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Foodie for Thought: Lasagna and Meltaways for the Holidays

Family. Food. Tradition. Those three words describe the holiday season for me. In my world, there is no holiday where we don’t have a pasta dish. My favorite is lasagna, and the key to any worthy lasagna is a truly spectacular red sauce, which I make in the style of my Italian ancestors. Use your favorite for this dish and I promise you will love it.

My second favorite part of the holiday meals is dessert, of course! My love of baking was instilled in me by my Aunt Franny, a very special lady who for as long as I can remember has been THE baking queen in our family. Until she moved out of state, there was never a holiday that didn’t include dozens of her cookies, all delicious, all beautiful, and I was always in awe of the shear variety of cookies she would make.

One of my mother’s favorite cookies is Aunt Franny’s Meltaways. Since she’s too far to mail cookies, it’s up to me each holiday season to make as many batches of these cookies as I possibly can. They are a fairly simple cookie, but I think that’s what makes them so good. With equal parts flour and chopped nuts, these little gems pack huge flavor, and when covered with powdered sugar, they are like plump little snowballs of sweet nutty goodness. Feel free to double this recipe (as I often do), because you will want to share them with all your friends and family.

These cookies also keep really well, and they make excellent and festive looking gifts, too. You can also make them ahead and store them in an airtight container on your counter for up to two weeks—if they last that long!

My Lasagna

2–6 oz boxes of NO BOIL Lasagna sheets (they are a such a time saver)
6 cups (2 lbs) freshly shredded mozzarella cheese (save 1/2 cup for top of lasagna)
3 lbs whole milk Ricotta cheese (save 1/4 cup to dollop on top)
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese (save 1/4 cup for the top)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon pepper
4–6 cups of your favorite red sauce
2 teaspoons butter (for top of Lasagna)

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine your mozzarella, ricotta and Parmesan (be sure to reserve the specified amounts for the topping) with your eggs, parsley, salt and pepper.

Prepare a 13 X 9” inch casserole dish by pouring 1 cup of your pasta sauce on the bottom. Then begin by layering your first sheets of lasagna noodles so that you cover the bottom; I used 6 sheets per layer, and they overlapped a little, which is okay. Then take your cheese mixture and layer on a 1/3 of it, spreading it out to cover the pasta sheets. Then add another layer of pasta sheets, 1 cup of sauce, 1/3 of the mixture. Repeat once more.

For your top layer, combine your mozzarella and Parmesan that you reserved, and sprinkle evenly on top. Dollop your remaining ricotta cheese on top, then sprinkle dots of
butter over.

Bake for about 30 minutes covered with foil, and then the last 15 minutes uncover it and cook until cheese is golden and bubbly. And the most important step: Let your lasagna rest for at least 30 minutes before slicing and serving.

Aunt Franny’s Meltaways

1/2 cup (1 stick) margarine, at room temperature
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 cup flour
1 cup finely chopped walnuts (you can use pecans or almonds too if you prefer)

 Cream margarine and sugar in your KitchenAid or a bowl with a mixer until fluffy. Gradually add in flour. Stir in nuts. Chill for an hour. Then form into tablespoon sized balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet—I line mine with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes until golden.

Remove from baking sheet while still warm and roll in your powdered sugar mixture.

Yields 28 cookies.

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