Miniature Fresh Lasagna Casseroles

A while ago, I made fresh pasta for the first time. So far, it has also been the only time, but after seeing how easy (and fun!) it is, I not only plan to do it more often - getting a little more creative, perhaps - but encourage you to give it a shot, too. Now, I made the pasta as part of a cooking class that I assist at. Now, forget, for a moment, the irony that the assistant had never made the recipe before as well as the irony of what I'm about to confess to you: I didn't know what to do with the pasta once I had flattened it out. Being bold and humble, for once, I did not just trudge on with my gut instinct; no, I asked my instructor what to do if I wanted to make lasagna the following night. She explained that when she makes lasagna from fresh pasta, she likes to layer the pasta with vegetables, sauce, and cheese in little, personalized ramekins for each guest. She said nothing about preboiling.

Perhaps it was something that was meant to be inferred. I, of course, took her word straight. I layered the pasta in beautiful folds with vegetables, meatballs, sauce, and cheese, and I popped them in the oven to bake as though I didn't have a care in the world. Alright, I was a little hesitant, with the no pre-boiling step, but I forged on. The little ramekins cooked up wonderfully, too! I even tied one particularly long strand of pasta into a bow at the top. I mean really, when I say that I had a good time, I wasn't kidding. These ramekins were little jewels, mini works of art.

The lasagna, however - for those of you who are at my level of cooking and still don't know how it must have turned out - was not what you would call traditional. The noodles never softened as they would have during a little dip in a pool of boiling water. But do I throw in the towel and hide my face from you, pretending it never happened? Mais non! I excitedly bit into one and actually enjoyed it. The casseroles were crisp at the tops and doughy in the centers, piping hot from the sauce and the cheese and beyond savory from all of the vegetables and chopped meatballs I had thrown in. I loved it! Much like my little uh-oh back in an earlier post with my curved-edged tortillas, I can't say that I was too disappointed in the end. The recipe is, of course, less than perfected because of the faux-pas, and I can't guarantee that anyone else would like it. Maybe "doughy" is not appealing to most folks. But, because I don't know this and can only base my posts on what I know I enjoyed, I have to share this with you. At the very least, try it out with boiled pasta and get a very rich, flavorful and fresh lasagna that can feel more comfortable cozying up to those tried-and-true type lasagnas.

I do have to warn you that there aren't really quantities for these ingredients. Unless my blog is on my mind while cooking, I tend to throw things together in a ratio that I know I'll enjoy (heavy on the vegetables, for instance). I encourage you to do the same, since a recipe like this really can't be "ruined" by too much or too little of any one ingredient.

Fresh Lasagna Mini Casseroles
Yield: 4 servings

The Ingredients
1 batch of fresh pasta (I used one from the Joy of Cooking)
pasta Sauce, jarred or homemade
chopped vegetables of your choice (I used broccoli, but anything from peppers and mushrooms to cauliflower and squash would be great)
provolone cheese
parmesan cheese
meatballs, finely chopped (optional)

The Method
Prepare your fresh pasta. If not using right away, separate sheets with wax paper and store in an air-tight container, in the refrigerator, for no more than 24 hours. When ready to use, slice into strips no wider than the ramekins you'll be baking the lasagna in (make sure there are at least 4 strips)*.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Spoon a small amount of sauce into the bottom of each ramekin, and place the end of a strip on top, one per ramekin. Here, you can either combine all of the filling ingredients except the cheese and just have to worry about spooning one mixture in at a time, or you can keep them separate. Either way, place a spoonful of the filling ingredients, except the cheese, on top of the pasta, layer it with a small spoonful of parmesan, and fold the pasta strip over the cheese. Continue this process until you run out of pasta; when the pasta has been folded over for the last time, place the provolone cheese on top and sprinkle with the remainder of the parmesan. Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 20 minutes, keeping an eye on it for signs of doneness: crisp, browning edges, sizzling, and bubbling cheese. Allow to sit for a minute or two before serving, as the center should be piping hot.

*If you have enough to cut into 8 strips, simply place the ends of 2 of the strips at the bottom on top of the first layer of sauce. Then, when folding the pasta over the filling, alternate which strip you fold to make a criss-cross pattern.

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