Monitor duty: it’s the superhero team job for which I am best suited, what with my lack of superpowers or fighting skills. I’m good at staring at screens for long periods of time, occasionally pointing at something and saying, “Hey, we need to fix that!” A big part of my job is writing and editing and monitoring social media. It’s easy enough for me to fix any issues in written pieces I’m working on, but it’s very difficult to do anything about the awful, ignorant, hateful things some people say to and about each other online. As much as I’d like to send the Avengers or the Justice League to deal with trolls and assorted jerks, it’s generally beyond my control. So, I have to pull back my focus and look for problems my team CAN solve and pay far less attention to upsetting things outside my power. It’s better for my mental health.
(Note: While I would never suggest or condone real-life violence, I absolutely would read a series called Twitter Punisher. Adolescent power fantasies: that’s mine!)
The best kind of monitor duty is the quiet kind. Nothing seriously bad is happening. Giant robots aren’t on the march, nobody is threatening Metropolis with an Electro-Ray. You’re hanging around the Justice League Watchtower or Avengers Mansion, binge-watching Netflix on one of the monitors, and you need to eat. You can’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen, away from the monitors, so you need something that’s quick and easy to make. This looks like a job for…INTENTIONAL LEFTOVERS!
I love to make big batches of food that will keep well for a few days. Plenty of dishes actually are better the day after cooking, like my chili or Indian-inspired shepherd’s pie. They reheat well, and then you get to enjoy how the flavors have blended overnight. One of the best examples of this kind of dish is lasagna. You spend the time making it once, then you can eat it for multiple meals. If you tire of eating the same thing easily, this lasagna also freezes and reheats well, so you can make it tonight, then freeze the leftovers in individual portions and enjoy them whenever you like. (Here are some good tips for freezing leftovers.) Make this lasagna before your monitor shift starts and leave some in the fridge for the people on the next couple of shifts. NOW who’s a superhero? (It’s you. You are the superhero.)
Monitor Duty Lasagna
This recipe makes a BIG lasagna. It easily yields 12 large servings, but you could get 16 out of it. (It’s great for dinner parties.) You can halve this recipe if you want to, but it requires enough effort to make it that I recommend doing the whole thing at once and freezing what you don’t need right now.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 chopped yellow onion
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 pounds Italian sausage (not in a casing)
2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
2 6-ounce cans tomato paste
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, divided
2 teaspoons dried oregano
salt, to taste
fresh ground black pepper
red pepper flakes (optional)
1 pound no-boil lasagna noodles
30 ounces ricotta cheese
5-6 ounces crumbled goat cheese
2 cups fresh shredded Parmesan, divided
1 large egg
1 pound mozzarella, thinly sliced
You need to make the sauce first. This step takes some time, so you don’t need to preheat the oven until you get to the assembly stage.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until the onions are translucent, but not yet browned. Add the garlic and cook for a minute, taking care not to let the garlic burn. Add the sausage. Break the sausage down so the onions and garlic can mix into it. Remember it’s going to be a sauce, so you don’t want it too unevenly chunky. Cook until the sausage is no longer pink.
When the sausage/onion mixture is cooked through, add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, half the parsley, oregano, and the amount of salt and pepper that seems right to you. If you want it spicier, you could throw in some red pepper flakes. Go easy on the salt and pepper. Once the sauce has simmered and has reduced to the right consistency, you can taste it and see if you want more salt or pepper. Let the sauce simmer, uncovered, until it thickens. You don’t want it too watery, but if you use no-boil noodles (highly recommended, see note below), they need a little moisture to soak up.
Now preheat your oven to 375F.
In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, goat cheese, 1-1/2 cups of the Parmesan, the egg, the remaining parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Once the mixture is well-combined, I like to spoon in about 1/2 cup of the sauce. This makes the cheese mixture more spreadable, and makes it less likely that you’ll get a big mouthful of straight ricotta later.
A note on the noodles: I recommend using no-boil noodles. They’re very easy to work with because they’re stiff, so you don’t have to worry about lasagna noodles clumping and sticking and tearing. They also taste good because instead of being boiled in water, they soften as they soak in some of your delicious homemade sauce. It’s a plan with no drawbacks.
Spread about 1/4 of the remaining sauce in the bottom of your baking dish. This recipe is big, so I use a large dish, about 10 inches by 15 inches (4.8 quarts). Add a layer of the no-boil noodles. Use your Tetris skills to get a complete layer if necessary.
Then lay down a thin layer of sliced mozzarella. Then spread about a third of the ricotta mixture in an even layer on top of the mozzarella (we use sliced mozzarella instead of shredded so you can accomplish this). Then spread another layer of sauce over the top. Then a layer of noodles, a layer of mozzarella, and a layer of ricotta. You should have at least two layers of noodles/mozzarella/ricotta, but if you have enough ingredients, do one more layer! Mine has three layers. Evenly top the last layer of ricotta with the remaining sauce, then sprinkle the other 1/2 cup of Parmesan over the top.
Put the lasagna in the oven. Bake at 400F for at least 35 minutes. If your lasagna has the extra layer, it probably will take a little longer. You want the noodles in the middle to get soft, and for all the cheese to melt. When the sauce is bubbling, it’s done!
Pull the lasagna out of the oven and let it rest for at least 5-10 minutes before slicing into it. If you cut it too soon, the ingredients might run all over the place. If you give it a little time to set, you can cut less-messy pieces. You went to all the trouble to layer things so nicely, so the goal is to get it onto the plate in layers. Serve with a green salad and garlic bread if you want to really carb it up. Mmm, carbs.
Let the uneaten portion of the lasagna cool completely. Cover the dish with foil and put it in the fridge, or divide it into portions in individual containers for the fridge or freezer. Maybe leave a note on the fridge alerting the next shift to its delightful presence.
Now you’re a hero. Maybe you can’t fix all the world’s problems, but at least you’ve fixed the dinner problem.
A personal note: I will be at Emerald City Comicon this weekend, so please feel free to say hi if you see me! I will be on the Meet the Valkyries panel on Friday at 12:50 PM and also wandering around looking at things and talking to people. You could be one of those people! We can talk about how great cheese is!