This winter seems like it is never going to end. It has been cold and damp making us crave traditional comfort foods, deep flavors developed with slow cooking. Today’s Classic Meat Lasagna has kept The Artist and me well fed for several days, helping us stay warm and dry without having to make trips to the grocery store.
I love to make recipes that can be made ahead, frozen in individual servings for later meals, and are not too complicated. While the recipe for this classic meat lasagna may seem long, the individual components can easily be made ahead and the casserole assembled a day later. And like so many dishes, this lasagna actually tastes better on the second day! It gives the flavors time to meld and be fully absorbed by the pasta.
I decided to make a meat version with Italian sausage and it was filling and delicious. The sausage adds a lot more flavor than the more commonly used ground beef. You can use either one or a combination of the two if you prefer. If you want to make a vegetarian version, use regular marinara sauce and add sliced and lightly sauteed vegetables as extra layers on top of the ricotta cheese mixture. This will make your lasagna more substantial and filling. Zucchini, summer squash, mushrooms, eggplant, etc. are all good choices.
This is my gluten-free version and thanks to Pastificio La Rosa Gluten-Free pasta, it has perfect texture and the pasta sheets stood up to multiple re-heatings without becoming gummy! This line is the best GF pasta we’ve found so far with the blend of rice and corn flours balancing each other and giving a very satisfying texture and flavor.
If you don’t need to eat gluten-free, you can use any lasagna noodles or pasta sheets you like. Follow the package directions for prepping before assembling the casserole. Professional cooks use pasta sheets that do not have the wavy edges to make dishes like this. They lay flat for perfectly compacted layers that make the easiest cutting and serving.
When you are reheating individual servings, microwave in 30 second bursts, letting it rest about 10 seconds between each one. We found that 3 or 4 sets of 30 seconds got the lasagna heated all the way to the center. If you want to reheat this in the oven be sure you cover it to retain the moisture!
After years of drought, we are in the middle of the “Pineapple Express”, a river of storms that form near the Hawaiian Islands and travel across the Pacific before slamming into the West Coast. They bring a lot of tropical moisture with them, giving us one of the deepest snow packs in the Sierras in decades. Our reservoirs are nearly all filled again thank heavens, but now we have to worry about too much water.
Thankfully we have a week of dry weather coming up before the next series of storms. We’ll hit the stores, restock our supplies, and I’ll have time to get some more fun recipes made for you guys!
Have a terrific weekend!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
Make the lasagna, let it rest overnight in the refrigerator (covered), then cut into serving squares. If you wrap each one tightly in plastic wrap and then a layer of foil, you can freeze these and pull them out whenever you want a quick and delicious homemade meal.
I rarely pre-cook lasagna noodles anymore. I just make sure the sauce I use is a little on the soupy side and the noodles will absorb the moisture they need from the sauce. I get a sturdier lasagna this way and it holds up to reheating well.
The Pastificio La Rosa gluten-free pasta can be found in some grocery stores – check the website for sites in your area. If your stores don’t carry it, feel free to use your favorite gluten-free brand such as Barilla.
- Meat Sauce
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 large yellow onions, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch dice
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 lb bulk Italian sausage (remove from casings if using links)
- 2 large cloves garlic, smashed, peeled, and minced
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 tbsp dried oregano
- 3 to 4 (28-ounce) containers chopped or strained tomatoes (I like Pomi brand)
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup red wine, or more water
- 4 to 5 stems of fresh basil, leaves stripped off and chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- Cheese Mixture
- 1-3/4 cups (15 oz, 425g) ricotta cheese (or more if you want)
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 tsp Kosher or fine sea salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 to 3 tbsp milk or water, if needed
- 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh basil
- Lasagna Assembly
- 1-1/2 (16-ounce) boxes lasagna noodles, gluten-free if needed
- Olive oil
- 1 lb mozzarella cheese, shredded, optional
- 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 6 to 7 basil leaves, cut into chiffonade
- Make the Meat Sauce: Coat a the bottom of a large Dutch oven with olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the onions, season generously with salt, and stir to coat with the olive oil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until softened. Add the sausage, breaking it up as it cooks so there are no large clumps. (I use a spatula and chop the meat as it cooks - this breaks up the clumps easily and efficiently.) Cook until the sausage is fully cooked through. Add the garlic, tomato paste, and oregano, and cook for another minute, stirring frequently.
- Pour the tomatoes into the pot with the sausage and onions. Stir in the water, wine, basil, and bay leaf. Season generously with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook at a simmer for about 1 hour until the sauce is thick, tasting occasionally and adjusting seasonings as needed. If the sauce is too acidic, sprinkle with a pinch of sugar.
- This sauce is delicious served right away or store in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Freeze for longer storage. You can use it to make the lasagne or serve it with pasta for a dinner your family will love.
- Prepare the Cheese Mixture: In a bowl, mix together the ricotta, eggs, and Parmesan. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper and whisk together until smooth. If needed, whisk in the milk - you want the mixture spreadable but not too watery. Stir in the chopped basil. Set aside.
- Assemble and Bake the Lasagna: Set a rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 350°F. Set out a 9x13-inch baking pan, preferably one with 3 or 4-inch high sides. Some brands of pasta do not need pre-boiling so be sure to check the package directions. I do not pre-boil the noodles when I make my lasagna.
- Ladle about 1 cup of the sauce in the bottom of the baking pan, spreading it out to cover the surface. Place a layer of the lasagna noodles to cover the sauce. Spread 1/3 of the ricotta cheese mixture over the noodles, spreading so it covers most of the noodles. Add 2 ladles of the sauce, spreading it over the cheese, and another layer of the noodles, this time in the opposite direction as the first layer to give the casserole more stability when cutting. (If you laid them lengthwise the first time, lay them perpendicular to the long side this time, alternating direction for each layer.) Add 2 cups of the sauce and top with half the mozzarella (if using) and half the remaining Parmesan. Repeat the layers until all the noodles have been used or the pan is full. Reserve the last of the Parmesan and basil.
- Cover the pan with foil, tucking it tightly around the edges of the pan, and place on a baking sheet in case the sauce boils over. Bake an hour until the lasagna is hot and bubbling. Pull out of the oven, remove the foil, sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan and return to the oven for another 15 minutes until the top is bubbling, the Parmesan is melted, and there are a few brown spots appearing.
- Remove from the oven and let it rest at least 20 minutes before cutting into squares. Even better, let it cool, cover and refrigerate overnight. Reheat before slicing and serving. Sprinkle a little of the chopped basil on the top of each piece just before serving.
- Yield: 6 to 8 servings
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