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On Cooking Southern: Lasagna Rollups and More

Chinese Pepper Steak
Chinese Pepper Steak

Southernizing Italian and Asian flavors

By Laurie Triplette



Tarnation:  American derivative of tarnal (itself probably a derivative of eternal)… The way polite Southern ladies used to avoid saying “The Devil,” or any of those actual swear words referring to the Devil’s home and the folks sent to stay there for eternity. Used in all linguistic contexts — from interjection (Tarnation!) to intensive adjective, adverb, or statement… such as “What in tarnation were you thinking when you told the lawyers ‘Of course I said that word.’”  


Summer is officially here. It’s the perfect time to clean out the kitchen cabinets, pantry, spice drawers, and freezer to prepare for reloading them with a new season’s bounty.

Last week, The Old Bride cleaned out the freezer. It was not a moment too soon, because this year’s beans and peas and squash already are calling my name.

The freezer starts each summer beautifully organized and cleaned for restocking. But throughout the year, orderliness slips into hoarder chaos as I stuff it with leftover ingredients such as chopped bell pepper and onions, Tabasco peppers, a teensy weensy bit of cooked chicken here and there, the lone package of frozen spinach, a snack-sized portion of steamed broccoli, and a soon-to-expire pound of ground beef.

Most of us are inclined to toss out those odd teensy weensy bits of frozen food. Resist, I say! Good eats can come out of anybody’s freezer chaos. Simply combine them with fresh ingredients in a skillet, a casserole dish or a rice cooker. Your all-in-one dish will save time and money, and it may even become a family favorite.

Don’t get me wrong. An orderly freezer is a desirable freezer. And I have good intentions every summer as I tackle the freezer. I wish mine could become an organizer’s work of art, like that of my former neighbor Joan, who labored daily every May to prepare a summer’s worth of meals for her husband, the corporate dentist. Labeled by date and content, and stacked in orderly rows, Joan’s homemade freezer food was concocted to nurture the hubby while she “relaxed” for two months at the beach with parents and children. Next-Door Hubby actually ate Joan’s freezer food all summer — in its proper, dated sequence.

The Old Bride’s hubby used to say he wouldn’t be caught dead eating freezer food intentionally. I always say that ignorance is bliss.


This recipe enabled me to use up that package of frozen spinach and the last pound of ground beef. A version of this dish is the latest favorite of television food celebrities. Feel free to improvise the lasagna filling and the sauce and to make up as many or as few rollups as you wish. I recommend making up the entire recipe, but freezing some of the rollups in batches of two and four for future use, a la Neighbor Joan!

lasagnarollups-DSCN42001-lb box of boil-lasagna noodles (Barilla brand contains about 18 noodles)

2 c grated mozzarella, divided

15 oz container of ricotta cheese

2 eggs, beaten

1/2 c grated Parmesan cheese

9.5 to 10-oz pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed, liquid squeezed out

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black ground pepper

1 lb ground turkey or ground beef

Salt and pepper

1 tsp garlic powder

2 T olive oil

24 to 26-oz jar of spaghetti or marinara sauce

Beat eggs in a medium bowl and add ricotta, 1 c mozzarella, and Parmesan. Mix in spinach. Add salt and pepper.  Set aside. Boil the lasagna noodles, drain and rinse in cold water to prevent sticking.

Brown ground meat in 2 T olive oil in hot skillet. Drain and add garlic powder, salt and pepper, and half the jarred sauce.

Preheat oven to 375˚F. Spray 10-by-15-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. To assemble: Place about 2 tablespoons of filling inside one end or down the center of a noodle. Roll up from the filled end and position rollup in pan either standing on end or positioned flat. Repeat until pan is filled (uses all the noodles). Spread the meat sauce evenly over the rollups and pour remaining jarred sauce evenly over the pan of rollups. Spread out to fill crevices between the rollups. Bake about 30 minutes. YIELD: 8-10 servings (a serving is about 2 rollups).

VARIATION: Limit meat; use additional jarred sauce over the rollups.


This dish can be made in a skillet and completed in about 30-45 minutes, or it can be prepped and cooked on the 4-hour cycle in a crock pot.

3 T peanut oil

2 lb thin-sliced top round beefsteak

1 medium white or sweet onion, sliced and chopped

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Pinch of salt

1 bell pepper, cut into strips or loose chopped

1/4 c plus 2 T light, low sodium soy sauce

2 tsp cornstarch

1/4 tsp ground ginger

3 to 5 cloves garlic, minced through a garlic press

1 tsp beef base or a cube of beef bullion

3/4 c water

1 c chopped broccoli florets, OPTIONAL

Cooking spray

Cut the beef into strips. Combine the soy sauce, cornstarch, ginger, garlic, and beef base. Whisk until beef base has dissolved, and add the water. Set aside. Heat oil in skillet on medium-high and sear the beef for about 5 minutes.

Add the onion and bell pepper and season with pepper and a pinch of salt. Cover for 2 minutes, and then stir until onions have wilted. Add liquid and optional broccoli florets; stir to blend. Remove from stovetop and pour into a crock pot prepped with nonstick cooking spray. Set for 4 hours. If concerned about overcooking, add a bit more water. YIELD: 6 servings.


This is a Southernized variation of the Chinese Pepper Steak. It’s a hearty dish that cooks stovetop or in the oven in less than an hour.

1 lb thin-sliced top round beef

1 T paprika

1-1/2 tsp ground oregano

1/2 tsp chili powder

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1/8 tsp red pepper or cayenne

1/8 tsp dry mustard

8 small new red potatoes, cut in half

3 c of onion, diced

2 c beef broth or stock

2 large cloves of garlic, minced through press

10-oz bag of shredded carrots, or 2 large carrots, julienned fine

1 lb fresh mustard or turnip greens, stemmed, torn into pieces

1 c canned, whole green beans, fresh, frozen, or canned

2 T extra light olive oil

Cut the beef across the grain into long strips about 1/4-inch wide each. Combine spices in a small bowl to make a rub, and coat the beef strips, tossing to cover all sides.  Heat olive oil in large skillet on high heat, add meat to sear, lower heat to medium-high and continue searing, for about 5 minutes.

Add onions and garlic and toss about a minute, then add potatoes and broth. Cook, covered, about 20 minutes. Stir in carrots and green beans, and position the greens over the top. Cover, and cook about 15-20 more minutes, until carrots are tender. Serve in bowls with the skillet pot likker and crusty bread. YIELD: 6-8 servings.

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