For a long time the convection/ microwave oven had been mocking me from its perch above the refrigerator. Yes, we had used the microwave settings to reheat coffee and make popcorn, but that was pretty much it. I read the manual again and again, and I searched YouTube for a video on how to make sense of the thing. Then, I had an epiphany. JUST MAKE SOMETHING! It might be a failure, but it might not. Either way, it was time to stop being afraid of the oven.
I had a teacher in college who always used to say, “you go from what you know to what you don’t know.” Meaning you build on skills you already have to do something new and I finally decided to follow that advice. If I can cook in an oven at home, then I can cook in the RV. Every home cook knows is that every oven is different, and the same oven may act different from day to day. The manual and YouTube will only get you so far. You have to jump in and start cooking. So, I jumped in with both feet and decided to make a lasagna for the holidays in our RV’s convection/ microwave oven.
Lasagna recipes can be very long and they seemingly have a lot of steps. Add to that the fact that multiple cooking methods are required, and lasagna can seem very intimidating. However, I learned that it really wasn’t scary at all. I started by reading as many recipes as I could find and I quickly learned that there is an almost infinite variety of ingredients and everyone has a different oven temperature and cooking time. Also, all the recipes are for a 9×13 baking dish. Bigger than the 8×8 dish that I can fit in my oven. So, there was no single recipe I could follow. However, after reading through so many different recipes I realized that every lasagna breaks down into four big steps. Five, if you have to boil the pasta. So, this is how I structured my recipe. I broke it down into four major steps. Once you have made it you realize that these steps leave lots of room for experimentation. If you don’t like meat, use spinach and/or mushrooms instead. If you want a more flavorful cheese filling add goat cheese. The choices are endless!
So, how did my first attempt come out? It was great! It wasn’t perfect, but it was way better than the time I made a very effective tear gas with Cayenne Pepper and a pork chop in my home kitchen. I learned a lot and I have ideas for how to make it better next time. So, I encourage you to give it a try and stop being afraid of your convection/ microwave.
And, with that, here is the recipe I created.
A knife to dice the onion
A 10″ skillet
A large spoon for the tomato sauce
A bowl for the ricotta mixture
An 8″x 8″ baking dish
1 onion – diced
2 cloves of garlic – minced. OR, 1 heaping tablespoon if you use minced garlic from a jar
1 pound of 98% fat free ground turkey – Or whatever meat you would like to use. You can kinda go wild here.
2 Tablespoons Italian Seasoning
1 jar of Marinara Sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1 15 oz container of ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1 egg white (I used the egg white because I have a limit on how many yolks I can eat. You can use one whole egg if you prefer. It works either way.)
1 tablespoon of Italian Seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Box of No Boil or Oven Ready Lasagna Noodles
1 16 oz bag of grated Mozzarella cheese
1 to 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil – To coat the inside of the baking dish
Step 1: Preheat Your Oven to 350°
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to set your convection microwave to convection and preheat the oven. Leave the rack in the oven to elevate the baking dish and allow air to move around all sides of the dish.
Step 2: Make the Meat Sauce
Preheat the skillet over medium heat. If your stove is like mine, the knob has a big flame for high and a tiny flame for low. Turn the burner turned on then set the dial in somewhere the middle.
Add the diced onions and cook until translucent (about 2 to 3 minutes) If the onions start to cook too fast or start to brown turn the heat down.
Add the minced garlic and cook for 1 minute. Be careful not to burn the garlic!
Add the turkey and brown it while stirring and breaking it up into little pieces. Cook it until there is no pink left.
Add the Italian Seasoning, salt and pepper (if desired) and stir it into the turkey and onions.
Add the jar of sauce, stir it in then let it simmer until the excess liquid disappears and it just starts to thicken.
Turn off the stove.
While it’s simmering, move on to step two.
Step 3: Make the Ricotta Filling
Empty the container of ricotta cheese into a bowl.
Add the parmesan, egg white and Italian Seasoning.
Stir it all together until it’s well mixed.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Your tomato sauce should be ready now, so turn off the stove and make some room on your counter for the baking dish.
Step 4: Assembly
Open the box of noodles, take one and compare it to the size of the baking dish, if it’s longer that the dish then break off enough to make it fit. You will then use this noodle as a guide for breaking the others as you go. For an 8×8 dish you will need three noodles for each layer. I used larger broken pieces for the center noodle of each layer. Use the best looking noodles on top.
Coat the inside of the baking dish with a thin layer of olive oil.
Add a thin layer meat sauce to the bottom of the baking dish.
Add the first layer of noodles.
Coat the noodles with 1/3 of the ricotta mixture.
Add 1/4 of the tomato sauce to cover the ricotta mixture.
Sprinkle with the grated mozzarella.
Then add the next layer of noodles and repeat the ricotta filling, sauce, and mozzarella steps.
When you reach the top of the dish add the last layer tomato sauce and mozzarella.
Cover the dish with a sheet of aluminum foil.
Step 5: Bake The Lasagna
When the oven if up to temperature, open the door, transfer the filled baking dish to the oven and place it on the rack in the center of the oven.
Close the door and set the cooking time to 1 hour.
Use the time to start cleaning up the kitchen counter to make room for when the lasagna comes out of the oven.
After 30 minutes, hit stop, open the door and remove the aluminum foil. Pierce the center of the lasagna with a toothpick or a paring knife to see if the noodles are cooked through. If the knife hits solid resistance it’s not cooked and will need more time. Close the door and resume cooking.
From this point on, keep an eye on it and see if the sauce starts to bubble. When you see it bubble, open the door and pierce it again to see if your knife or toothpick go in without resistance. If it does, then hit stop to turn off the oven and remove the lasagna AND the rack.
Optional Step: Broil the Top
Turn on the grill function of the oven. Return the baking dish to the oven, close to the grill element at the top of the oven so that the lasagna sits directly underneath the it and set the time for 10 minutes. It may not take that long to brown, so keep a close watch on it and remove it as soon as the cheese just starts to brown.
You can totally skip this step if you wish, or you can do what some restaurants do and put the slices you are about to serve on a baking sheet under the broiler just before you serve them.
Important Safety Tip:
Plan ahead where you are going to put the hot pan before it comes out of the oven. If you are making this in your RV, don’t ever set the hot pan directly on the corian countertop. Also, don’t set it on the tempered glass cover of your propane stove or it could shatter the glass. If these are the only places you have available then use the rack from the oven and a thick towel or cutting board to minimize contact with the surface when you set the rack on it. I used my silicone drying mat on the counter then set the oven rack with the baking dish on it so the dish stayed elevated above the counter while it was hot and only the plastic covered feet of the rack actually touched the the silicone mat. In a small kitchen, a little planning is essential to prevent a horrible mess.