When first moving to our current home in Pensacola, Florida last year, we were initially concerned with how we were going to easily do our grocery shopping. After all, living in the Baltimore/DC area had spoiled us in terms of convenience; there, you can randomly throw a stone and likely hit Trader Joe’s, Wegmans, MOM’s, Costco, or Whole Foods. But after looking at a map of Pensacola and seeing that those stores were hours away, we figured a change in shopping habits was in order. So we started to lean more heavily on a local (pricey) health food store and weekend farmer’s market, and buying bulk from online vendors like US Wellness Meats and Tendergrass Farms.
But then last weekend I visited my local grocery store, and was pleasantly surprised to find how easy it was to find relatively healthy ingredients (many of the items I would expect to find in our favorite grocery stores before moving). Organic vegetables, grass-fed and pastured meats, wild-caught seafood, full-fat dairy, and gluten-free items were plentiful. It seems like many grocery stores are starting to prioritize real foods, and it is an excellent sign.
So I decided to carry out an experiment. What if I could whip up a meal using only ingredients found in our local Publix grocery store, while still aligning to my dietary restrictions? It just so happened that I was also eager to re-tackle an old lasagna recipe from several years ago, so it all fell together nicely.
Note: I still get frequent request for my first lasagna recipes, so here it is in convenient PDF form.
Here’s the haul from Publix. The ingredients aren’t perfect, but I walked away impressed that accessing healthy ingredients is no longer limited to just health food stores or niche markets. Sure, the dairy isn’t from grass-fed cows, and the gluten-free pasta contains corn (which I’m okay with in moderation), but it’s important to take a “win” whenever you can.
At the end of the day, the quality of the ingredients you cook with is a monumentally personal choice. If not constrained by time, budget, weather, and inclination, I’m sure we’d all grow our own vegetables, have egg-laying chickens in the back yard, enjoy a close relationship with our dairy and meat farmers, and make our own pasta and breads from scratch using the highest-quality ingredients that we bought directly from the source. But there are several steps from that level of involvement to relying on a takeout dollar menu, and I’m happy to see that conventional grocery stores are swinging a bit closer to one side than the other.
1 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, diced
3 strips bacon, coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
6oz mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1 lb ground beef
1 small jar (15oz) pasta sauce
1/4 tsp each salt and pepper
1 lb grated mozzarella cheese, less 1 large handful (see #2 below)
1 lb ricotta cheese
2 eggs, beaten
10 basil leaves, chopped
1/4 tsp each salt and pepper
1. In a saucepan or dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering, about 1 minute. Add the shallot and saute until softened, about 4 minutes, then add the bacon; saute until the bacon is crispy, another 5 minutes. Add the garlic and mushrooms and saute until the mushrooms are soft but before they release their liquid, about 2 minutes, then add the ground beef. Saute until the beef is mostly cooked (only a little pink), about 5 minutes. Stir in the pasta sauce, salt, and pepper, and bring to a simmer; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until darkened, about 10 minutes.
2. As the sauce darkens, prepare the cheese mixture. Grate the mozzarella cheese and reserve one handful, setting it aside. Combine the rest of the mozzarella with the ricotta, eggs, basil, salt, and pepper, stirring until combined.
3. Preheat your oven to 350F. In a 9×12 (or approximate) baking pan, spread a thin layer of the meat mixture. Lay down some lasagna sheets (it’s okay if they overlap a little); in my pan, I could fit three sheets per layer. Spread 1/3 of the remaining meat mixture, then 1/2 of the cheese mixture. Lay down another layer of lasagna sheets, then 1/3 of the meat mixture and the remaining 1/2 of the cheese mixture. Lay down a final layer of lasagna sheets, then the remaining 1/3 of the meat mixture. Cover with the reserved mozzarella cheese; loosely cover with tin foil and bake for 45 minutes.
4. Remove the tin foil from the lasagna and bake another 8 minutes; set your oven to broil and broil until the cheese browns, about 2 minutes. Remove from the oven and let set out for 20-30 minutes before slicing and serving.
** Serve the lasagna with whatever floats your boat. I typically enjoy it with a simple salad, but my wife grew up eating it with rice in Hawaii, and I was once served lasagna with french fries (“chips”) in Australia.
** This lasagna can be made ahead of time. Complete the recipe then allow to cool for one hour, then cover and refrigerate overnight. Reheat by baking in a 350F oven, covered, until warm, about 25 minutes.