Melba’s Lasagna (& intuition)

Apparently your stomach has more nerve endings than your spinal chord. When people talk about “gut feelings” or “butterflies” or a “sinking feeling” – they’re actually talking about those nerve endings.

Melba's Lasagna

I think a mom’s stomach has even more. And they’re far more sensitive than a regular human’s.

At least, that’s how my mom is. For months before I decided to move back to Wisconsin, she would drop suggestions for my return, consistently and constantly. She knew her child wasn’t happy, she could feel it in her gut.

“You know…you can always move back home…”

“Mom. No. I’m fine.”

Round and round we went. Until my brain finally caught up to her gut, and I came home. Even after my return to Wisconsin I was unsettled, unsure. She could tell. She offered the spare room to me time and time again. Eventually, I conceded. And I’ve been happier at home with her than I would’ve been willing to admit.

My mom is a special lady. Friends in South Carolina thought I was making her up when I would describe her. The penchant for tie-dye, the affection for unicorns, the unhealthy reliance on Mountain Dew. While I didn’t inherit any of those traits, I did get her fierce independence (some would say stubbornness) and sensitive heart. As I get older, and my parents do too, I see them more as people and realize the affect they’ve had on me (for better or for worse).

Melba's Lasagna

My mom is an original – take her or leave her, she’s not going to conform to what other’s think she should be or do or say. This quality is rarified in people, women especially. To be honest, when I was little all I wanted was a mom who looked like all the other moms, who acted like all the other moms. One who didn’t have purple hair or her head half-shaved, one who wore khakis instead of Crocs, one who hired a repairman instead of buying a roll of duct tape. It took me a long time to appreciate who she was, how she was. It took me even longer to realize she was teaching me a very valuable lesson – about being myself, no matter what. About pursuing my happiness, my fulfillment, no matter what. That being comfortable in my own skin was more important than being how others thought I should be.

I’m grateful for that lesson, even if it took me a long time to learn it. My gut gets more attention, its voice is louder. And it sounds a little bit like my momma.

Melba's Lasagna

Melba’s Lasagna (makes one hefty 9×13 pan)

2 pounds ground chuck

I package (19 oz) sweet Italian sausage

2 24-oz. jars of your favorite tomato sauce

¼ cup Dr. Pepper or other dark soda

½ tsp. cinnamon (trust me)

salt, pepper, Italian seasoning to taste

1 – 2 boxes lasagna noodles (the regular kind, none of that easy cook nonsense)

2 pounds shredded mozzarella cheese

6 slices Swiss cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large, heavy bottomed skillet brown the beef and the sausage on medium-high heat. Drain the fat. Lower heat to medium-low and pour in the jars of sauce, then pour a splash of dark soda into the jars and swirl around, to get all the saucy goodness out. Pour into the pan. Sprinkle on the cinnamon, salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning. Stir to combine and warm through – about five minutes.

When ready to assemble –

Line the bottom of a 9×13 pan with one row of lasagna noodles slightly overlapping one another. (You may need to add one noodle laying in the opposite direction to ensure the entire bottom of the pan is covered.)

Pour in ½ cup of water so that it covers the bottom of the pan but does not go over the noodles, rather it should be just touching the underside of them.

Ladle in 1/3 of the sauce and spread to the edges. Cover with 1/3 of the mozzarella cheese.

Repeat this process three times for three layers of noodles, sauce, and cheese. On the final cheese layer, first lay down the Swiss cheese, followed by the shredded mozzarella.

Spray a large piece of tinfoil with baking spray and cover the pan (so the cheese doesn’t stick when baking!).

Bake in preheated oven for 60 minutes before removing tinfoil and cooking 10 – 15 minutes more, or until cheese is golden brown and melted on top.

Remove from oven and allow to stand for 15 minutes before serving.

This is actually a dish that tastes better the next day, much like chili or soup, and freezes beautifully, either as a whole pan or in individually wrapped squares.

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