Our freezer has gotten very low on emergency lunches, so it was clearly time to make a lasagna. Few things are as comforting on a cold day as being able to pull a container of lasagna out of the freezer, nuke it, pour a glass of wine, and have a hot, cheesy satisfying lunch. And to make that happen, of course, we have to have lasagna for dinner first. Oh, the sacrifices we make.
I make lasagna pretty much exactly the way my parents did when I was a kid (it was my favorite), except for the addition of no-boil lasagna noodles, which are God’s gift to casserole makers. Sometimes I’ll do a variation with pesto and white sauce, and I often add fresh spinach, but this particular one was just the basics: red sauce with meat and mushrooms, ricotta, mozzarella and noodles. End of recipe. I do not add egg, or cottage cheese – I feel very strongly about these things. That grainy ricotta texture is important here.
Oh – to go with our lasagna, we threw together a spontaneous salad of mixed spinach and lettuce greens and shaved fennel, with a lemon-mayonnaise dressing. It was FANTASTIC. If I ever figure out how I did it I’ll write the recipe down. Wow.
Now, back to the lasagna:
Just to be clear, I do not use jarred marinara sauce. I don’t care if that sounds snobby, but I just don’t – your mileage may vary. But really, making it fresh ain’t that hard. I usually start with ground meat; in this case, two pounds of beef from our freezer cow. I added a bunch of sliced button mushrooms, a few cloves of garlic, a good pinch of dried thyme and some salt, and let it all simmer together.
We had some red wine left over that was tasting a little weird, so I added that to the meat and let it simmer nearly dry, then opened the tomatoes. The Co-op was having a canned tomato sale, so I had just stocked up. I added one big can of diced tomatoes and another of puree, then some water to rinse out the cans.
The whole big potful (that’s my superlarge pea-green Mario Batali pot, a wonderful thing for big batches of sauce like this) simmered for a while, then we put the lasagna together:
Take a 9×13 inch pan, and add:
- Ladleful of sauce
- 3 noodles (we use Ronzoni, which forbids overlapping, unlike Barilla, which requires it)
- enough sauce to cover the noodles
- half the container of ricotta, dolloped over the top
- a few slices of mozzarella
- repeat from #2 once or twice, depending on the depth of your pan
- top with noodles, sauce and the rest of the mozzarella. Make sure plenty of sauce has been added to keep the noodles wet – crunky noodles are not delicious. I’ve produced enough crunky lasagnas to know.
Cover with foil and bake 30 minutes at 375°. Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes. Take out of the oven and let it set for a bit so you stand a chance of actually cutting a piece. Put individual pieces in freezersafe containers and pack them away for another day, but save plenty to eat immediately.