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Of all the excellent 2013 cookbooks I had the good fortune to test last year, it’s Keepers (published by Rodale – not even one of the major cookbook players) that had the most to offer the everyday, hassled-to-the-max home cook.

You wouldn’t necessarily know it from the outside.  The cover, though tasty-looking, and the title as well might be  marketing misfires.  Memoir, I thought – or maybe pastry.  What I didn’t expect (until I read the subtitle anyway) was a parade of family-friendly hits, none taking more than 45 minutes.  One of them, the skillet lasagna, even made it into my Best Recipes of 2013 list.

Click here to read today’s review of ‘Keepers’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version

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The book:  Keepers, by Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion (Rodale, $26.99)

The recipe:  Skillet lasagna

Why I tried it: I always think “Wouldn’t be lasagna be great for dinner!” 1 hour before it is time to eat, so I never end up getting to eat it.  If you told me you could make lasagna in under an hour, I would assume that you meant you could reheat something you bought frozen, and an awkward pause would fall on our conversation.  But this version looked like real food, with real ingredients.  And having tested a bunch of complicated recipes the week before, I felt I deserved a break.

Why I loved it:  This recipe is so easy you feel like you’re only pretending to cook.  Every once in a while you mosey over to the pot and put it in a few more we’re-here-to-help type ingredients (sausage from the store, no-boil lasagna), and you give it a desultory poke with your spoon.   The best part is the silken swirl of creamy mascarpone at the end. It’s a sloppy, beautiful one-pot mess that doesn’t look a lot like the architectural pan lasagna we know and love, but it tastes every bit as good.  Too good, really – once again, I find myself altering a recipe down from “Serves 6” to “Serves 4”.

Estimated preparation time:  45 minutes (not counting the “resting time” at the end) – but there’s hardly any prep, and everything goes in the same pot, so it feels even shorter.

Click here for my complete list of 2013 cookbook recommendations.  Keepers is one of my top 10!  You can also find many, many more recommendations for great cookbooks on my app, Cookbook Finder (available for your  iPhone/iPad or Android device).


Skillet Lasagna-p128Skillet Lasagna
Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound sweet or hot Italian sausages, casings removed
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
Large pinch of hot red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Two 28-ounce cans whole, peeled tomatoes
1 sprig basil, plus a handful of basil leaves
Salt and pepper
One 9-ounce package no-boil lasagna noodles
4 ounces mascarpone cheese or cream cheese (1/2 cup)
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced and patted dry

In a large high-sided sauté pan with a 3-quart capacity and a lid, heat the oil over high heat until it shimmers. Add the sausages and cook, stirring often and breaking up the meat, until browned, about 4 minutes. Leaving as much oil in the pan as possible, transfer the sausage to a medium bowl and set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the onions, garlic, and pepper flakes to the pan, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened, about 7 minutes. Add the oregano, the tomatoes and their juices, crushing the tomatoes with your hands or a potato masher (see note, page 118), the sprig of basil, and the cooked sausage and any juices. Season with salt and pepper, then gently simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Check the seasonings (it should be a little salty) and discard the basil sprig.

Break half of the lasagna noodles in half crosswise (it’s fine if smaller pieces break off) and as you do so, push each piece into the sauce under the sausage, distributing them evenly throughout the pan. Break the remaining half of the noodles in half and distribute them evenly over the sauce, then push down on them with the back of a spoon to submerge them. Cover the pan and gently simmer (raising the heat a little, if needed) until the noodles are tender and the sauce has thickened slightly, about 12 minutes.

Dollop the mascarpone over the lasagna and swirl it into the sauce. Top with the mozzarella and gently simmer, covered, until the cheese is melted, about 2 minutes. Off the heat, top with the basil leaves, tearing any large ones. Let the lasagna rest, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, then serve.

Reprinted from Keepers by Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion.  Photography by Christopher Testani.  Copyright (c) 2013 by Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion. By permission of Rodale Books.  Available wherever books are sold.

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