Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Rigatoni "Lasagna"

Note: This is a sponsored post for a pasta sauce, but the words and recipe and photos are all mine.

I still remember - vividly - the first time I tasted lasagna. I was about 9 years old, and my mom and I, along with my mom's lady friend, had been invited to dinner at the apartment of a single fellow who happened to own the local grocery store.

He was making lasagna. I'd never heard of it before, but I was pretty much interested in any kind of Italian food. So I was more than happy to be there.

The truth was that mom's friend was the one who was invited to dinner, but it wasn't proper for a lady to visit a man's apartment by herself, so mom and I tagged along. I realize that now. Back then, we were just going to dinner.

I have no recollection of what else was served, but when that lasagna hit my plate with the beautiful layers, I was intrigued. When I took my first bite, I might have heard angels singing. I know I had a second helping. Perhaps a third.

I might have eaten more than any adult at the table, and if I could have figured out a way to run out the door with the leftovers, I might have done that, too. I was in love.

As far as I know, that was mom's first experience with lasagna, too. Although I begged her to make it for us, she never did. I don't know if it was simply too much trouble or if it was that she had no idea how to make it.

But every single time I saw lasagna on a restaurant menu, that's what I ordered. And I knew that when I was old enough, I was going to make lasagna.

Eventually, I did learn how to make lasagna. I tweaked the recipe and I made giant batches, enough to feed entire neighborhoods, because it really was a project. If I was going to make it, I might as well make a whole lot of it. Some to eat, some to freeze.

These days, my lasagna-making is usually reserved for special occasions, but that doesn't mean I've abandoned it entirely. This layered rigatoni dish has the flavors of lasagna, but it's simple. Very simple. And by using jarred Ragu sauce, it takes very little time.

Just look at the layers!

My mom used Ragu Pasta Sauce quite often, and like many other things that I grew up with, I didn't think a whole lot about the history of the product. It was just there. I probably never would have looked it up, but I got the info as part of this sponsorship.

The company was founded by a woman named Assunta Cantisano, who came to the US in 1914 - just a little bit before my mom was born. Later, during the depression, Assunta started selling her home-made tomato sauce to her neighbors, and pretty soon that turned into the company we know as Ragu. By the time I was born, Ragu was everywhere. Even my mom's kitchen.

Back then, there were a lot fewer flavor choices in the Ragu brand. Now there are a lot of different options, including chunky, smooth, meaty, and a whole lot of others. Do you use Ragu? Which ones do you like?

Oh! If you're worried about what's in a jar of sauce, Ragu has no artificial flavors and no HFCS.

Ah, but there's MORE.

There's a contest running on called Ready. Set. Cook! They're asking you to create new and unique recipes featuring Ragu sauce and using a set list of other ingredients. Go check it out and maybe you can win something. I like it when my readers win stuff!

Rigatoni Lasagna
aka Layered Rigatoni with Cheese

1/2 pound dry rigatoni or similar pasta
1 jar Ragu Super Chunky Mushroom
1 pound ricotta cheese
2 eggs
2 cups shredded mozzarella (or to taste)
Grated parmesan or romano cheese (optional)

Heat the oven to 350 degrees and have an 8- or 9-inch baking dish standing by.

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente.

While you're cooking the pasta, combine the ricotta and eggs in a small bowl. Mix until well blended.

When the pasta is done, drain the water and stir in the Ragu. (Note: I used to Super Chunky Mushroom because I'm a bit of a mushroom fiend, but this would work equally well with any of the other flavors or varieties.)

Mix until well combined. It might be a little soupy - that's fine, the pasta will absorb some of the sauce as it bakes.

Put half of the sauced pasta in the baking dish. There should be enough to cover the entire bottom of the dish.

Add the ricotta mixture to the baking dish in an even layer. Top with the remaining pasta and sauce.

Sprinkle the cheese on top of the pasta in an even layer. You can add more or less, to taste. If you like, sprinkle some parmesan or romano cheese on top.

Bake the pasta at 350 degrees until the cheese is melted and brown in spots, and the sauce is bubbling around the edges, about 30 minutes.

Remove the baking pan from the oven and place it on a trivet or folded kitchen towel (it's hot!).

Let the pasta rest for 5 minutes or so before serving.

Giveaway is over.