Although I learned to make lasagna from the Queen of the Best Lasagna on Planet Earth (and you know who you are, Francie) I certainly do not claim to be a pretender to that throne. I've made lasagna for hundreds of people, literally, I mean hundreds, I'm not just exaggerating for effect, and it still never turns out quite the same way twice. But, therein is what I love about this recipe: it's infinitely adaptable and can be complex or simple according to what you have in the pantry or what you're in the mood for, including how much time you want to spend on prep. For starters, you can use a good flavored ready-made sauce if you have a favorite (mine is probably Prego Traditional, doctored up with a little sugar, garlic, and extra oregano). Or you can make your own sauce in about 30 minutes, easy and delicious, just takes a little longer. Use meat or don't. You can substitute the meat layers with sliced zucchini and yellow squashes, thin strips of red bell peppers and onions, mushroom slices or whatever the garden yields. So, if you're making sauce, and you really should go for it at least once to see what a difference it makes, start by pulverizing a big onion in the food processor. Really mulch it down so the pieces will disappear into the sauce.Saute that in a 1-2 tbs olive oil, just enough to cover the bottom of a deep heavy pot.
Lasagna Cheese Mixture
This blend turned out fairly thick, even though I didn't use all of the grated cheese. A few tablespoons of sour cream will make it better and smoother. Salt and Pepper it and give it a taste to see how good it is.
When the sauce has been bubbling for about 30 minutes it should be darker and richer looking and tasting good enough to eat straight from the pot without another thing. If you can give it a whole hour it will be even better. Otherwise, we're ready to start layering up one fabbo dish. Ladle just enough sauce into the meat to wet it down, then add 1 cup of water (this is for the pasta) and add a handful of Romano if you want to really take it the next level.
|Add that handful of Romano too!|
Spray a 9 x 13 dish really well and ladle on the plain sauce to cover the bottom of the pan. If you can't find the Barilla noodles it is OK to use another brand. Barilla is the best because they're thin and flat. Other noodles make for too much thick pasta and not enough filling. Either way, you don't need to boil any of them first. They'll soak up all that water you've been adding to sauce and meat. So, the layering order is: plain sauce, pasta, half the meat sauce, pasta, cheese mixture, pasta, more meat, pasta, then plain sauce. Nine layers, that's right, your friends will taste this and a close their eyes involuntarily with delight.
|When layering the pasta you can just snap it apart to get the right size to fill the pan completely.|
|After the meat sauce more pasta and then add all the cheese. It's easiest to drop it on in big blobs and just sort of push it around the pan with the back of the spoon. Don't raise the spoon! You'll end up ruining your pasta layer.|
|Now more pasta and a second meat layer on top of that.|
Now, since you'll want some garlic bread to go with this, let's go for the ultimate garlic-y accompaniment.
Throw in one of these to cook alongside your lasagna-licious dish:
Roasted GarlicSlice a bit of the top off a full head of garlic and dribble a little olive oil over it, close the foil up loosely around it and seal the top. When it has roasted those garlic cloves will squeeze right out creamy and rich and a little sweeter than they started out. Perfect spread for the crusty Italian bread. This stuff is so good I often keep a roasted head in the fridge to use instead of raw garlic in all sorts of dishes.
THE SHOPPING LIST:
1 Large Onion
2 Heads of Garlic
2-3 T Italian Seasoning
2-3 T Sugar
29 oz can Tomato Sauce
29 oz can Tomato Puree
18 oz can Tomato Paste
16 oz Ricotta Cheese
2-3 oz sour cream or whipped cream cheese
6-8 oz Parmesan
8-16 oz Romano
8-16 oz mozzarella
2 Boxes Barilla Lasagne sheets/noodles
1 lb ground beef or Italian bulk sausage (optl)
Variety of veg if not using meat (zucchini, yellow squash, red bell pepper, onions, carrots, mushrooms)
1/2 pint heavy cream (also optl)