This may or may not amuse you, but it certainly amused me, since I don’t recall my grandmother EVER making lasagna. So, I’m chuckling as I type this. I don’t make lasagna often. Truthfully, although it turns out delicious and it is one of the most flexible casseroles ever, it’s a lot of work to make.
I take the middle of the road when I make lasagna. I used San Georgio Lasagna noodles, not the ones you don’t have to cook, but I don’t go with fresh noodles either. I use combinations of meats and veggies, and they vary with my mood on any given day. What I’m trying to say, and not very well, is that there are some standard proportions, but within that you can make your own choices, and I will make note of that.
There is no firm and fast rule as to how many layers should be in your lasagna. So, basically, you’ll layer the noodles, sauce and cheese layers, until you reach the top of your pan, or run out of layers. I used 4 layers of noodles, 4 layers of meat sauce, 3 layers of ricotta cheese mix, and topped with an additional cup of mixed cheeses, mozzarella, asiago, parmesan (I bought a Sargento mix).
One last thing – two of the possibilities with lasagna, are two that I don’t use. The first is that you can use low fat cottage cheese instead of ricotta. This is not a bad option; I just prefer the texture of ricotta. Low fat cottage cheese will mix and melt the same way as ricotta and will even help keep it moist. I just prefer ricotta. The 2nd is, that in parts of Italy where this fabulous dish did originate, the cheese is more of an afterthought and the holy trinity of the dish, instead of being cheese, meat sauce and noodles, is actually, bechamel, meat sauce and noodles, with cheese on top. This will make the dish much lighter and your layers thinner, so if you like a lot of pasta layers, this is another option. That said, this is my lasagna recipe which incorporates a variety of meats and cheeses, layered with delicious pasta and sauce.
INGREDIENTS FOR TWO 11 x 13″ Glass Casserole Lasagnas:
FOR THE MEAT SAUCE:
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 2 1/2# Meat – Including but not limited to: ground beef, meatloaf mix, bulk sausage (sweet, hot or a combination), or ground turkey. Today I used 1# of ground turkey mixed with 1 1/2# meatloaf mix
- 1 medium onion, diced fine
- 1 carrot, diced fine
- 1 stalk celery, diced fine
- 1 yellow pepper, seeded and diced fine
- NOTE: I used my mini food processor to chop the veggies-you can also add zucchini, and/or mushrooms if you’d like.
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
- 3, 15oz cans of tomato sauce
- 6 oz. tomato paste
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 tbsp. dried basil
- 1 tbsp. dried oregano
- 1/2 to 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 1 C dry white wine (This can be omitted but it gave the dish a fabulous, rich flavor)
I’m going to apologize now. I took pictures of browned meat and veggies, then of the sauce, but for whatever reason, they didn’t come out, and it’s too late to go back. LOL
NOTE: You can skip all the tomato products and use your favorite brand of marinara sauce as well, though I would still recommend the veggies, red pepper flakes, basil, oregano and wine.
Start by adding 2 tbsp. olive oil to a 2 to 3 qt. pot. Add all the chopped vegetables, garlic, red pepper flakes, and cook on medium high heat until the onions begin to weep. Then add the meat, browning and breaking it up into small pieces, as it cooks.
Drain off any excess liquid using either a baster or by putting a lid on the pot, set it slightly askew and pour off the fat into a container (do not pour it down your drain please).
When the meat is browned, add all the tomato products, the salt, basil, oregano and white wine. Stir it, then turn the heat down to medium low, cover and let it simmer for about 20 minutes. Before you use the sauce in the casserole, you’ll want to taste it and correct for salt, black pepper, if you want to add it, and, if you like sweeter, this would be the time you could add sugar, 1 tsp. will be sufficient for the entire pot.
FOR THE NOODLES:
- Bring a large pot filled with water to a boil. Add your noodles and cook about 1/2 the recommended time. I boiled the noodles 6 minutes. Remove from the pan using tongs and lay flat on a cookie sheet which has been sprayed with PAM. Do not layer or they will glomb together and you won’t be able to lay them into the pan.
- You can do them in batches as necessary, but you will want 16 noodles per pan, as I made it, for this recipe so you can overlap the edges on each layer.
- It’s always wise to cook extra noodles so you don’t run out. You can always use them in other pasta dishes. Just remember, they are not fully cooked, so cutting them into pieces and using them in soup, or PA Dutch Chicken in a pot, would be great options.
FOR THE CHEESE LAYER:
- 32 oz container of ricotta (I used low-fat)
- 4 C shredded mozzarella (I used low-fat)
- 1/2 C grated parmesan
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 12 to 15 oz. chopped spinach. I used frozen, defrosted it in the microwave and squeezed out as much liquid as possible. I actually made 2 x 12 oz packages but decided 1 1/2 pkgs. was enough. I just put the left over in the fridge and we will use it in omelets.
Blend it all together and set aside.
NOW WE WILL ASSEMBLE THE LASAGNAS:
- Using a little butter and a paper towel, butter the bottom and sides of your casseroles. I’ve never used PAM, but I’m guessing it would work just fine.
- Using a ladle, add tomato sauce to the bottom of each dish. You need about 1/2 C; you just want to coat it.
- Layer 4 noodles, side by side in the bottom of each casserole, overlapping the edges a little.
- Using two tablespoons make 8 dollops of the cheese mix, then carefully using the back of the spoon, spread it out over the noodles.
- Spread some of the meat sauce over the cheese mix.
- Now you’ll repeat two more times, noodles, cheese mix and sauce
- Your 4th layer will be noodles, meat sauce and 1 C of additional cheeses. Again, I just used 1 C of Sargento’s 5 Italian cheese mix.
At this point, you can cook it immediately to eat, cook partially and refrigerate, or freeze uncooked.
- To cook immediately – spray foil with PAM, cover the dish, and put into a preheated 425 degree oven for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes until it is bubbly and browned on top. Set aside to rest for 15 minutes before serving.
- To partially cook – spray foil with PAM, cover the dish and put into a preheated 425 degree oven for 30 minutes. Take out, cook and refrigerate. When you’re read to finish and serve, the next day or two, bring the dish to room temperature, then put into a cool oven, turn on to 425 still covered, heat for 30 minutes (including the time it takes for your oven to reach temp), then uncover for an additional 15 minutes. It will be bubbly and browned. Set aside and let it rest before serving.
- If you freeze it uncooked, you MUST defrost it to keep your glass dish from breaking. Leave it in the fridge at least overnight, though it will probably take a couple of days due to how dense lasagna is. Cook the way you would for a partially cooked lasagna. Put the dish in a cool oven, turn on to 425 and cook, covered 30 to 40 minutes, then uncover and cook an additional 15 minutes until it is bubbly and browned on top. Again, set it aside to rest for 15 minutes before serving.
This is a partially cooked lasagna. I will post final pictures tomorrow when I cook it it, and also when I slice it and serve it so you can see the finished product. I frozen the 2nd one uncooked so my son will have it while we are away (yes, I put the cooking instructions on a label on the foil for him).
Here’s the finished product, browned and bubbly, sliced and from the side so you can see the beautiful layers.