At her house in Napa, Barbara Kummer McClish hosts meetings for all kinds of groups. She has welcomed the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America for overnight camping adventures and badge earning ceremonies. Her church friends gather every winter solstice for a spectacular celebration. The California Native Plant Society regularly treks through her expansive yard, cataloging rare specimens and identifying those plants that deserve to be protected. The one thing all these meetings have in common is, at some point, there is a shared meal.
Barbara is a social, inquisitive grandmother. She'd rather be visiting with her friends and family than stirring a pot on the stove, so she usually cooks ahead of time. She likes to prepare dishes that can easily be doubled or tripled, depending on how many guests she is expecting. "Sometimes, when I don't know how many people are coming, I'll just make a big pot of soup and tell everyone to bring a vegetable or grain that can be added to the pot," she said. "That way, there's enough to go around." Barbara is always practical, perhaps from her many years of experience as a nurse. It runs in the family--her daughter, Mary, and granddaughter, Kathy, are nurses, too.
When I visited the three of them for a cooking date, Barbara moved through the kitchen with the speed of a professional chef. "I'm just a run-of-the-mill cook," she said. "But I can make lasagna."
Barbara Kummer McClish's Lasagna
Barbara cuts the finished lasagna into individual portions, which she then freezes and saves for those times when friends unexpectedly drop by her house.
1 pound hot Italian sausage, removed from casing
1 tablespoon anise seeds
¾ cup fresh basil leaves
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
12 ounces tomato paste
1 pound lasagna noodles
2 large eggs
3 cups ricotta cheese
1 pound mozzarella, thinly sliced
1 cup grated Parmesan
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
While the water heats up, brown the sausage in a skillet set over medium heat. Use a wooden spoon to break the sausage into small pieces. Cook until the sausage is no longer pink, about 5 minutes, then stir in the anise and basil and cook for another minute or two. Pour in the tomatoes and tomato paste and stir to combine. Continue cooking the sauce for about 5 - 7 minutes, until it thickens slightly, then remove from the heat.
Cook the lasagna noodles until al dente. Drain and lay them out flat to cool.
In a bowl, stir together the eggs and ricotta.
Spread a spoonful of sauce across the bottom of a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Arrange one layer of noodles, overlapping them slightly, then dollop about half of the ricotta mixture over the noodles. Top with about half of the mozzarella. Spread half of the remaining sauce, then arrange a second layer of noodles, followed by the remaining half of the ricotta mixture. Top with the remaining mozzarella. Spread the remaining sauce, then sprinkle half of the Parmesan. Arrange a final layer of noodles, then sprinkle the remaining Parmesan.
Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes before serving.
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