Lasagna! Seems you either enjoy making it or dread the thought. Some find it relatively simple to make, others cringe, thinking of the effort it takes. Everyone seems to love the finished product though!
Unfortunately, I am not one of those people that feel it’s a breeze to make. I have been cooking for many years, and have found some dishes challenging and simply frustrating to make. Lasagna is one meal that I think twice about before I attempt the process of making one. The problem is no doubt my own fault, as I complicate things by digging out three or four recipes, then take ideas from one recipe and this ingredient and that out of another. By the time I have read over the recipes several times and figured out how I want to proceed, I am mentally tired and have lost the desire to make one. I desperately needed a good go to recipe!
A friend was recently mentioning that she makes meals ahead for dinners with family or friends. One dish she makes is lasagna, and I can attest to the fact that it is very good. Who doesn’t like a well put together lasagna, with noodles, and a meaty tomato sauce, layered with oozing cheese. The fact that this person always has family over for meals got me thinking maybe she was onto a good thing.
Sometimes I hesitate to have last minute guests over because I can’t think on the spot about what to have, and it certainly wouldn’t be lasagna, which for me would involve hours to assemble and bake. Add to that making a dessert and cleaning the house, no, no, can’t do it. I am not the queen of multitasking anymore! I’m exhausted thinking about it! I needed to come up with a solution to fix this problem.
With the encouragement of my culinary sidekick (who so sweetly volunteered to help me figure this out, plus help out in the kitchen), we set out to make a tasty lasagna. Do you think he was excited about the possibility of lasagna being a regular on the family menu?
Our goal was to make a delicious lasagne that could be assembled in the least amount of time and then popped into the refrigerator or freezer, brought out and baked on the day we decided to have family or friends over.
Well, so far we have made five lasagnas, with some being frozen and then baked, and some made the day ahead and set overnight in the refrigerator. My hubby and I actually had fun working together in the kitchen. I also learned a few things along the way.
I discovered that blending cottage cheese is a great alternative to buying expensive ricotta cheese.
Use good quality lasagna noodles. I haven’t tried making this with Italian pasta noodles, or no bake, but I did test it out with some different brands. I found the better quality noodles held their shape the best.
Also, by purchasing bulk sausage meat (mine was frozen), instead of having to remove the casings off the sausages, things go a lot faster.
Use a more flavourful cheese such as Monterey Jack instead of mozzarella with the cottage cheese mixture. A bit of white cheddar cheese thrown in is great. The mozzarella is saved for the last layer of the lasagna, as it’s a good melting cheese.
If not using your homemade tomato sauce, purchase a good quality pasta sauce where water is not the first ingredient. Try to find one without sugar, or at least not the second or third ingredient.
Use a full bodied red wine for best flavour.
Make sure the lasagna has time to rest a bit after it is taken out of the oven, or you will have lasagna soup. This happened to me years ago when I made lasagna for the first time.
I am happy to report that I have finally found a lasagne recipe that will be my go to homemade lasagna, one that I can feel confident will succeed. Give your momma a big hug boys! It cut a lot of time in the kitchen and tastes great!
Here is how I made my lasagna. I know many people have definite ideas about making this classic dish, with some using a béchamel sauce and others ricotta, however this is how it worked best for us.
I am not a purist when it comes to cooking, I actually love to change things up a bit to enhance flavours or to keep my interest in a recipe. That’s how I have always worked in my kitchen. Unfortunately I never wrote down some of my greatest hits over the years and I am running into problems now. While I don’t get to work on this blog as often as I would like, it has forced me to become Debbie’s test kitchen, finally getting some of these recipes from my head and onto paper (or I should say, computer screen).
- MEAT SAUCE:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 onion finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 red pepper finely chopped
- 2 cups 227 g mushrooms chopped
- 1/2 lb. 227 g ground sausage meat *
- 1 lb. 454 g lean ground beef
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt and black pepper
- 3 cups 650-700 ml tomato sauce (either homemade tomato sauce or purchased pasta sauce)*
- 1 cup red wine*
- CHEESE SPINACH FILLING:
- 3 cups cottage cheese (I used 2% 750 g)
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups shredded cheese*
- 10 oz. frozen and thawed spinach or 1 lb. fresh spinach
- NOODLES AND CHEESE:
- 15 dried lasagna noodles*
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 cup mozzarella
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese finely grated
- Basil leaves or finely chopped parsley for garnish
For THE MEAT SAUCE:
Heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion. Sauté for three or four minutes until softened but not browned. Stir in garlic, red pepper and mushrooms and cook for another three minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from stove and pour into a medium sized bowl. Place pan back on stove and add the sausage meat. Cook until it loses its raw colour, breaking up any larger lumps if necessary. If there is an excess amount of oil left over from the sausage meat, drain into a small container. Add the ground beef, oregano, basil, salt and pepper and break meat into smaller pieces. Cook until the meat loses its raw colour but has not browned, about four minutes. Stir in pasta sauce and red wine and simmer on low heat (still is bubbling a little) for 20 minutes while you prepare the cheese filling and boil water for the noodles.
Thaw the frozen spinach and drain well, squeezing out the excess moisture. Chop finely. If using fresh spinach, rinse and place in bow. Microwave on high for 2 minutes, or until just wilted (there should be liquid in the bottom of bowl). Let cool for a minute or two, then drain well and chop finely. Set aside. Pour cottage cheese into large bowl. Add the eggs and shredded cheese. With an immersion blender (I haven't tried this using a food processor), blend until smooth. Add the drained, chopped spinach and with a spoon, stir until well combined.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.F. Make sure the rack is in the middle of the oven. Use a 13 x 9 x 2.5 inch baking dish.
Cook the lasagne noodles in a large pot of boiling water to which 1 tablespoon oil has been added. Cook for six minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water until you can pick them up easily.
Spread 1/2 cup of the meat sauce in the bottom of the dish ( it will be sparse). Cover with four of the noodles. Trim if necessary to fit pan.
Spread 2 cups of meat sauce over the first layer of noodles. Cover meat sauce with 1 1/4 cups of the cheese mixture and spread out .
Add a new layer of lasagna noodles, overlapping them slightly. Spread 2 cups of the meat sauce, then 1 1/4 cups of the cheese sauce.
Repeat layering of the noodles, meat and cheese sauce twice more. This will be the last of the meat sauce.
Place the last three lasagna noodles on the top layer (I find using only three noodles instead of four makes it easier to cut lengthwise after cooking as you can follow the lines), covering with the remaining cheese filling, spread over the noodles. Sprinkle the 1 cup of mozzarella and 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese over the cheese filling.
Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until heated through and bubbling around the edges.
Let stand for at least 15 minutes before serving. Garnish with basil or parsley.
TO MAKE AHEAD:
After completing all the steps above except baking, wrap the dish in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil and refrigerate for up to 2 days, or freeze . If frozen, the lasagna must be thawed in the refrigerator ahead of baking, which can be done the night before you plan to bake it. Baking time might be slightly longer if frozen.
TO REHEAT COOKED, LEFTOVER LASAGNA:
I find the microwave reheats leftover lasagna the best and keeps it the most moist.
Ground sausage meat works saves time from having to cut the casings off regular sausages.
If using a store bought pasta sauce make sure it is good quality for best flavour.
Use a bold red wine instead of a lighter one.
A mixture of white cheese such as Monterey Jack or cheddar is the best flavour when blending with the cottage cheese mixture.
Use a good quality brand of lasagna noodles, as they won't break apart as much when cooked.