Slow food Sundays: Ooma Tesoro’s Lasagna

The founders of the Cummington-made small batch marinara sauce throw together weeknight meals just like the rest of us. Weekends, however, are for family and homemade comfort food.

  • The Tesoros bake their lasagna on top of a sheet pan in case all that cheesy goodness bubbles over. Robin Tesoro photo

  • Robin Tesoro assembles all her ingredients before she starts cooking. Can you tell from this photo that she used to work for Martha Stewart? Tara Striano photo

  • As evidenced by this photo, Robin Tesoro has worked as a stylist for Martha Stewart and Northampton’s late, great Wondertime magazine. Robin Tesoro photo

  • Weekends, for the Tesoros, are for family and slow-cooked meals. Kyle Finn Dempsey photo

  • “The greatest thing about lasagna is that you’ll never make it the same twice,” says Michael Tesoro. Julia Vandenoever PHOTO

  • Weekends, for the Tesoros, are for family and slow-cooked meals. Robin Tesoro photo

  • Weekends, for the Tesoros, are for family and slow-cooked meals. Robin Tesoro photo

  • Weekends, for the Tesoros, are for family and slow-cooked meals. Kyle Finn Dempsey photo

  • Robin Tesoro likes to prep all of her ingredients before assembling their lasagna. Like all things, the dish tastes even better outside.

  • Robin Tesoro makes lasagna at home in Windsor, March 19, 2019. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • Robin Tesoro makes lasagna at home in Windsor. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Robin Tesoro makes lasagna at home in Windsor, March 19, 2019. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • Robin Tesoro makes lasagna at home in Windsor, March 19, 2019. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • Robin Tesoro makes lasagna at home in Windsor, March 19, 2019. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • Robin Tesoro makes lasagna at home in Windsor, March 19, 2019. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • Robin Tesoro makes lasagna at home in Windsor, March 19, 2019. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • Robin and Michael Tesoro prepare lasagna at home. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Robin and Michael Tesoro with their marinara sauce. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

Staff Writer
Published: 5/28/2019 5:00:21 PM

When Michael Tesoro was young, his grandmother would often show up at his family’s home in Connecticut carrying an icebox of cooking ingredients to make lasagna.

“You can taste love in food. Grandma’s lasagna (had a lot of) love,” Tesoro said and was always made with her homemade marinara sauce.

Tesoro traces his family’s ancestry to southern Italy, where traditional Italian marinara sauce was invented. He called his grandmother “Ooma,” and says she had a passion for cooking.

“She knew the butchers and the produce guys. … She didn’t own a cookbook and never cooked from a recipe,” Tesoro continued, remembering how she’d shop often and tell them if their products were up to her standards.

Ooma lived in Brooklyn and died in 1995, but her marinara sauce lives on. It’s canned daily by her grandson in the former Berkshire Trail Elementary School on Main Street in Cummington under the brand Ooma Tesoro’s Premium Marinara Sauce.

She shared her culinary techniques — simple Italian cooking with an emphasis on quality ingredients — with him when he was around 11 or 12, after he showed an interest in cooking. This was abnormal, he noted, because “she didn’t even let her sisters into the kitchen.”

Tesoro, who has worked in a variety of industries including web development, started the business with his wife, Robin Tesoro, in 2009. These days, the sauce can be found in more than 400 stores throughout the northeast, including Big Y and Whole Foods supermarkets.

At home in Windsor last week, they paid homage to grandma Tesoro’s cooking by making lasagna with their signature sauce — plus browned pork and beef and a variety of vegetables: eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms.

Of all the Italian dishes she made, his grandmother’s lasagna, in particular, “satisfied your taste buds from both a flavor and texture standpoint,” he said, remembering how she’d make the filling with a few different kinds of cheese — Parmesan, ricotta, mozzarella, pecorino. “It was always soft in texture, and gooey, and light.”

At the counter beside him, Robin Tesoro mixed an egg into the cheese filling.

“The ricotta is the most important because it’s really creamy and easy to spread,” she said, noting that she also adds a dash of nutmeg for depth.

Robin Tesoro, who is originally from New York, has worked for Martha Stewart Living and the former Northampton-based Wondertime Magazine. She first encountered cooking while working as a nanny in France during college. There, she learned how vegetables can add nuanced flavors to a dish.

Before starting on the cheese filling or boiling the noodles, Robin Tesoro says she roasted sliced eggplant in salt, pepper, a little bit of oil. Then, she sauteed mushrooms and spinach in garlic and oil.

After boiling the noodles for a few minutes, Robin Tesoro began layering them in a casserole dish on top of a thin layer of the marinara sauce.

“You want (the noodles) al dente because it’s going to cook more. You want them pretty firm,” she said. After putting down the first sheet of noodles, she spread the pork and beef sauce mixture over a thick layer of cheese filling — “a good amount because it will melt.”

For the Tesoros, Italian style cooking is a staple at home. 

And while they make other dishes, “The greatest thing about lasagna is that you’ll never make it the same twice,” Michael Tesoro said.

Andy Castillo can be reached at acastillo@recorder.com.

The Tesoros’ Lasagna

There are many options with lasagna, it’s hard to go wrong. Having your elements prepped before assembling is key. 

Roast eggplant and zucchini (sliced in thin strips lengthwise) salt and pepper and olive oil at 400 until just browned and soft, 25 minutes or so, flipping the vegetables halfway through. Drain off liquid and set aside. (This part can be made ahead.)

Have ready 3 cups of fresh whole milk ricotta, 1 cup of grated Parmigiana Reggiano, 2 cups of grated fresh mozzarella, 1-2 eggs, a teaspoon of pepper, a tablespoon of sea salt, a dash of nutmeg. Mix until smooth. Set this mixture aside. 

In a medium pan, add a little olive oil, a little butter and 2 minced garlic cloves. Cook on low to medium heat until garlic is clear but not burned. Add two bunches of fresh cleaned spinach and cook until wilted. Add salt and pepper. Drain extra liquid and set aside.

Cook 2 cups of chopped shitake and cremini mushrooms in olive oil with a little salt and pepper until soft but not mushy; add some white wine or chicken stock and simmer until cooked down. Set aside.

Warm up Ooma Tesoro's Marinara Sauce in a pan. 

Have boiling salted water ready to cook lasagna noodles, boil in batches until just a little soft (par-boiled) and put to the side on a plate to have ready for layering. You can also use no-boil lasagna sheets. 

Have 1.5 lbs of ground beef and pork browned and ready; cooked in Ooma Tesoro’s marinara. Cook until liquid is cooked off. 

To assemble:

Use a 9-by-13-inch deep dish. Start with a thin layer of Ooma Tesoro's marinara sauce on bottom. Layer ground beef, then cheese, then noodles. Next add more marinara sauce, a layer of mushrooms, another layer of cheese, noodles and spinach. Continue adding sauce, noodles and fillings as your craving desires — and depending on how deep your pan is. (The Tesoros place a metal sheet pan underneath the lasagna in case it bubbles over.)

Cover with tin foil and bake for 45 minutes until bubbling. Remove tin foil off and raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees for another 10-15 minutes — or turn the oven to broil to brown the top.


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