I’m a freak for Italian food. Not quite as much as for Mexican, but it’s a pretty close call. Seriously: what’s not to love? Cheese, noodles, fragrant spices, interesting meats. And garlic. Got to have garlic. It’s why vampires hate me so much. And, Twilight notwithstanding, I’m really OK with that.
Back when I was a kid, I thought of lasagna as a sort of spaghetti casserole. It wasn’t until later that I began to see it as its own dish. Either way – it’s got noodles and tomato sauce and cheese; I’m good! What i grew up on was quite a bit different from what I’m going to show you below, however. Mom’s lasagna used no sausage, and substituted cottage cheese (small curd) for the more expensive ricotta. I’m pretty sure she didn’t use onions, and a lot less garlic than I do. And I cen gurantee there are other ingredients missing from her recipe.
But! If you’re going to cook, you might as well make it as tasty as possible. And so I’ve been perfecting this recipe for decades. I’m happy to say it’s now ready for you and for your house full of guests. So let’s go have some fun!
1 lb. Italian sausage
1 lb. lean ground beef
1/2 cup minced white onion
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped or minced
1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes (no salt added)
1 can (12 oz.) tomato paste (no salt added)
1 can (13 oz.)tomato sauce (no salt added)
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup half and half or whole milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons ground dried basil
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning blend
1-1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more for the cooking water
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
12-16 pieces lasagna
2 large eggs
1 pound ricotta cheese
12-16 oz. mozzarella cheese, sliced or shredded
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for optional garnish
Cook sausage, ground beef, onion and garlic in large Dutch oven until all pink is gone. Break up any large clumps of meat with a spatula or other implement of destruction. Drain about half the fat. (See notes.)
Move meat to one side of Dutch oven so you can see part of the bottom of the pan.
Add tomato paste to bottom of pan. Make sure the paste hits the bottom of the pan; don’t just pour it onto the meat. (See notes.)
Add crushed tomatoes (do NOT drain), tomato sauce, half and half and water. Stir everything up so it gets nice and happy.
Add sugar, basil, Italian seasoning, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper and one tablespoon of the parsley. Stir it all up so the ingredients get to know each other. Then, let it simmer for at least an hour (two is better) so that everything gets really happy.
When meat sauce is ready, heat a huge pot of water to boiling. Add a Manly pinch of salt to water, and a little olive oil. Cook pasta two minutes LESS than directed on package. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process, then set aside in single layer on clean surface (such as a baking sheet).
In a large bowl, beat eggs thoroughly. Add the three cheeses, the remaining parsley and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir until well-incorporated. If using sliced mozzarella, leave that out. You’ll layer that separately.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13. Place noodles and filling mixtures close at hand so it’s easier to build your lasagna.
Most recipes tell you to start your layering with meat sauce. I don’t do it quite like that. Instead, I apply a thin layer of sauce to the bottom, doing my best to get only sauce and no meat. Then add a layer of noodles, overlapping slightly. Using a spatula, spread about a third of the cheese mixture over the noodles. If you’re using sliced mozzarella, put a layer on top of cheese mixture. Next layer a third of the meat sauce. Repeat two more times. Put a final layer of noodles over the top and sprinkle generously with Parmesan cheese.
Spray the underside of a piece of aluminum foil with Pam. Tightly seal top of baking dish with foil and bake for thirty minutes. Remove foil and bake another fifteen to twenty minutes, until top is nicely browned and happy.
Let lasagna stand for ten to fifteen minutes to set, or firm up. Serve to individual plates and garnish with a few parsley leaves and some Parmesan.
Let your own taste determine whether you use sausage as part of your meat. I love it, because it adds another layer of flavor. However, some folks think it’s better with just ground beef.
I usually drain about half the fat from the meat. Yes, it’s a little healthier if you drain it all, but it won’t taste as good.
Putting the tomato paste on the bottom of the pan for a minute or two is a trick I learned a while back. This takes the metallic taste away. Don’t ask me how; I just know it works and it’s worth the extra minute it takes to do it this way.
Years ago, I learned that adding a little milk or half and half to a tomato sauce adds richness and flavor. If you prefer, you can use all water, but you’ll lose some taste.
I prefer using shredded Mozzarella but I know a lot of folks that used slices. Get a pound of slices, then split into thirds.
You’ll notice that I use an extra layer of noodles. That’s because I think the proportions work better this way. Feel free to leave out the bottom layer, and begin your layering with meat sauce.
You can prepare the lasagna the day before so you don’t have to deal with it when you may have lots of other things to think about. The first way to do this is to build the lasagna but not bake it at all. Simply bake it the next day. The second way – and the one I prefer – is to bake it for about 40 minutes with the foil on it the entire time. Then, let it sit on the counter to cool to room temperature and place in the fridge for storage. The next day, warm it back up in the oven set at about 250. About a half hour before serving, turn the oven up to 375 and remove foil. Continue to bake another 20 minutes or so, until top is nicely browned and happy. As usual, let it stand for ten minutes or so before serving.
Serve with a nice garden salad and some garlic bread. And a bottle of wine, preferably Italian.
For me, this is an excellent weekend dish, as I can take my sweet time with it. If I want to serve Lasagna on a weeknight, I’ll probably do the simpler Easy Beef Lasagna. But, I’m telling you, this one is really amazing and it gives you yet another reason to
Play with your food!
Did you like this recipe? What recipes would you like to learn? Leave me a comment and tell me your thoughts! (And don’t forget to LIKE this post!) Share it using the tiles below.