and getting into all corners of the pan. Heat, stirring, until the sauce comes to a simmer and begins to thicken slightly. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring, until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 3 minutes.

Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Use sauce right away or wrap a piece of plastic wrap over surface of sauce to prevent a skin from forming. Keep warm until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Grease the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch pan liberally with butter. Line it with a layer of pasta followed by a layer of meat sauce, bechamel sauce and a sprinkling of grated cheese.

Continue layering with pasta, sauces and cheese until you run out of ingredients (I had enough for 6 layers.) Add a small piece of butter in each corner of the pan to keep the edges from drying out.

Bake for about half an hour in preheated oven. Allow to sit for 15 minutes before serving. Serves 6-8.

(Adapted from Accademia Italiana Della Cucina)

— Tribune News Service

 

 

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What’s behind Gleyber Torres’ early season resurgence?

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What’s behind Gleyber Torres’ early season resurgence?

Gleyber Torres, at just 25 years old, has already lived several lives in pinstripes.

He was the anointed one, the heir apparent to Alfonso Soriano, a two-time All-Star and a playoff hero, all before his 23rd birthday.

Then the pitfalls that many people face in their early-to-mid-20s began to rear their ugly heads. The pandemic certainly didn’t help, but even in 2021 as things returned to normalcy, Torres was dreadful at his job. The former top prospect who looked like a pillar of the Yankees’ next great team instead lost his starting shortstop gig. When he was in the starting lineup, he was often buried in the seventh spot.

When Torres was officially moved off of shortstop at the end of last season, his manager said of his defensive issues at the high-pressure position, “I feel like it’s been a weight on him.” Trade talks swirled, as the combination of poor play and the impending free agency of Carlos Correa, Corey Seager and others made Torres seem like the odd man out.

Instead, the Yankees stood pat on free agent shortstops, kept Torres, and traded for a defensive maestro in Isiah Kiner-Falefa. With the stability of knowing that he’d still be a Yankee, plus not having to worry about playing shortstop anymore, Torres has started 2022 with a bang.

As of Wednesday morning, Torres has a 117 wRC+ and .741 OPS, both his highest since 2019, the last time he consistently punished the baseball. After five straight hitless games in mid-April, Torres turned things around with a pinch-hit single in Detroit. Though his eighth-inning knock ended up being mostly meaningless — he was stranded on the bases and the Yankees lost 3-0 — that plate appearance did something to get him back on track.

Starting with that game, Torres has slashed .301/.342/.521. Seven of his 22 hits in that span have gone for extra bases, including four home runs. As a result, his numbers on the young season show a completely different player than the one who sulked through two straight soul crumbling campaigns.

“Last year was a very [hard] struggle for me,” Torres said after driving in five runs in a win over Toronto on May 11. “All the work I put in the offseason, I can show that every time I go to home plate. I mean I can still learn the game.”

Glancing at his numbers, the things that Torres has seemed to learn this year are fairly simple, and also a very common school of thought across Major League Baseball right now. He’s mashing fastballs, putting the ball in the air more often, and as a result, he’s making a lot more hard contact.

In 2021, as Torres’ overall slugging percentage sagged to a career-low .366, fastballs were one of the main culprits. He slugged a not-ideal .352 on heaters, and with two strikes, fastballs resulted in a strikeout 19.6% of the time. This year, though things could still change as he gets more at-bats, Torres is slugging .536 on fastballs. They’re only putting him away 12.9% of the time he gets in a two-strike hole.

Hunting fastballs is an effective strategy for most hitters, but on an even more simplistic level, so is hitting pitches that are meant to be hit. First-year hitting coach Dillon Lawson showed up to his new job with the catchphrase “Hit strikes hard”. Torres appears to have taken that to heart. According to Baseball-Savant, in three key areas of the strike zone — middle-up, middle-down and up-and-in — Torres is hitting the ball hard at a significantly higher rate than he was last year.

Hard contact is particularly damaging when it’s in the air. Every stadium can hold a well-struck grounder, very few will contain an airborne missile. For the last two seasons — the ones Torres would like to forget — he ran a ground ball rate north of 40%. This year, it’s down to 35.2% so far, with fly balls getting above 40% for the first time since 2019. As Rangers’ salty manager Chris Woodward can attest to, sometimes getting the ball in the air at Yankee Stadium leads to “Little League home runs.” Whether they go 320 or 420 feet, a home run is a home run, and Torres is already more than halfway to his home run total from last year.

The other adjustment Torres has made in the season’s first month is swinging more often. His swing percentage has shot up to 76.2%, nearly identical to the 76.3% he had when swatting 38 homers in 2019. This could be a sign that Torres isn’t overthinking things at the plate, a welcome sign for someone who has spoken openly about the mental strife he’s endured.

“First of all, I feel really good,” Torres told reporters last week. “I mean, my swing has gotten better and better. And I’m working hard every day to be the way I want to be. But so far, so good. I think confidence is back and that is the most important thing for me.”

That renewed confidence could also wind up being one of the most important things for the Yankees, a team that, at 27-9, has absolutely been the way they want to be.

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Vikings’ Kevin O’Connell wants to be more than ‘just an offensive coach’

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Vikings’ Kevin O’Connell wants to be more than ‘just an offensive coach’

Kevin O’Connell was an NFL quarterback and an offensive assistant in the league for seven years before being named head coach of the Vikings. But he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed.

“( want to) be visible to the defense, let them know that I’m learning their side of the ball just as much as they are,” the first-year head coach said Wednesday during the first week of organized team activities. ”I can complement them on detailed things they can do within our coverages, within a pressure, how we stop the run, and they can look at me as not just an offensive head coach.”

O’Connell replaced Mike Zimmer, who came from the defensive side of the ball and in eight seasons gave his offensive coordinator lots of leeway. O’Connell, who turns 37 next Wednesday, said it’s “really important” to him for defensive players and those on special teams to know he’s also invested in those aspects of the game.

With that in mind, Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks was asked if he thinks of O’Connell as more than just an offensive coach.

“He definitely knows what’s going on, but I don’t think he can fairly say that,” Kendricks said with a laugh. “He’s definitely an offensive coach. He definitely wants to light us up on defense, but that’s only going to get us better on defense.”

Kendricks said O’Connell can be valuable working with the defense.

“I notice from him watching film and him going over film on the defensive side of things, he kind of goes over what the offense’s mindset or mind frame is as he’s talking about the defense,” Kendricks said.

DIVERSITY SUMMIT

From Wednesday through Friday, the Vikings are hosting a diversity coaching summit at the TCO Performance Center. It is being attended by 12 young coaches, 11 from colleges, with the intention being to groom them for possible future NFL jobs.

“It’s really a chance for us to get exposed to them from the standpoint of how do they carry themselves?” said Vikings assistant head coach Mike Pettine, who is heading the summit. “We’re going to do mock interviews, film everything and give them feedback on it. They get a chance to be in our meetings. We’ll talk to them as well (about) the NFL culture and expectations.”

Pettine wanted to have such a summit when he Green Bay’s defensive coordinator from 2019-2020 but the coronavirus pandemic hit and then he was fired from his job.

Among the 12 invitees is one woman, Roseanna Smith, director of football operations/running backs coach at Division III Oberlin (Ohio) College.

BRIEFLY

— The Vikings’ top three draft picks all could end up starting but O’Connell is not rushing anything. First-round selection Lewis Cine has been working behind Camryn Bynum at safety, second-round pick Andrew Booth Jr. has been sidelined as the cornerback recovers from groin surgery and second-rounder Ed Ingram is getting reserve snaps at guard. O’Connell said the Vikings have a “teaching progression” for rookies but they “can earn” spots for sure.

— O’Connell has been impressed with how second-quarterback Kellen Mond has looked during offseason drills. “Kellen’s having a good spring so far, working hard, digesting the system,” O’Connell said. During Tuesday’s second session of OTAs,  O’Connell said Mond “made a couple of checks at the line of scrimmage that he wasn’t prepared play-by-play for” but that he “instinctively” adjusted.

— Tight end Irv Smith Jr., who missed all of last season with a knee injury, did some work on the field Tuesday but O’Connell said the Vikings will continue to bring him back slowly. “He’s going to be a major part of what we do,” O’Connell said. “It’s just making sure that we’re doing it in a really responsible way.”

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Jim Hagedorn family suing widow Jennifer Carnahan for medical expenses

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Jim Hagedorn family suing widow Jennifer Carnahan for medical expenses

Family members of the late U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn of Minnesota say his widow, Jennifer Carnahan, who is running to replace her husband in Congress, hasn’t come through on a promise to pay them back medical expenses related to his cancer treatments.

Carnahan calls it a political stunt.

Two lawsuits filed Monday by Hagedorn’s mother, stepfather and sister allege they helped pay for cancer treatments he received at Envita Medical Centers in Arizona. Carnahan made a “clear and definite promise” to use inheritance she was to receive after his death to reimburse his family members, according to the complaints.

Carnahan said Hagedorn’s estate is required to go through the probate process in the courts to determine how to divide up his assets and there is nothing more she can do at this time.

“Grief affects everyone differently. Handling the affairs of my husband’s estate should be a private matter,” Carnahan said in a statement. “It’s unfortunate a very simple process has been turned into a political stunt.”

Hagedorn died after a long battle with kidney cancer on Feb. 17. He was told in January that there were no more treatments available for him at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, which is his congressional district, so he sought additional treatments at the facility in Scottsdale, Arizona, the Star Tribune reported.

A suit filed by Hagedorn’s mother, Kathleen Kreklau, and stepfather said they used $10,000 of a $25,000 home equity loan to help cover medical costs. In a separate complaint, Hagedorn’s sister, Tricia Lucas, said she charged $10,000 on a credit card to help cover the costs of his treatment and was promised repayment by Carnahan.

Both lawsuits allege Carnahan was to receive a $174,000 death benefit from the United States government after Hagedorn died, as well $174,000 from his life insurance policy.

Carnahan closed her statement by saying she wishes “Jim’s family well and know this time has been very difficult for all of us.”

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