Lasagna Simplified

I admit I used to shy away from lasagna recipes. I had loads of excuses for not making one of my favorite comfort foods: I didn’t have the standard-size 9″x13″ pan, and putting all the layers together seemed too complicated and time-consuming. Instead, I made ravioli bakes, skillet lasagnas, and pastas with ragu and dollops of ricotta. They all had the flavors of lasagna, but it just wasn’t the same without the layers of pasta, the strata of noodles. Then I found a lasagna recipe that seemed simple enough. It was so easy, I made it again and again. The last time I looked up the recipe, I couldn’t find it. So I’m trying to recreate it from memory.

This recipe calls for 6 lasagna noodles, but I have made it using only 4 noodles, cutting down on the rest of the ingredients. I have also made the recipe as it is written, cramming it all into my smaller-than-standard-size baking pan. In place of the ground beef, you may substitute Italian sausage or use a mix of meats. I have also made a vegetarian version with a bag of frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry. Lasagna, this recipe being no exception, lends itself well to variation and experimentation. Cut down on the ricotta if you think there’s too much of it. If you cannot conceive of lasagna without bechamel sauce, then make your own sauce and add it to the dish. Or cut the ricotta out altogether. If you are one of those people who prefer cottage cheese in their lasagna, then substitute it for the ricotta layer. I have even heard of people skipping the boiling of the noodles: they claim doubling up on the tomato sauce is enough to ensure that the dry noodles cook completely in the oven. Feel free to experiment on your own.

Ingredients:

  • 6 dry lasagna noodles
  • 12 ounces ground beef
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 cups or one 15-ounce can of tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning or 1 teaspoon each of basil, oregano, and thyme
  • salt
  • ground black pepper
  • 2 cups or one 15-ounce container of ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup grated or shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Brown the ground beef and drain off the fat. Saute onion until tender, add garlic and cook for a minute or two. If the browned beef was removed from the pot, add it back in, along with tomato sauce and Italian seasoning. Let simmer for 15 minutes.

3. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Salt and cook noodles according to package directions. Drain the hot water away, run the noodles under cold water, drain again, and set aside.

4. In a bowl, mix the beaten egg, ricotta, Parmesan cheese, and ground black pepper.

5. When the meat sauce is done simmering, cover the bottom of the lasagna pan with a layer of this sauce. Put down 3 cooked noodles, trimming and overlapping to fit. Overlapping the noodles will help keep them from slipping and sliding when you spread half of the ricotta mixture over the noodles. After the ricotta mixture, lay on more of the meat sauce. Sprinkle half of the mozzarella over this. Repeat layers: noodles, ricotta mixture, meat sauce, ending with a layer of mozzarella.

5. If you don’t want the lasagna to brown too fast, cover the pan with aluminum foil before putting it in the oven. To keep the covering from sticking to the cheeses on top, apply cooking spray to the underside of the foil before covering the pan. Remove the foil near the end of cooking to brown the top if desired. Bake for about half an hour. Wait 10 minutes before cutting into it.

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