22 January 2010

Oozing with 3 Cheeses and Cheap: White Lasagna

From Denny: There is something about winter that just screams for pasta dishes and women, well, we love pasta as much as we love chocolate. Sigh, yet another unofficial "food group" added to the mounting categories. :)

What's so great about this decadent recipe is that it's so creamy with the many cheeses. Most people, adults and kids alike, are fans of Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses as opposed to ricotta so this casserole is a wonderful alternative to the traditional lasagna. It's the onions, beef and pork that give so much flavor and substance to this dish. Parmesan cheese sprinkled onto the crust gives us the irresistible crunch we expect on a lasagna.

Also, feel free to substitute a favorite pasta noodle in place of these lasagna noodles if you want to make it more like a macaroni and cheese dish: elbow macaroni or ziti.

Author and former short-order cook Dawn Welch shows TODAY’s Natalie Morales and Ann Curry how to prepare big batches of sauce that can be used on more than just one meal:

Three-cheese white lasagna

From: Dawn Welch 'Dollars to Donuts'


• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
• 2 garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed through a garlic press
• 1/2 pound lean ground beef
• 1/2 pound ground pork
• 3/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 1/2 cup low-fat or whole milk
• 3 cups homemade Parmesan sauce or store-bought Alfredo sauce
• 9 no-boil egg lasagna noodles
• 1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) grated Cheddar cheese
• 1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) grated Monterey Jack cheese
• 1 large egg, lightly beaten
• 1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese


Make meat mixture:

Heat the oven to 375°F. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic, salt, and pepper and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute longer Add the beef and pork and cook 2 to 4 minutes until the meat is browned. Pour off the extra fat from the pan.

For lasagna:

Stir together the milk and Parmesan sauce and evenly spread 1/2 cup over the bottom of a 13 x 9-inch pan. Lay 3 lasagna noodles in the pan lengthwise.

Stir together the Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses in a medium bowl with the egg.

Pour 3/4 cup of the sauce over the noodles and top with 2 cups of the cheese-and-egg mixture. Pour 3/4 cup of the sauce evenly over the cheese, and follow with 3 more noodles, the meat mixture, 3/4 cup of the sauce, 3 more noodles, the remaining 1 cup of the cheese mixture, and the remaining 3/4 cup of sauce. Sprinkle evenly with the Parmesan.

Cover the pan with foil and bake until the cheese is bubbly and brown, about 30 minutes. Cool 5 to 10 minutes before slicing.

Want to learn how to make your very own Alfredo sauce and cut some calories as an option? Read on!

Creamy Parmesan sauce

Dawn Welch 'Dollars to Donuts'

Three 2-cup portions, each serving 6

I'm glad to see Dawn had the same impression of boring bottled Alfredo sauces and overwhelming-pricey-and-swimming-in-fat restaurant dishes that I did. While this sauce can be made with full fat it is also possible to achieve the same great bursting with garlic and cheese flavor at a reduced fat level. Dawn says it tastes best made with heavy cream or half-and-half yet she often makes it with whole or 2% milk for a lighter sauce. That lighter sauce would probably be wonderful in the spring and summer seasons for lighter fare.

Serve up this creamy Parmesan sauce simply tossed with your favorite pasta, pan-seared shrimp and steamed veggies like broccoli. Then you can use this sauce for stuffing large pasta shells like a spinach and portobello mushroom version.


• 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
• 6 garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed through a garlic press
• 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
• 1 quart (4 cups) cream, half-and-halt whole milk, or low-fat milk
• 1 cup (4 ounces) grated Parmesan-Romano cheese blend or 1/2 cup each of Parmesan and Romano
• 2 cups (8 ounces) grated whole-milk or part-skim mozzarella cheese
• 1 teaspoon salt


Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat.

Add the garlic, pepper, and cream or milk, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring it to a simmer (watch the pot — it can boil over in a split second) while stirring often.

Stir in the Parmesan-Romano mixture, reduce the heat to medium-low, and let the sauce simmer, stirring often, until the garlic has mellowed, about 12 minutes.

Stir in the mozzarella and continue to cook until the cheese is melted.

Turn off the heat and whisk the sauce until it is smooth (a blender or immersion blender works great). Stir in the salt.


Divide and store

Cool the sauce to room temperature and then divide it between 2 quart-size resealable freezer bags. Refrigerate it for up to 3 days or freeze it for up to 3 months. (After defrosting it overnight in the refrigerator, rewarm the sauce gently over medium-low heat, being careful not to let the sauce boil — boiling it will cause it to separate. If it separates, use a whisk, blender, or immersion blender to smooth it out.)

Creamy broccoli gratin

Dawn Welch 'Dollars to Donuts'

Most kids and adult picky eaters will take to frozen veggies or fresh broccoli, cauliflower, corn or green beans when combined with a wonderful creamy cheesy sauce! Dawn reminds us "Frozen vegetables are a great bargain, especially when time is of the essence and you need to throw something together quickly. You'll save 30 cents a pound when you choose already-cut frozen broccoli instead of precut fresh broccoli crowns at the market."


• 1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Cheddar cheese
• 1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
• 2 pounds frozen broccoli (or fresh broccoli cut into bite-size pieces)
• 3 cups homemade Parmesan sauce or store-bought Alfredo sauce
• 2 scallions, thinly sliced
• 1/3 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs (or 1/2 cup panko or fresh bread crumbs seasoned with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of Italian Rub, page 118)


Heat the oven to 375°F. Mix the cheeses together in a small bowl.

Mix together the broccoli, Parmesan sauce, scallions, and salt in a large bowl.

Transfer the broccoli mixture to a 13 x 9-inch baking dish and top with an even layer of the cheese, followed by the bread crumbs.

Bake until the center of the casserole is bubbling and the top is golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Cool 5 minutes before serving.

Buying fresh vegetables trimmed and prepped saves you time, but always costs you money (and cuts down significantly on their shelf life as well). To save both time and money, trim and cut up a whole head of broccoli or cauliflower, or a pound of mushrooms, beans, etc. Use half right away, and the rest later in the week.

(Recipes from “Dollars to Donuts” book by Dawn Welch, copyright 2009)

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