Lasagna is perhaps the quintessential feed-a-crowd casserole. There are of course as many ways to make lasagna as there are Italian mammas, but here is my own method for making it. I was so intimidated by lasagna, before I first tried it! It looked like a process that would eat up my whole day! While that it is not true, it is definitely more time-consuming than spaghetti — but it's oh-so-worth-it, from time to time! So here, just in case you have never made lasagna, is the process in photos.
Ingredients for lasagna.
This recipe is a hybrid of a full-on, totally from scratch lasagna recipe and one that uses pre-made components. I do make my own sauce and cook the meat, but I use dried pasta instead of fresh, homemade pasta. You can definitely make lasagna quicker than this, if you use jarred sauce. But if I am going to the trouble of making a lasagna in the first place, I really like to make my own sauce.
This is a serious lasagna. It's extra-deep (you will need a deep pan!) as well as cheesy, meaty, and really, really chunky with beef and sausage.
What You Need
1 pound dried lasagna noodles
1 1/4 pound (1 package) uncooked spicy pork or chicken sausage
1 pound ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
One 28-ounce can plum tomatoes, with their juice
One 12-ounce can tomato paste
One 28-ounce can tomato sauce
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Large pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
2 teaspoons salt, divided
15 ounces ricotta cheese, drained
2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
Small handful fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, minced
4 cups (2 packages) grated mozzarella cheese
Extra-deep 13x9-inch baking dish (should be at least 3 inches deep!)
Baking spray or olive oil for greasing the pan
Large pasta pot
Towels for noodles
Deep sauté pan OR wide saucepan
1. Heat the oven to 425°F and lightly grease the baking pan with olive oil.
2. Place a large pot of water over high heat. Drizzle in a glug of olive oil and salt the water generously.
3. Bring to a boil, add the lasagna noodles, and bring back to a boil. Cook until the lasagna is al dente.
4. Drain and lay the noodles out on clean kitchen towels.
5. Place a large skillet over medium high heat.
6. Cut open the sausage casings (I like to use kitchen shears for this) and crumble the sausage. Crumble in the ground beef, and add all the meat to the skillet.
7. Cook, stirring frequently, until the beef is very well browned.
8. Meanwhile, finely chop the onion and the garlic.
9. Add the chopped onion and garlic to the skillet and turn down the heat to medium. Cook, stirring frequently, for another 10 minutes.
10. Take off the heat and drain most of the fat away from the meat.
11. Place back on the heat, and add the tomato paste. Cook for a couple minutes, stirring it into the meat.
12. Crush the plum tomatoes in the can, and then add them with their juices, as well as the tomato sauce, into the meat. Stir and bring to a simmer. Simmer for at least 15 minutes, while you prepare the cheese layer. When you take the sauce off the heat, stir in 1 teaspoon of salt and some freshly ground black pepper.
13. In a medium bowl, stir together the ricotta, beaten eggs, 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese, remaining 1 teaspoon of salt, olive oil, and minced parsley in a large bowl.
14. Count your noodles. You will need four layers of noodles total. It is best to start and finish with wider layers, so if you have less than 16 noodles, put your extra noodles in the bottom or top layers. (For the purposes of this recipe, I'll assume you have 15 noodles.) Line the bottom of the prepared baking dish with 4 cooked lasagna noodles, overlapping them.
15. Spread one-third of the ricotta mixture on top.
16. Spread about one-third of the meat sauce on top of that.
17. Sprinkle with about 1 cup of grated mozzarella and top with another 3 noodles. Repeat layering the ricotta and meat sauce with the cheese. Repeat again with 3 noodles and another layer of ricotta, meat, and cheese.
18. Finish by topping the lasagna with 4 noodles — one crosswise and four lengthwise. Sprinkle any remaining mozzarella cheese on top of the noodles, as well as the remaining 1/2 cup of Parmesan. (At this point the lasagna may be covered and refrigerated for up to 48 hours. It may also be securely wrapped and frozen for up to a month.)
19. Cover loosely with aluminum foil.
20. Bake for 30 minutes.
21. Uncover and bake for an additional 10 minutes. for Let stand for 15 minutes before slicing and serving.
• This recipe is adapted from my own recipe from my book, Not Your Mother's Casserole Cookbook, which will be published by Harvard Common Press in January 2011.
• This lasagna can be made up to a day ahead, then covered and refrigerated. It can also be frozen, before baking. If you freeze it, let the lasagna thaw overnight in the refrigerator before baking it, then bake as directed above. If you don't have time to let it thaw, reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees, and bake for an additional half an hour, or until the center is steaming hot.
• This recipe feeds 6 to 8 people.
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(Images: Faith Durand)