Repurposing Lasagna

I was so excited about making a healthy, cruelty-free dinner. I bought organic eggplant and zucchini. I bought cruelty-free mozzarella and I made ricotta from scratch. I put everything together in the crockpot the night before and assigned Dexter to turn it on the next day. It was supposed to be beautiful.

Fast forward to dinner time. I have nothing to go with what’s inside the crockpot. We have recently acquired a (very gracious) housemate, so the pressure is on for me to make an actual meal and not flake out an eat cheese or trail mix for dinner. It had been a long and stressful day, the contents of the crockpot were expensive, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to taste good.

The plan was to eat Vegetarian No-Noodle Lasagna. There were two problems with this idea.

Primarily, no one really wants to eat lasagna without noodles. Lasagna exists so you can prepare your pasta meal the day before and toss it in the oven when you get home from work. I solved this problem by serving it over spaghetti noodles.

The second problem came from my efforts to be cruelty-free and a little more frugal. Cruelty-free mozzarella is EXPENSIVE, so I left out the mozzarella cheese that was supposed to be layered in with the mushrooms, spinach, ricotta, and sauce. There was cheese on top and ricotta in the middle.  I hoped it would be okay. It wasn’t. We ended up with a pot full of tomato-saucy vegetables. I did NOT want to eat them again, but I had invested a lot of time and money in that bland food.

Then it hit me…if I can puree steamed vegetables to sneak into other foods, why can’t I slip in crockpotted veggies cooked in sauce with ricotta?

A few days later, I dug the stoneware out of the fridge, scooped out everything that didn’t stick to the sides too much, plopped it in the food processor, and turned it on.

 

I stirred a little less than a cup into a few cups of jarred spaghetti sauce, and voila! My failed pasta-free lasagna was now a nutritious spaghetti sauce. I was a little apprehensive about how it would taste, but my dinner table posse heartily approved, and I thought it was surprisingly good too. I’ve got two more dinner’s worth of puree in the freezer for later.

Homemade Ricotta

A few weeks ago, when uploading recipes onto Plan to Eat, a meal-planning website I am trying out, I came across a recipe on Epicurious for ricotta cheese. I have been fascinated by the possibility of making cheese at home ever since I read that it was possible in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Since then, I’ve made paneer (an Indian cheese) and yogurt. When I saw the simple recipe for ricotta , I couldn’t repress the urge to try it. Plus, by making it myself I could use cruelty-free dairy products, like this.

I measured 8 cups of whole milk and two cups of buttermilk into a large pot. I stuck in my digital thermometer, turned on the heat, and started stirring. The curds will separate from the whey at between 175 and 180*F.

I got a little excited at this point and didn’t take a picture until I had drained the curds in my colander lined with four layers of cheesecloth. Comments on Epicurious warned against squeezing too much water out, so I was careful. However, it still turned out a little dry. I would recommend the no-squeeze method where whatever comes out when you handle it comes out. I let it sit like this for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, it looked like this.

I stirred in some salt and put it in a container to refrigerate overnight.

This took about 30 minutes total. I was amazed that such a snooty type of cheese was so easy to make!

The ricotta itself was fine, although it was a little obscured by the less-than-stellar meal I used it in. This is the one I promised to write about yesterday and failed to follow through on. I know you’ve been sitting at your computer all day waiting for that post, but I’m sorry to say it’s not coming today. Ricotta needed to come first, and you’re kind of done reading, and then you wouldn’t appreciate my meal failure/success story rolled into one. And I’m really proud of myself for not wasting my leftovers, and I want you to be proud of me too.