They represent the passage of time, our own personal New Year’s Day. When we are young, we can’t run fast enough to the next birthday and into the arms of the promises each age holds. “When I’m 12, can I get my ears pierced? When I’m 13, can I get a cell phone? What age do I have to be to wear makeup?” Sweet 16 finally arrives and we’ve never studied as hard as we do for that driver’s test. When we turn 18, new independence comes (or so our parents hope). When 21 knocks on the door, we are there reaching for that first legal drink. In our youth, each new year means important stuff that We. Just. Can’t. Wait. For.
Then we get older. We are sick of driving. We wear every kind of makeup known to woman. We wish we weren’t so beholden to that cell phone. And boy, is two drinks a day too many? We become more patient for the Me Day. Please, Time, slooooooowwww down.
Age becomes less meaningful, or so we want to believe. My dad is famous for saying, ‘it’s just a number.’ I stopped short just a week ago as I said those exact words to someone who blurted, ‘no way! You can’t be THAT old!’ As we age, somewhere after 40, we can’t throw enough aging serum at the real truth: We’re gonna get old and someday, we’ll age right off this earth.
No matter, our special day always holds traditions, even if but one. An indulgent cake has always made an appearance each November for Keri Day. Yay! Clap! A fancy dinner seems to have been a frequent guest, too.
Then, one day, you have kids.
And your own special day pales in comparison. You are so busy planning invitations and menus and games and favors and cake decorations! Planning my daughter’s birthday celebrations is so much fun. I want to steal one of her birthdays!
For Marina Day, there are always friends and family. There is a cake made by Daddy Bite (who, by the way is, among so many other things, a very skilled cake baker). Look at the beauty he mastered for Marina’s 10th birthday, just a week ago:
And of course, there is dinner. Are you kidding?! Dinner is the main event – or should I say events– of a Two Bites Kitchen birthday. There is one for the friends and one for the family. Separate gigs because a girl should be celebrated over many-o-days, don’tcha know? For Marina’s birthday meal with family, a tradition has begun to peek in. Lasagna. But this isn’t just any lasagna, Friends. It’s a birthday after all. This is THE WORLD’S GREATEST LASAGNA and if you think we’re kidding, just ask anyone who has graced our table for a dinner of this layered lady. We have the Barefoot herself, Ina Garten to thank. Trust me, we do every time we eat this mother of all lasagnas.
What makes this lasagna so special, you ask? Let me count the reasons:
1. You soak the noodles in hot water for 20 minutes. No boiling. And they are perfectly done once baked with their ingredient friends. Read: NOT mushy.
2. The addition of goat cheese. We use herb goat cheese. It contributes the absolute essential bite to the ricotta layer.
3. The sauce is all homemade and it tastes like it.
4. The layering is just so damn fun.
5. Fresh mozzarella. Really – is there anything else?
6. The Lady looks amazing when she comes in from a little jaunt in the hot oven. Gorgeous, Darling.
7. Leftovers? OMG, for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
8. Make it ahead and pop it in the oven before the birthday buddies come ’round. Read: Instead of stress, you’ll be at ease. Pour yourself a glass of wine, why don’t you?
It’s no wonder Marina requests this for her special day. It is, simply, the world’s greatest lasagna.
We’ve made a few tweaks. Most importantly, we use regular (sweet) Italian sausage. I’m sure chicken sausage is grand, but we wanted the full-fat pork stuff. This is so much fun to make with your little Bite. Let them layer up the ingredients. Ta-da! They feel as though they’ve made it all!
Birthdays. Let’s face it: We should be so lucky to continue to have them. Put away that aging potion and be happy to let the young ones beat us to the next Me Day celebration. They have makeup to wear, ears to pierce. But us? We have lasagna to enjoy.
World’s Greatest Lasagna – adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 onion)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 pounds sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes in tomato puree
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound lasagna noodles
15 ounces ricotta cheese
3 to 4 ounces garlic and herb goat cheese, crumbled
1 cup grated Parmesan, plus 1/4 cup for sprinkling
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
1 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes over medium heat, until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the sausage and cook over medium heat, breaking it up with a fork, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until no longer pink. Stir in the red pepper flakes. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, the basil, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat, for 20 minutes, until slightly thickened.
Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with the hottest tap water possible. Add the noodles and allow them to sit in the water for 20 minutes. Drain.
In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, goat cheese, 1 cup of Parmesan, the egg, the remaining 2 tablespoons of parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Set aside.
Ladle 1/3 of the sauce into a 9 by 12 by 2-inch rectangular baking dish, spreading the sauce over the bottom of the dish. Then add the layers as follows: half the pasta, half the mozzarella, half the ricotta, and one third of the sauce. Add the rest of the pasta, mozzarella, ricotta, and finally, sauce. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of Parmesan. Bake for 30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling.
(To make ahead: Complete the lasagna as above. Refrigerate and when ready to bake, remove from fridge for 30 minutes prior to popping in the oven. Bake as directed, perhaps for an additional 5-10 minutes, until bubbling).