Mexican seafood lasagna a family favorite

November 16, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

MOUNT AETNA - Years ago, Mexican seafood lasagna resolved dueling dinner requests in the Leitma household.

"Seafood lasagna? I mean, you think, 'eew, OK,'" said Pamela Leitma, the peacemaker, the family foodie, the designated chef and the mommy.

But it went over so well, Leitma said, that it is now a family favorite. She has reserved it for holidays.

Leitma's seafood lasagna is easy-to-make comfort food that people will think is far more complicated than it is. Start to finish, it's done in an hour.


It's ideal for church potlucks or large family meals - it serves 12 people.

The term "lasagna" in seafood lasagna should not be taken literally. Leitma's seafood lasagna "noodles" are layers of corn tortillas. The filling is made of shrimp, crabmeat, picante sauce and lots of cheese. The taste is more reminiscent of a shrimp taco than real-deal Italian.

But it is good, good, good.

Leitma said part of the motivation for taking such a risk - bringing together disparate food thoughts - comes from Leitma's upbringing in California, where seafood and Mexican cuisine are abundant.

"And authentic," said Leitma, in her Mount Aetna home during an interview with The Herald-Mail.

Leitma, 49, said she's had a hankering for "good" Mexican food ever since she moved to the East Coast. She moved to Mount Aetna in 1988.

One night, her kids wanted seafood and her husband wanted Mexican food. She came up with seafood lasagna and saved the day.

The Leitmas also have a knack for experimentation in the kitchen. At dinnertime, Leitma will trawl her cookbook collection for interesting recipes, usually ones with an international feel. Thai food is big in the Leitma house.

Leitma cooks dinner daily, and her five teen and adult children and her husband, Philip, are always there for the 1 p.m. mealtime.

Leitma is also an avid cookie baker. She won The Herald-Mail's cookie contest in 1997 and has been a perennial entrant ever since. Last year, she said she entered "mice" cookies, though they weren't winners. She plans to enter again this year.

"People are always afraid to try new things," Leitma said. "I guess I'm afraid, sometimes."

Q&A with Pamela Leitma

Tell me how often you make this dish.
This is a dish that we call special. We usually make it on Christmas Eve and everyone looks forward to it. Not that it's really expensive. It's really economical to make because it serves 12, and that's the average two meals for some families. But we try to find traditional things that we stick to. ... You know if you make something too much, everybody will be sick of it. It's like eating chocolate. If you eat too much of it, you'll be sick of it.

A lot of people would not necessarily think of seafood lasagna as traditional. They might go for that corn pudding you also make.
(Laughing). That's true, but it's traditional in our house. It's like the Christmas ham, the Thanksgiving turkey - that's all traditional. But this is our tradition now. We've been making it for probably five or six years. I do occasionally make it for potlucks at church.

What are some variations people could do with this?
A couple years ago, I got a recipe for a lasagna in there, and it was a black-bean Mexican lasagna. So instead of corn tortillas, they used the flour tortillas and, of course, black beans. We mixed in two pounds of ground hamburger.

With this one, you can delete the picante sauce and you can make a cheese sauce and use vegetables. Or you can use whatever you associate with Mexican. You can use a half cup of corn. (That) would be really good in it because it would sweeten it.

So the overall affect of this lasagna, how would you describe it?
If you're craving seafood and you want Mexican, I think it just satisfied both.

Mexican seafood lasagna

16-ounce jar picante sauce
1 1/2 pound uncooked medium shrimp
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon red pepperflakes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
14 1/2-ounce can chicken broth
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 cups Monterey jack cheese
1 cup Mexican-style cheese mix
15 6-inch corn tortillas
16-ounce package imitation crabmeat, flaked

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place picante sauce in blender. Blend until smooth.

In a skillet, cook the shrimp, garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil over medium heat until shrimp is pink - for about 3 minutes. Remove, set aside. In same skillet, melt butter. Stir in flour until smooth. Gradually add the broth. Bring to boil. Cook and stir 2 minutes until thick. Reduce heat. Stir in cream and picante sauce. Heat through.

Blend the cheeses together. Spread 1/2-cup sauce in greased 13-inch-by-9-inch pan. Layer with 6 tortillas, half the shrimp, imitation crabmeat, sauce and 1 1/4 cup of the mixed cheeses. Repeat layers.

Cut the last 3 tortillas into strips and arrange over cheese. Top with remaining cheese.

Bake for 35 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before cutting.

Serves 12.

- Courtesy of Pamela Leitma, Mount Aetna

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