It's a million degrees in Iowa today. Normally on such a hot day I'm not big on making something like lasagna, a dish that needs to spend an hour in the oven. I'm hot, crabby, just went through road rage on the commute back to the peaceful lake, and now I'm going to fire up the oven? I must be nuts.
Actually I am a little sad that it's blazing hot out there. This weekend downtown Des Moines is home to the annual Italian American Heritage Festival and as much as I'd love to go I just can't deal with the heat and humidity. Growing up on the south side of Des Moines this annual festival was one of my favorite things. Back in the early days the festival was held in Columbus Park. Carnival rides arrived, food stands were built, bocce ball courts set up, and crowds of hungry folks eating pasta and enjoying music and activities filled the park the entire weekend. As a junior high girl, this was THE spot to see and be seen, the place to meet guys, the reason for spending 2 hours in front of the mirror with a curling iron, only to have the humidity turn those curls into nothing. In those days my best friend Liz and I hung out at the festival- all three days- and rode The Scrambler, ate cavatelli usually catered by Guido's or maybe a group of Italian ladies from one of the Catholic churches, played carnival games (I never won anything) and tried to catch the eye of the guys from the other junior high school. Risque times, for sure.
These days the festival is held downtown in Western Gateway Park. The event had grown tremendously and has moved several times. The rides are no longer around but plenty of activities keep festival goers entertained. Old guys still play bocce and lots of live music still entertains the crowd. The food has improved, with lots more food options and some very upscale vendors are really bringing the goods.
Learn more about the Italian American Heritage Festival by clicking HERE.
In the spirit of that great Italian classic, lasagna, we are also having a little bit of pasta at the Little Lake House tonight but we are switching things up and bringing a whole new look to an old friend. Instead of the usual meat and red sauce and ricotta cheese lasagna we're having an All-American version- straight from Philadelphia. Yep, you got it- Philly Cheesesteak Lasagna. It's super easy to put together- savory ground beef with grilled peppers, onions and mushrooms layered with melty cheese, tender noodles and Alfredo sauce. Use your favorite brand of sauce in this dish- we're cheating a little with bottled sauce and you'll never know! Definitely not your Nona's lasagna, but it's gooooood.
Philly Cheesesteak Lasagna
1 package no boil lasagna noodles
2 lbs lean ground beef
1 large onion
1 cup sliced mushrooms
2 medium green bell peppers
salt, pepper or favorite meat seasoning
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon beef soup base
2 jars Alfredo sauce
1 lb shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
Prepare the vegetables: I use a very large onion. Cut the onion into small julienne strips. Remove the seeds from the peppers, cut into similar sized pieces.
Heat a couple tablespoons of cooking oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the vegetables and cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables begin to brown. Don't let them get too soft. Season the veggies with the meat seasoning. Remove to a large bowl and set aside.
Crumble the ground beef into the same skillet; break up with a wooden spoon. Sprinkle with the Worcestershire sauce, some of the meat seasoning and add the beef base, mixing it into the meat drippings. Cook meat until browned and cooked through. Add to vegetables in the bowl and mix.
Using a large baking pan spoon about 1/2 cup of the Alfredo sauce in the bottom and spread it around. Arrange 4 noodles on top, breaking them to fit. Spoon half of the meat mixture over the noodles. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the cheese. Pour the remaining Alfredo sauce in the first jar over evenly. Top with another four noodles. Spread the remaining meat mixture over, including any juices in the bowl, another 1/3 of the cheese. Layer another 4 noodles on top and pour the second jar of sauce over all.
Add about 1/2 cup of water to the jar, cover, shake, and add water to the pan. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/3 cheese, bake another 15-25 minutes until hot and bubbly, noddles are tender, and cheese is starting to brown. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Yes, I did use some pre-made sauce in this recipe because, let's be honest, who wants to make homemade Alfredo sauce just to turn around and make lasagna? Not me! Probably not a lot of busy families either, when kids are hungry, laundry needs to be done, the dog needs a walk and you just want to get something on the table with a minimum of fuss. Toss together some crispy salad greens and pop some garlic bread in the oven, or breadsticks, and you have a whole new take on lasagna.