Lasagna

Everyone has their favorite lasagna recipe.  This is mine.  And while others are probably more authentic to Italy, this is pretty durn authentic to my Sicilian grandmother, my mother, and my New Jersey Italian relatives although I have made some changes over the years.

I’ve tried many recipes, and many variations.  I’ve added spinach, I’ve swapped cottage cheese for the ricotta.  Ground beef.  White cream sauce. No-cook noodles.  But  I always return to the basics.  Layered noodles with meat sauce, ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan.

Your sauce can be your own favorite, or try the one listed below.  I’m not even against using jarred sauces on occasion, but a decent homemade sauce using canned tomatoes is very easy (or even fresh tomatoes!)

By the way – if you are lucky enough to live in the part of the world where Red Pack canned tomatoes are available, BUY THEM NOW.  Believe me when I say that the type of canned tomatoes used matters.  It really matters a lot.

And after you buy some, send me a few cans?  And email Red Pack that you want their tomatoes sold nationwide.  Worldwide.  Planetwide.

Lasagna should have a meaty robust flavor.  Ground beef alone I find boring.  Italian sausage is good – but a mixture of the two is superb, generally in a 1.5:1 ratio of sausage to beef.  I always buy sweet italian sausage, but spicy italian sausage is excellent if you like some heat.

In dutch oven or large skillet, heat 1T of olive oil.  Dice one onion, and mince two cloves of garlic.
Begin to saute in pan.  Remove sausage from casings (or buy bulk) and add ground sausage and ground beef to pan with onion and garlic.  Cook until onion is translucent and meats are fully cooked.

Drain grease – if you want to remove a lot of fat, dump the whole meat, onion and garlic mixture into a colander and rinse with water.  How much grease is actually removed by this method is unknown to me.  All I can say is that there is no discernible affect to the taste and my thighs hit critical mass back in the 90s.

Add sauce – your own, jarred, or my recipe below.  It’s up to you.  But you want the meat sauce consistency to look like this:

Not too thick – definitely not too thin/watery.  Click the image for a closeup, and see recipe (below) for more exact measurements.  This pot of sauce made two 9×13 pans of lasagna.  One was to go into the freezer, one for dinner.

Both pans lasted about 13 hours.

Oh let’s make a deal:  I won’t judge your choice of sauce if you won’t judge my messy counters.  Capice?

I’ve wanted to work the word “Capice” into this post since the beginning.

Onward –

Fill a very large pot with water, salt the water and when boiling, add 12 lasagna noodles to cook.  Add each noodle one by one so they do not stick.  Boil according to box directions – knowing that for casseroles such as this, it’s best to undercook the noodles.  You didn’t know that?  Now you do.  If the box says 9-11 minutes, consider removing it from the water at 8 minutes.  Drain, rinse with cold water, and lay on plastic wrap to cool.

Beat one egg to small bowl.  Add one 16 ounce Ricotta Cheese container and  1T of Italian Seasoning, and 1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese to beaten egg.  Combine well – breaking up any clumps of cheese.

The picture shows that I have parmesano-reggiano.  I also had a block of parmesan, and a green jar of Kraft grated parmesan.  We did a very unscientific taste test comparing the three cheeses, and woah-mama, the parmesano reggiano was the best.  BUT – when eating the final product – I couldn’t taste any change worth $15/lb.  Therefore, my report from this experiment will state to save your money and save the parmesano-reggiano for the dishes where you can actually taste it.

On to assembly –

Ladle sauce to the bottom of a 9×13″ pan.

Lay four noodles in the pan, overlapping the edges.

Place 1/2 the Ricotta cheese mixture on top of the noodles.  My mom always dabbed.  I like to spread.

Top with mozzarella cheese.  Slices or shredded.  Whatever floats your boat.

Ladle sauce over the cheeses and top with shredded parmesan.

Repeat the layer of noodles, ricotta, mozzarella, sauce, parmesan.

Final layer should be noodles, sauce, mozzarella and parmesan.

Grease or spray with cooking spray a sheet of aluminum foil.  Cover lasagna.

Bake in 375 oven for 30 minutes.  Remove foil and continue cooking for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes.

Slice into squares – serve with salad and garlic bread.

And wine.  Salute!

Recipe:

Ingredients

  • 3/4 pound sweet Italian sausage
  • 3/4 pound lean ground beef
  • 1/2 diced onion
  • 3cloves garlic, minced
  • 3(28 ounce) can whole tomatoes
  • 3 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
  • 3 tablespoons white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil leaves
  • 3/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 12 lasagna noodles
  • 16 ounces ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1T Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 pound mozzarella cheese, sliced
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. In a Dutch oven, cook sausage, ground beef, onion, and garlic over medium heat until well browned. Drain. In a blender or food processor, combine canned tomatoes and paste (this should make plenty of sauce!)  Add tomatoes to meat mixture. Season with sugar, basil, fennel seeds, Italian seasoning, pepper, and 2 tablespoons parsley. Simmer, covered, for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.
  2. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook lasagna noodles to al dente.  Drain noodles, and rinse with cold water.
  3. In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese with egg, remaining parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
  4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
  5. To assemble, ladle 1-2 cups of meat sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish. Arrange 4 noodles lengthwise over meat sauce, overlapping edges. Spread with one half of the ricotta cheese mixture. Top with a third of mozzarella cheese slices. Spoon 1 1/2 cups meat sauce over mozzarella, and sprinkle with 1/4 cup parmesan cheese. Repeat layer with noodles, remaining ricotta cheese, third mozzarella cheese slices, sauce and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese.  Final layer with noodles, sauce mozzarella and parmesan cheese.
  6. Cover with foil, sprayed with cooking spray to prevent sticking.
  7. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 10 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.

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