When I cook a meal at home, I try to have all the proper ingredients for the dish I set out to make, but depending on the circumstances you just have to make do with what you have at hand. One recent occasion I remember well was during the aftermath of hurricane Sandy when I had some chicken cutlets and broccoli in the fridge that I could no longer keep due to the fact that I had no electricity, so I decided to cook that with some pasta that I happened to have in my pantry.
I often improvise during the week with whatever ingredients I have in store – I always have rice, some variety of canned beans, pasta and chopped tomatoes, and of course plenty of vegetables and tons of spices that I keep replenishing every time I go food shopping.
This week I had a rare weekday evening at home (with music journalism, teaching, being in a band and studying for a masters’ degree, not much time is left for yourself) and decided to bake lasagna. I had the noodles, onions, garlic, parmesan, Italian spices, shredded cheese and store-bought tomato sauce, but everything else was not exactly suitable for the dish. However, with some creativity I came up with a very personal recipe.
I started out by grinding some turkey kielbasa (smoked sausage) in my food processor and it just took off from there. I had some zucchini in the fridge that I had already planned to use, but I decided to do something more elaborate with it: I chopped and browned it a bit on a frying pan with a little cooking spray and nothing else. I assembled the lasagna and put it in the refrigerator for about an hour to let the flavors blend, and put it in the oven shortly before Renata arrived.
The final result was surprisingly good results, and this was evidenced by the smile Renata gave me the moment she had the first bite. Her reaction was enough to let me know that I had gotten it right
Ernest’s Improv-style lasagna (serves 4)
1 turkey kielbasa, ground in a food processor
1 medium zucchini, chopped
1 24 oz. can store-bought marinara sauce
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
½ cup half and half
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
Italian seasoning, salt and black pepper to taste
1 ½ tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 box oven-ready lasagna noodles
1 ½ parmesan cheese
Heat half the olive oil in a small saucepan and sauté garlic and onions until softened. Add ground kielbasa and stir for about three minutes, not allowing the spices to burn. Add the tomato sauce, black pepper and Italian seasoning to taste and bring sauce to a slow simmer for about five minutes.
In the meantime, spray a frying pan with cooking spray and sauté the zucchini until lightly browned and remove from heat.
Assemble the lasagna in an ovenproof pan by starting with the sauce. Over the first layer of noodles put the zucchini with cheese and half and half. Continue layering, topping the last layer with the remaining sauce, parmesan cheese and Italian seasoning. Refrigerate for about one hour. Put in oven at 350 degrees until bubbly. Serve with a drizzle of raw olive oil.