I’m actually not a very good cook – I prefer baking. But I found something I can do that always turns out delicious and makes me look like a rad cook.
This is our favorite homemade from-scratch lasagna recipe. But I’m saying from the outset, this is an “intermediate to difficult” recipe. I’ve made it probably 4 or 5 times now, but even this time I ran into a snag. One of the main reasons people don’t like making lasagna from scratch is because it requires every single one of your pots and pans. But I’m going to show you a couple short cuts and even tell you my secret weapon! Maybe you can incorporate these tricks into your favorite homemade lasagna recipe even if you don’t like mine.
This recipe is adapted from Ina Garten and serves 8.
Here’s your cast of characters:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 onion)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 lbs Italian sausage
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes in tomato puree
1 6oz can tomato paste
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided (or 1 tbsp of dry)
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves (or 2 tbsp of dry)
Ground black pepper
1/2 lb lasagna noodles
15 oz ricotta cheese
3-4 oz creamy goat cheese (optional)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus 1/4 cup for sprinkling
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 lb fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
If you’re making this all at once, plan to start at least an hour and a half ahead of time and pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees (or you can make it ahead of time and refrigerate or freeze the assembled unbaked lasagna until you’re ready to eat it). Also, before you turn on the heat, go ahead and chop your fresh parsley and basil (if you’re using fresh) and your onion and garlic, but don’t beat the egg yet (I’ll show you a trick). Now, break out the secret weapon:
Run your tap water until it gets as hot as possible. Fill a long skinny tupperware like this with the hot water and throw your lasagna noodles into it. Now cover it, and they are “cooking” while you prep the rest! No extra pots! No precooking noodles! Hurray!
The reason I say the tupperware is a secret weapon is because the original recipe calls for this method to be done in a bowl. Well, unless you have a giant bowl, you’re going to be stuck either breaking up your noodles to get it all submerged or flipping your noodles halfway through. With this size container, you can just drop ’em in and forget it, like so:
Now start cookin’. Heat the olive oil in a large (10-12 inch) skillet. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes over medium-low heat, until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the sausage and cook over medium-low heat, breaking it up with a fork, for 10-15 minutes, or until no longer pink. Drain off some of the fat rendered by the sausage (this is a meat-lovers lasagna). Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 tbps of the fresh parsley (or 1/2 tbsp dry), the basil, 1 and 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper. Now taste it and adjust your spices (Side note: this is an important step. This is where I discovered that sea salt and kosher salt are NOT substitutable in a one-to-one ratio. Don’t do this, but if you do accidently over salt your sauce, just add another whole can of crushed tomatoes and double the sauce. Use half for the lasagna and freeze the other half for spaghetti later. Thanks mom, problem solved). Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, until thickened.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl combine the ricotta, goat cheese, 1 cup of parmesan, the remaining 2 tbsp of parsley (or 1/2 tbsp dry), 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper. Now crack the egg in your empty ricotta tub like this:
Now you can beat it without dirtying yet another dish before you add it to the cheese mixture. Brilliant. If you haven’t already, slice up the fresh mozzarella as thin as you possibly can – this makes it easier to distribute evenly. And lastly, drain off the water in your noodle tupperware.
You’re now ready to set up your assembly line! I arrange it like so:
Ladle 1/3 of the sauce into a 9 x 12 x 2.5 in rectangular baking dish, spreading the sauce over the bottom of the dish (no need to grease the dish). Then add the layers as follows:
Half the pasta
Half the ricotta (spread onto the noodles)
Half the mozzarella
1/3 of the sauce
Rest of the pasta
Rest of the ricotta (spread onto the noodles)
Rest of the mozzarella
Last 1/3 of the sauce
Sprinkle 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese on top (or more if you’re like me). And now you can either freeze/refrigerate or bake it for 30 min until the sauce is bubbling.
And now my friends, I must confess that I made this for a family gathering and was so engulfed by all the activity that I committed the gravest of all food-blogger sins: I forgot to take a picture of the final product. But since I’m not solely a food-blogger hopefully you will forgive me and still enjoy the tips and the few meager pictures I’ve provided. Imagine, if you will, a steaming, cheesy, bubbling casserole dish at the center of the dinner table. When you cut into it you see delicious, gooey layers and when you finally work that first piece out, it’s trailed by cheesy remains stretching thin and finally breaking off onto your plate with a slap of tomato sauce. The fragrance is like a savory piece of heaven and your children/family members/friends all prostrate themselves at your feet in gratitude for the culinary masterpiece you have created.