No Fuss, No Muss Lasagna
So I saw this recipe for lasagna on the net the other day and enjoyed the author’s comments about how she developed it. I like to read recipes like some people read novels, and the mark of a good cookbook (or blog) to me is one that has a detailed commentary or history about the genesis of the dish. This lasagna looked delicious; the post was full of photos taken throughout the development of the recipe. The problem is, she admitted that it took her an entire day to make this beast. Not only did she make her pasta from scratch (we have all done that…once), but her sauce was from fresh tomatoes (the dude lives in New York. Where did she find “fresh” tomatoes in March?). And it was one of those slow-simmer-for-hours sauces that need frequent attending.
Clearly, this would be an outlier in someone’s cooking adventures for the week. Not one of us has time to devote to a day-long recipe on a frequent basis. But this lasagna recipe did make me think about mine—one that is the polar opposite of the one I just read. You know how with “normal” lasagna you pre-boil the noodles, make a béchamel to go along with the meat sauce, slather it with lots of cheese and bake. It still takes at least an hour of prep, and quite frankly, I find boiling the noodles to be a royal pain. Even if you boil them just a few minutes, they still break and then you have to puzzle together the pieces in the pan and hope it doesn’t fall apart when you slice it in the end.
My recipe uses regular noodles, but I don’t pre-boil. (And yes, I’ve tried the no-boil noodles—they just don’t have the “tooth” I like in my lasagna. I like the rippled edges you get with the regular ones.) So rather than deal with the fuss of precooking, I just make it a day ahead and let time (and the sauciness of the dish) soften them. And yes, I use jarred sauce. (Alas, by March I have used all of my garden tomatoes from my freezer.) When we get a yen for lasagna, my usual M.O. is to make a pan on a Sunday when I’m prepping lunch, cover it well with plastic wrap, and then it’s ready to go into the oven on Monday night when we get home from work. Then all I have to do is make a quick stop at Italian House for some of their great bread, put together a salad and we are good to go.
Are you old school when it comes to lasagna? Make it all from scratch? Please tell me you don’t buy it frozen!
Lisa’s No Fuss Lasagna
1 medium onion, finely minced
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 pound ground beef
½ pound bulk Italian sausage
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1-15 oz container of ricotta cheese (whole milk or part-skim)
1-45 oz jar of your favorite marinara sauce (we like Prego Fresh Mushroom)
1-16 oz package of lasagna noodles
8 oz shredded mozzarella
Sauté the onions in the olive oil with a pinch of salt over medium heat until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes.
Add the beef and sausage and red pepper flakes, and brown the meat breaking it up into small pieces, no larger than ½ inch.
Meanwhile, beat an egg into the ricotta cheese in a small bowl. Set aside.
Reserve 1 cup of the marinara sauce and set aside. When the meat is brown, drain the fat as thoroughly as possible. Return pan to heat and add remaining marinara from the jar. Stir the sauce into the meat—no need to heat through.
Line your pan with parchment paper to make cleanup really easy. (Note about lasagna pans. Lasagna noodles do not fit very well in a 9 x 13 standard pan. They are too long for the 9 inch side and too short for the 13. Ugh! I am lucky that I have a 8x10 pan which is perfect. If you don’t, do your best fitting the noodles in the pan you have.)
Spread the one cup of reserved sauce in the bottom of the pan. Then, using a rubber or an offset spatula “butter” one of the dry lasagna noodle with the ricotta mixture until completely covered. Lay down in the pan and repeat with the noodles until you have a single layer. Spoon over approximately a cup of meat sauce to cover the noodles, then top with about a quarter of the mozzarella cheese.
Repeat these steps, building the layers of the lasagna. The number of layers depends on the size of your pan. Reserve the last quarter of mozzarella for the top, to be added just prior to baking. So the top layer of your lasagna at the end of the prep state should be the sauce.
Cover the pan tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 24 hours.
To bake: preheat oven to 350 degrees, remove plastic wrap on the pan and replace it with aluminum foil. Bake for 45 minutes. Then, remove the foil, add the reserved cheese to the top and bake for an additional 30 minutes. Let sit for about 5 minutes before slicing.