Dinner and a Pie

Our columnist sets the table with her family-favorite recipes for the holiday meal.

by Lisa Ann Panzino DiNunzio

Since December’s all about giving and sharing, I’m sharing three family favorite recipes that are always on our Christmas dinner table.

The lasagna, my mom’s recipe, is a hearty and delicious dish. The candied sweet potato recipe was passed down from my grandparents, Louis and Flora, and it’s a scrumptious side dish. The coconut custard pie is my dad’s favorite, which I have baked every year for decades.

I truly hope you and yours have a very flavorful, memory-filled, and blessed Christmas!

Mom’s Christmas Lasagna

(Part One) Meat Sauce:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 pound ground beef
2 (28 oz.) cans crushed tomatoes
26-oz. jar organic or favorite pasta sauce
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon raw sugar or honey
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a sauce pot over medium heat, add olive oil and sauté onion until tender, add garlic and cook for one minute. Add beef and cook until no longer pink. Add the crushed tomatoes, pasta sauce, crushed pepper flakes, oregano, raw sugar or honey, Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper. Simmer for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once meat sauce is cooked, use to assemble lasagna.

(Part Two):
32-oz. container whole milk ricotta cheese
1 egg
Meat sauce (from recipe provided)
1/2 – 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 – 3 (12 oz.) bags shredded mozzarella cheese
2 (8 oz.) pkgs. oven-ready lasagna noodles (no need to boil)

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, mix the ricotta cheese and egg until combined. Add one cup of meat sauce, gently stir until ricotta mixture turns light pink in color. Grease a 13 x 9-inch pan lightly with non-stick cooking spray and add a little meat sauce to the bottom of the pan, to coat. Place a layer of lasagna noodles over the sauce and add more meat sauce to cover the noodles. Spread some of the ricotta cheese mixture over the meat sauce, top with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, and a moderate sprinkle of the mozzarella cheese.

Add another layer of noodles in the opposite direction as the previous layer, then add meat sauce, ricotta mixture, parmesan cheese and mozzarella cheese. Add another layer of noodles in the opposite direction as the previous layer, then add meat sauce, ricotta mixture, parmesan cheese and mozzarella cheese. Top with lasagna noodles, once again in the opposite direction, and cover with meat sauce, sprinkle with parmesan and mozzarella cheese.

Tent the lasagna with a layer of foil, (do not let the foil touch the lasagna or the cheese will stick to it and come off when removing foil.)

Bake for 45 minutes covered, and 15 to 20 minutes uncovered, or until cheese is bubbly, and golden. Let lasagna sit for 10 to 15 minutes once out of the oven before slicing. Serve with garlic bread, if desired.

Louis & Flora Panzino’s Candied Sweet Potatoes

3 – 4 large sweet potatoes, peeled, and cooked until fork tender
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup
Pinch of sea salt

Preheat oven to 350°F. Slice sweet potatoes lengthwise into about 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place slices onto a lightly greased baking pan. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add brown sugar, maple syrup, and salt, cook stirring until sugar is dissolved. Spoon butter mixture over the sweet potato slices, and bake uncovered for 25 to 30 minutes.

Dad’s Favorite Coconut Custard Pie
3 cups organic whole milk
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
3/4 cup raw sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 9-inch unbaked pie shell

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, add milk, eggs, coconut, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Mix ingredients until well combined. Pour custard mixture into the unbaked pie shell and cover edge of crust with a pie shield or aluminum foil to prevent crust from burning.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until custard is completely set.

As always, Bon Appetit!

Lisa Ann Panzino DiNunzio is author of Seasoned With Love, Treasured Recipes, Lisa Ann’s Seasoned With Love II, and children’s books Snicker Learns An Important Lesson and Readers’ Favorite 5-Star rated Little Twinkle Learns Her Purpose.

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