Thursday, March 24, 2011


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.

Add a tablespoon of Italian Seasoning and 2-3 tablespoons of sugar to the onions and stir just a few minutes. The sugar will melt and the herbs will really flavor-intensify with a little heat. Crush a few garlic cloves and add for about one minute only so they don't begin to brown and become bitter.

Now add the tomato products. We're not cooking down raw tomatoes. I'm just not that dedicated. The combination of tomato sauce, puree, and paste creates the perfect flavor and consistency. I like Muir Glen Organic but couldn't find that brand in Paste. Hunt's or Red Gold are both suitable. Be sure to add one can of water also.
Whisk the water through to loosen up all that thick paste and blend the seasonings in well. Lower the heat as far down as you can get it. It will splatter everywhere as it slowly bubbles if you don't add the lid, but leave it ajar for steam to escape so the sauce can cook down some and concentrate those flavors.
While this is bubbling along there are lasagna chores to be done. Set the oven to 350 now. Stir the sauce from time to time, scraping that extra special part bubbling around the edges so that it rejoins the rest. Start browning a pound of ground beef or ground Italian sausage (if you'd like more spice) and let's talk about cheese.

Lasagna Cheese Mixture

For the filling, think 3-4 cheeses. At least one needs to be fairly creamy, like ricotta or even cottage cheese, as the base. Use the most of this one - two cups. A second creamy cheese like, oh, Cream Cheese, isn't bad, or you can go all out with some fancy stuff, like this Boursin, which I couldn't resist because I was thinking about all the extra flavor from the herbs in it. Finally, always add at least 1/2 cup of Parmesan and maybe an additional grated strong cheese. This time I'm using a blend or Parm, Asiago, and Romano.
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.
Almost there! Before you top the second round of meat sauce with pasta, throw on several big handfuls of Romano or mozzarella . The last topping is plain sauce. UNLESS you'd like a creamy finish and some totally unnecessary fat that just makes this extra delicious. To this end,  I sometime like to mix 1/2 cup or so of heavy cream into 2 cups or so of the red sauce for this last layer. You should still have more red sauce left over and I use that to ladle over the cut pieces of Lasagna just before serving.

I made this in a 9x13 metal pan that is deeper than most glass 9x13's and it is very full. Use the deepest one you have or you may have to skip the second layer of meat sauce. Before baking this I top it with a layer of parchment or wax paper and then a layer of aluminum foil. NO aluminum foil directly on that tomato sauce or you will have a disgusting tasting reaction going on! Bake 30 minutes at 350 covered like this and then another 30 or so uncovered. Top it with more mozzarella when you remove the covering at the half way mark.
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 Garlic

Slice 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.


1 Large Onion
2 Heads of Garlic
2-3 T Italian Seasoning
Olive Oil
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)

1 comment:

  1. I never thought of Boursin! I love that stuff. I have used cream cheese similarly before but, I'll try that next time!


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