For as long as I’ve known my husband, I’ve never made lasagna.
I’m the cook of our relationship. I’m guessing you’ve assumed as much by now. He’s easy to please when it comes to food and doesn’t often request certain meals. However, he has requested lasagna and, until now, I’ve never been able to bring myself to make it.
I think it’s because we ate so much lasagna in my household growing up. We ate all types of lasagna from the Stouffer’s variety with the sweet, orange sauce and cottage cheese curds to pans my mom made herself. It probably appeared in our dinner rotation once a week. While I don’t remember not liking it as a child, I haven’t wanted to make it as an adult. Heck, I worked at Broders’ Cucina Italiana, a lovely Italian deli in Minneapolis, MN during my first year out of college and didn’t even eat their lasagna.
The tides began to turn this past winter when I found myself enjoying a version my cousin recently made at family gathering. And finally, when my husband inquired about homemade lasagna at the start of an especially busy work week, I finally decided to honor his request. I adapted Lidia Bastianich’s recipe for Italian-American lasagna and made a few changes so that it was simpler to make.
Now that I’ve embraced lasagna again, it’s earned its rightful place in our dinner rotation. The leftovers were especially welcome at the end of a work day, and they tasted as satisfying as the first day.
A Cook’s Notes
For just the two of us, I divided the recipe in half and baked the lasagna in a 11 X 7 pan. It made six servings that we enjoyed over the busy week. Much of the lasagna-building process is up to your discretion. Build each layer as thick or thin as you’d like. For example, I went lighter on the cheese. Lidia recommends letting the finished lasagna sit on the counter for a few hours and reheating the squares when it’s ready to serve. I found one hour sufficient and served it from the pan with the extra sauce. There’s really no wrong way to build a lasagna. Just do whatever fits best for you.
I served our lasagna with my favorite garlic bread and a tossed green salad.
Lasagna With Meat Sauce
Adapted from Lidia Bastianich’s recipe for Italian-American Lasagna.
11 X 7 baking dish
Lasagna noodles (About 3/4 of a pound)
1/2 pound ricotta cheese
1/2 lb. mozzarella, thinly sliced (I used one small ball of fresh mozzarella)
Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 pound lean ground beef
1/2 pound Italian sausage
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 Tablespoons tomato paste
2 bay leaves
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
About 1/2 cup of dry red or white wine
35 oz. of crushed tomatoes
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Pinch of sugar
To begin, start the sauce. It will taste better the longer it simmers.
- Saute the onion in olive oil with a pinch of salt until the edges start to brown.
- Add the ground beef and sausage and saute until browned. Remove any extra fat drippings.
- Add the garlic and briefly cook until fragrant but not browned.
- Add the tomato paste and cook for a few minutes.
- Add the bay leaves and oregano. Try to remember to remove the bay leaves before assembling the lasagna.
- Deglaze the pan with wine and scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pan into the sauce.
- Add the crushed tomatoes, salt and black pepper to taste, and a pinch or two of sugar.
- Allow the sauce to simmer for as long as you are able, or until it turns rustier in color. This could take 2-3 hours. If you don’t have time to simmer the sauce for hours, it will still be fine. Longer cooking lessens the tinny taste from the canned tomatoes. You could also substitute your favorite jarred tomato sauce.
- Keep tasting the sauce while it simmers and adjust the seasonings accordingly. You may want to add more salt, pepper, sugar, and/or wine.
- If the sauce becomes too reduced, add water.
To prepare the other layers
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a generous dash of salt and small drizzle of olive oil.
- Cook half of the noodles at a time until they are pliable but undercooked (about seven minutes).
- Shock the noodles in ice water.
- When the noodles are completely cool, place them on a sheet pan and rub with a light coat of olive oil so they don’t stick together. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
- Whisk together the ricotta and egg. Season with salt.
To assemble the lasagna:
- Heat oven to 350-375 degrees F.
- Ladle enough sauce into the bottom of a pan to generously cover the bottom of the dish.
- Layer three noodles into the dish, lengthwise. It’s OK if they slightly overlap. Trim a little off the edge for a better fit.
- Ladle a thick layer of sauce over the noodles. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
- Add a noodle layer.
- Spread the noodles with the ricotta-egg mixture. Use your best judgement about how much cheese to spread. You may want to use less than the full amount.
- Add a noodle layer.
- Add the sliced mozzarella cheese. If it’s fresh mozzarella, sprinkle it with a little salt. Cover with sauce and sprinkle Parmesan cheese.
- Add a noodle layer.
- Cover with sauce and sprinkle more Parmesan cheese.
- Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Uncover. If the top looks a little dry, add more sauce and Parmesan cheese. Bake for 15 more minutes.
- Allow the lasagna to sit before cutting into squares. Serve with any extra sauce.
My Favorite Garlic Bread
French bread, split
Herbs, whatever you have on hand. I used dried basil and marjoram.
- Combine butter and a little olive oil in a small dish. Add minced garlic, herbs, salt, pepper, and a pinch of cayenne.
- Heat until the mixture is spreadable.
- Spread on both cut sides of the bread. Put the bread back together and wrap in foil. Bake at 350 degrees F. until heated through.
- Cut and serve.