I have 2 “nieces” I have told you about… Mariana and Natalia. “Nieces” is in quotations because they’re actually the daughters of my best friends – but to them I am their Titi Madelyn.
Fortunately and very grateful, they’re two very lucky girls whose parents can provide anything and everything to them. So it became a challenge for me to choose a birthday gift for them every year. Since last year, Titi Madelyn decided she would only provide experiences as gifts. They do not need one more toy or one more t-shirt… really.
Natalia turned 7 last month and as a birthday gift she got a cooking class by yours truly… She had the choice of learning to make a cheesy lasagna, “pastelillitos de Shrek” or Italian Quesadillas. She chose the cheesy lasagna, because I think in another life we were both mice…
I truly believe that when you get kids involved in preparing what they’ll eat, they’ll be more inclined to try new things and to eat whatever is on their plate. I always tell Natalia and Mariana that if it wasn’t good tasting or good for them I would not even offer it. They get it…
Natalia had to make several decisions to make her Cheesy Lasagna. She had to choose between:
- Small or Large pyrex mold – she chose the larger one
- What ingredients to include in it – her choices were spinach, oven roasted tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, almonds and button mushrooms
She finally chose spinach, fresh tomatoes, mushrooms and skinned almonds. She wanted it all… She squeezed dry the spinach and I explained to her how all that green water would not be helpful for a cheesy lasagna. She skinned almonds with me. She arranged the almonds on a sheet to toast in the toaster oven. She cleaned and sliced very carefully the button mushrooms and the organic heirloom tomatoes and placed it in separate dishes for the upcoming assembly. She loved that the mushrooms looked like little trees.
I explained to her we would make a cheese sauce to pour in between the layers we were going to assemble. The cheese sauce was a mixture of every cheese I had in the fridge at the moment… I assure you I did not buy one cheese for this project. We used cream cheese, ricotta, parmesan, shredded mozzarella, fresh mozzarella and goat cheese. She tasted each cheese individually before adding them to the milk seasoned with sofrito, salt and pepper. She already knew the cream cheese, parmesan and shredded mozzarella from making pita pizzas with me. But she tasted ricotta and goat cheese for the first time. She LOVED the goat cheese… and ate 2 goat cheese toasts while we were making dinner. Titi Madelyn tasted goat cheese for the first time about 7 yrs ago… figure that one out.
Natalia added each cheese to the cheese sauce pot and stirred it carefully to help the cheeses combine and melt together. I was in charge of boiling the water for the Jerusalem artichoke pasta. I just set some water to boil, turned the stove off and let the noodles soften in that water. The cheese sauce would continue to cook the pasta perfectly when the lasagna is assembled and in the oven.
This is more a method of making lasagna more than a recipe per se… but if you would like to replicate what Natalia and I did, here’s the ingredient list:
NATALIA’S CHEESY SPINACH, ALMOND, MUSHROOM AND TOMATO LASAGNA
½ package of DeBoles Jerusalem artichoke lasagna noodles ½ cup defrosted cut leaf spinach 6-7 button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced 3 small organic tomatoes, washed and sliced a handful of almonds, peeled and toasted 1 tbs olive oil 1 tsp of sofrito About 1 ½ cups of milk – I really used what was left in the carton so I didn’t measure it ½ brick of cream cheese ¼ tub of ricotta cheese 1 cup shredded mozzarella – the one you use for pizzas… ½ log of goat cheese About ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese – but you could also use pecorino romano, asiago, grana padano, etc. Salt and Pepper to taste 3 slices of fresh mozzarella – to top the lasagna only
Natalia then assembled the lasagna. She decided in which order she would add the filling components:
- We started with a layer of sauce, then noodles, then more sauce.
- Now goes the filling layer – spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes and almonds.
- Add a sprinkling of more parmesan cheese before adding the next layer of sauce, pasta and more sauce.
- Repeat until you create 3 layers of filling.
- Then finish off of with the fourth and last layer of pasta covered with the remaining sauce you have and topped with pieces of fresh mozzarella.
- I helped out with the hot noodles and the hot sauce, but Natalia did all the rest.
- I baked the lasagna at 400F for about 25 minutes in my toaster oven. We basically waited until the top got a nice brown color.
Natalia was super hungry by the time the lasagna was in the oven and I was in a hurry to feed her…We served her a nice piece with a side salad dressed with my Left-Over Dressing. She ate so much; I had to give her a few papaya enzyme chewables to help her with her digestion and overfull tummy. Her mom loved it too and took a great big piece home with her so daddy would also get a chance to try it.
The moral of the story… Cook with your kids OFTEN. Allow them to make decisions into what they’ll have for dinner, as long as they’re within what you believe is good for them. Let them feel they’re part of the process and they will in turn reward you with the satisfaction of enjoying what they eat, enjoying foods good for them, raving all about it and asking you for more. Natalia already wants us to schedule another “cooking class” when her Summer Camp ends.