Everybody has their own special Lasagna recipe that some family member has made since the beginning of time. I am going to share mine. You can adjust it as you like. It’s important to have good ingredients. The secret ingredient is love.
I like to make mine with meatballs. I bake them in the oven, not fry, and simmer them in tomato sauce for as long as I can. Lasagna is time consuming but worth it. Simmer the meatballs in the sauce for at least two hours. I often cheat and buy jarred tomato sauce. Sometimes you have to cut corners. Making tomato sauce is not complicated. It’s all about sautéing and simmering. You can do this!
I suggest that you buy a brand name lasagna noodle. I prefer the ones you have to boil. Cooking the lasagna noodles are easy, but you have to include time for them to cool. They are easier to layer in the lasagna if cooled.
It’s important to use “good” ingredients. I don’t like the typical ricotta cheese or mozzarella that you find in most grocery stores. Ricotta should not look gelatinous. I use a brand that I find at a grocery store chain that sells natural and organic foods. This Italian hand dipped whole milk ricotta is creamy. I also use the same brand for the mozzarella cheese. You can use whatever you like, but the higher quality the ingredient, the better your finished product.
I always recommend thoroughly reading a recipe before using it. It’s important to have your ingredients ready, such as the onions being diced, garlic minced. This makes cooking a more pleasant experience. Mise en place as the French say!
Let’s start with the sauce. If you are buying your sauce premade, you will need approximately 96 ounces of sauce. It’s better to make more than not have enough. You can freeze leftover sauce and meatballs for another meal. For something this labor intensive, it’s nice to get multiple meals.
Large onion, diced or grated
3 garlic cloves, minced
Olive oil (good quality)
6 ounce can of tomato paste
3 28-ounce cans of tomato sauce
Heat a very large lidded pan on medium heat. To test the heat of the pan, sprinkle drops of water from your fingers into the pan. If they roll up and evaporate, the pan is ready for olive oil. Pour enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the hot pan. Place the minced onions in the pan. Sprinkle one teaspoon of kosher salt over the onions, to help draw out the liquid. If you are using grated onion, cook at a lower temperature until are soft and fragrant. They cook differently than diced onions. I like to sauté the diced onions until they are soft. You don’t want them to brown. You may need to lower the heat or add another splash of olive oil. While the onions are cooking, open the sauce and paste cans.
When the diced onions are soft and almost golden, add the minced garlic and stir. Let the garlic cook for 30 seconds. Garlic burns quickly. Stir in the tomato paste. Stir in a tomato paste can of water to this mixture. Add the cans of tomato sauce and once again stir. You can add a teaspoon of dried oregano, pepper flakes or leaves of fresh basil if you like. I prefer not to. Put the lid on and let it simmer on a low heat. Occasionally peak under the lid, you may need to lower or raise the heat under the pan to get a simmer.
I find flavorful meatballs make the lasagna.
2 lbs. ground hamburger, not lean meat
1 large onion, grated on a box grater or finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Handful, chopped fresh parsley
2 pieces of white bread, crust on or off
¼ cup seasoned breadcrumbs
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
2 large eggs
My general rule is for every pound of hamburger, use one egg and one piece of bread. If you can find it, ground pork adds more flavor. You can substitute one pound for one pound of the hamburger.
Place the bread in a large mixing bowl. Pour milk over the bread. Add just enough milk to be absorbed by the bread. Get a fork and mash the bread. Add the grated onion. You certainly may use finely chopped onion if you prefer.
Mix in the eggs, parmesan cheese and parsley. Add a tsp. of kosher salt. Add the ground beef and breadcrumbs. You may use a utensil to stir, but clean hands are the best tools. You want to stir and toss the meat mixture. You don’t want to squeeze or compress. Legend says it makes for a heavy meatball. If the mixture seems too dry, add a splash of milk. If it seems too wet, add a sprinkling of breadcrumbs. Like my grandmother said, it’s a “feel” you develop. Shape the hamburger mixture into meatballs. Not too big. Not too small. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and parchment paper. This makes for a quick cleanup. Bake the meatballs at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Turn the meatballs over after 15 minutes for even browning. To make sure they are cooked, taste one!
When meatballs are done, gently place into simmering sauce and cook for several hours.
I use about ½ the meatballs in the lasagna. You can slice them. I prefer to mash them. After they are cooked, place the meatballs into a bowl. Drain the sauce off of the meatballs as you take them from the pan. Mash with a fork or potato masher. They can be still somewhat intact.
Cook lasagna according to the directions on the package. Drain and pour cool water over them in a colander. You want them cooled off before you place them in the pan. Separate them on a cookie sheet into piles of 4. Each layer of the lasagna will use 4 noodles across. If any noodles tear, save them for the body of the lasagna. The best noodles go on top. Sometimes, depending on the brand, you will have to use three noodles on one layer. I have found that sometimes there’s an odd number of lasagna noodles in a package.
The next step is what I call “assembly.” You’re almost done. You can do this.
You will need a pan 9 x 13 that is at least 2 inches high.
1 15-ounce container fresh ricotta
8 ounces mozzarella, sliced, or diced, or shredded
½ cup grated parmesan
1-pound mashed cooked meatballs
Preheat oven 350 degrees
Place a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of the pan. Add 4 lasagna noodles, slightly overlapping them. I add layers of meatballs, and cheeses between layers of noodles and sauce.
On top of the noodles, spoon about ¼ cup of tomato sauce. Drop spoonfuls of the ricotta over the noodles. Add spoonfuls of mashed meatballs and mozzarella to the layer. Sprinkle some parmesan on top. Keep in mind you will have about 3 layers, so divide accordingly. It’s all approximate. Sometimes I forget an ingredient in a layer, and just add a little more in the next. It will still taste wonderful.
Repeat the 4 noodles, sauce, meat and cheeses layers. Your final layers will just be the lasagna noodle and sauce. Make sure you completely cover the noodles with sauce, including the corners. The corners could become very crisp if they don’t have sauce on them.
Bake at 350 degree for 45 minutes. It should be bubbling hot. Let it rest for 15 minutes before serving.
To re-heat leftovers, place a little sauce or water in the bottom of a 10-inch fry pan, with lid. Cut lasagna and place in pan. Put lid on and simmer for about 20 minutes. Cook until it’s piping hot. You can also add some cut up meatballs to the pan. I like leftover lasagna better than fresh from the oven. You can freeze the cooked meatballs and sauce for another night. Goes great with spaghetti.
I like to freeze any leftover lasagna. It makes a quick lunch or dinner on a busy night. A little goes a long way.