There’s nothing better than a tasty pasta dish. And what pasta dish is more beloved than a good lasagna? Whether you do this dish with meat or without, it’s sure to take up some space in your memory when you think about favorites. Let’s dive a bit into the history of lasagna to commemorate this excellent dinner.
Imagine an ancient book from the Middle Ages known as the Liber de Coquina. The rough translation is “the Book of Cookery.” It was in this cookbook that you’ll find the first lasagna recipe (or lasagne). This recipe dates back to the 14th century, which means our dish we’re discussing today has been around for a truly long time. More specifically, people attribute the recipe to the city of Naples. Think of this history as you cook your lasagna today; no matter how you prepare it, it was a little callback to that first recipe all those years ago.
One of the best things about this dish is the way it keeps well. It’s why it’s popular with home and restaurant chefs alike, and why I’ve decided to include it with today’s post. Today is World Lasagna Day, and we should celebrate this incredible food! It’ll fill you up, it’s pretty simple to assemble and cook, and you can adapt it to be anything you want. Let’s get to cooking this favorite of dishes.
For the meat sauce:
• Extra virgin olive oil
• 1 pound lean ground beef (chuck)
• 1/2 onion, diced (about 3/4 cup)
• 1/2 large bell pepper (green, red, or yellow), diced (about 3/4 cup)
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 28-ounce can good quality tomato sauce
• 3 ounces (half a 6-oz can) tomato paste
• 1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano, or 2 teaspoons dried oregano
• 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (preferably flat-leaf), packed
• 1 tablespoon Italian Seasoning
• Pinch of garlic powder or garlic salt
• 1 tablespoon red or white wine vinegar
• 1 tablespoon to 1/4 cup sugar (to taste, optional)
To assemble the lasagna:
• 1/2 lb dry lasagna noodles (requires 9 lasagna noodles – unbroken)
• 15 ounces Ricotta cheese
• 1 1/2 lb (24 ounces) Mozzarella cheese, grated or sliced
• 1/4 lb (4 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 Put pasta water on to boil: Put a large pot of salted water (1 Tbsp salt for every 2 quarts of water) on the stovetop on high heat. It can take a while for a large pot of water to come to a boil (this will be your pasta water), so prepare the sauce in the next steps while the water is heating.
2 Brown the ground beef: In a large skillet heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil on medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and cook until lightly browned on all sides.
Remove the beef with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Drain off all but a tablespoon of fat.
3 Cook the bell pepper, onions, garlic, add back the beef: Add the diced bell pepper and onions to the skillet (in the photo we are using yellow bell pepper and red onions).
Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until the onions are translucent and the peppers softened. Add the minced garlic and cook half a minute more.
Return the browned ground beef to the pan. Stir to combine, reduce the heat to low, and cook for another 5 minutes.
4 Transfer the medium-sized pot and add tomatoes and remaining sauce ingredients to build the sauce: Transfer the beef mixture to a medium-sized (3- to 4-quart) pot. Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste to the pot.
Add the parsley, oregano, and Italian seasonings, adjusting the amounts to taste. Sprinkle with garlic powder or garlic salt, to taste.
Sprinkle with red or white wine vinegar. Stir in sugar, a tablespoon at a time, tasting after each addition, to taste. (The amount of sugar needed will vary, depending on how acidic the tomatoes are that you are using.)
Add salt to taste, and note that you will later be adding Parmesan, which is salty.
Bring the sauce to a simmer and then lower the heat to maintain a low simmer. Cook for 15 to 45 minutes, stirring often. Scrape the bottom of the pot every so often so nothing sticks to the bottom and scorches.
Remove from heat.
5 Boil and drain the lasagna noodles: By now the salted water you started heating in step one should be boiling. Add the dry lasagna noodles and cook them to al dente, per package directions. (Note noodles may be cooked in advance.)
Stir often to prevent from sticking. Make sure that water remains at a full rolling boil during the entire cooking to prevent noodles from sticking.
When ready, drain in a colander and rinse with cool water, gently separating any noodles that may be sticking together.
Spread a little olive oil on a large rimmed baking sheet, and lay out the cooked noodles on this sheet, turning them over so that they get coated with a little of the olive oil. This will prevent them from sticking together.
6 Heat the oven to 375°F.
7 Assemble the lasagna: In a 9×13-inch casserole or lasagna dish, ladle a cup of sauce and spread it over the bottom of the dish. Arrange one layer of lasagna noodles lengthwise (about 3 long noodles, edge may overlap, depending on your pan) over the sauce. Ladle a third of the remaining sauce over the noodles.
Sprinkle a layer of a third of the grated mozzarella on top of lasagna sauce. Add half of the ricotta cheese, by placing cheese dollops every couple inches. Sprinkle half the grated parmesan cheese evenly over the top of ricotta cheese.
Apply second layer of noodles, top it with half of the remaining sauce. Add half of the remaining Mozzarella, the remaining ricotta cheese, and another the remaining Parmesan.
Finish with another layer of noodles. Spread the remaining sauce over the top layer of noodles and sprinkle with the remaining Mozzarella cheese.
8 Bake: Cover the lasagna pan with aluminum foil, tented slightly so it doesn’t touch the noodles or sauce). Bake at 375°F for 45 minutes. Uncover in the last 10 minutes if you’d like more of a crusty top or edges.
9 Cool and serve: Allow the lasagna to cool at least 15 before serving. Leftovers will keep for about 5 days. May be reheated in conventional oven or microwave. Leave aluminum tent on for storage. (Try to keep the aluminum foil from touching the sauce.)
A Nice Vegetarian Lasagna with Spinach and Mushrooms
For the sauce:
• 1 1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, roughly chopped
• 1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, roughly chopped
• 1 generous cup chopped onions
• 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil plus more for keeping the noodles from sticking to each other
• 4 cloves garlic, chopped (about 4 teaspoons)
• 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
• 2 cups tomato sauce
• 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes (such as Muir Glen with basil)
• 1 cup water
• 1 tablespoon dried thyme
• 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
• 1 tablespoon sugar
For the lasagna:
• 2 (10-ounce) boxes frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed in clean towel of excess moisture
• 1 pound lasagna noodles (16 to 20 noodles)
• 1 (15-or-16-ounce) container of ricotta cheese
• 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
• 1/4 pound pecorino cheese (or Parmesan), grated (about 1 cup)
• 1 pound shredded mozzarella cheese (about 4 cups)
1 Sauté the mushrooms: Place mushrooms in a large (6 to 8 quart) sauté pan on high or medium high heat. Stir them with a wooden spoon or shake the pan from time to time. You may hear them squeak.
Sprinkle salt over the mushrooms. The mushrooms will sizzle and then start to release water. (Note that you are not adding fat at this point to the pan; this method of cooking mushrooms in their own moisture is called “dry sautéing.)
Once the mushrooms start to release water into the pan, stir in the chopped onions. Cook until the mushrooms are no longer releasing moisture and the mushroom water has boiled away, about 5 minutes more.
2 Make the sauce: Add the olive oil to the mushrooms and stir to coat. Sauté the mushrooms and onions for about a minute. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
Stir in the tomato paste, cook for a minute longer. Reserve 1 cup of the tomato sauce (it will go in the bottom of the casserole dish), and put the remaining cup of tomato sauce into the pot with the mushrooms. Add the large can of crushed tomatoes and one cup of water.
Stir in the thyme, sugar, and red pepper flakes. (If you are using dried basil instead of fresh, add it now.) Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat and simmer on a low simmer, for 20 minutes.
3 Boil and drain the lasagna noodles: Once the sauce is simmering, salt the boiling pasta water, and add the dry lasagna noodles to the boiling water. (The water should be at a vigorous, rolling boil.) Stir gently, making sure that the noodles are not sticking to each other. Set the timer for 8 minutes, or however long is indicated on the package of the noodles. Cook uncovered on a high boil.
When the noodles are ready (al dente, cooked through but still firm to the bite), drain the noodles in a colander, and rinse them to cool them with cold water. As you rinse them, gently separate them with your fingers so they don’t stick to each other.
Prepare a couple large cookie sheets or baking sheets by spreading a tablespoon of olive oil over the baking sheets.
Place the lasagna noodles on the sheets, gently coating them with a bit of that olive oil, and spreading them out. This will help keep them from sticking to each other while you finish the sauce and prepare the layered casserole.
4 Assemble the lasagna: Turn off the heat on the stovetop for the sauce. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Spread the one cup of reserved tomato sauce over the bottom of a large (preferably 10×15-inch) casserole dish. (If your casserole dish is smaller, you may need to add another layer as you go through this step.)
Place a layer of lasagna noodles down over the tomato sauce, slightly overlapping. (For our 10×15-inch dish, we ultimately fit 3 layers of 6 noodles each, with 2 extra noodles on which to nosh.)
Sprinkle half of the ricotta cheese over the noodles, and half of the defrosted, drained, and squeezed out spinach over the ricotta.
Sprinkle half of the mozzarella cheese over the spinach, and just a quarter of the pecorino cheese.
Then spoon 1/3 of your mushroom sauce over the mozzarella. Sprinkle half of the fresh basil over the sauce.
5 Repeat layers: Repeat the layering process. Place a second layer of noodles over the sauce. Spread the remaining ricotta, spinach, and mozzarella over the noodles. Sprinkle another quarter of the pecorino along with the mozzarella. Top with another third of the mushroom sauce and the remaining fresh basil.
Layer your final layer of lasagna noodles over the sauce. Spread the remaining sauce over the lasagna noodles, and sprinkle with the remaining pecorino or parmesan cheese.
6 Cover with foil and bake: Pull out a sheet of aluminum foil large enough to cover the casserole dish. Spread a little olive oil over the inside of the piece of foil (the side that will have contact with the lasagna). Place the foil over the casserole dish and crimp the edges.
Bake at 350°F for 25 minutes, then remove the foil and bake uncovered for an additional 25 minutes.
Take the lasagna out of the oven when done and let it rest 10 minutes before cutting to serve. Once made, the lasagna will last a week in the fridge.