I don’t make lasagna unless it’s cold outside and that usually involves snow. We were in the middle of one of our last bouts of hot weather and it seemed strange to heat up the kitchen with boiling pots of water and turning on the oven. But it was a special request so it may have been my first lasagna made without snow on the ground!
Our granddaughter Bella was turning 7 and she requested lasagna. I was happy to supply lasagna, it had been a long time since I’d made it. Two pans would be necessary for our group of 11. I made up the list and my P.S. (Personal Shopper/hubby) stocked the appropriate ingredients.
I went with a basic ground beef tomato sauce for the lasagna. We have a couple of people who don’t like wild changes (vegetables like spinach) in their lasagna so I went with simple.
We had plenty of extra lean ground beef in the freezer so I thawed about 4 lbs. I browned it in a large skillet along with a finely diced red sweet bell pepper. I omitted fresh onions as one of us can’t tolerate them. The bell pepper would add a nice boost of flavor in place of onions.
When the beef and peppers were browned I added them to a small soup pot along with 3-28 ounce cans of diced tomatoes and one 15 ounce can of tomato sauce. I added a tablespoon of diced garlic, a tablespoon each of oregano, basil and dried diced onions, a teaspoon of black pepper, a pinch of cayenne and 1/4 cup of sugar to lighten the heavy acid taste of the tomatoes.
I stirred well and let it simmer away at medium low for about an hour, stirring occasionally. I set my timer for every 15 minutes so I wouldn’t forget and let it burn on the bottom (past mistake!). When the sauce had cooked for an hour I taste tested it, adding salt and pepper to taste. I turned the heat off and collected the rest of my ingredients.
I brought a second large pot to a boil with a teaspoon of salt and cooked the lasagna noodles until they were just slightly al dente. They’d finish cooking by absorbing the tomato sauce mixture in the oven. Drained and rinsed to prevent them from sticking together, I left them sitting in the colander while I finished mixing the ricotta mixture and opening the cheese.
I enhance my ricotta mixture by adding eggs, parsley, garlic powder and a little salt. I want every part of the lasagna properly seasoned. We don’t need pockets of blandness ruining the perfect lasanga.
To begin building my lasagna I spread a thin layer of the meat sauce on the bottom of the pans. I used a lasagna pan that is about 17×10 and a 9×13 pan. The second layer is a layer of noodles, slightly overlapping, covered by a layer of 1/4th of the meat mixture.
Next I spread 1/6th of the ricotta mixture in mounds all over the meat layer, then spread it with a small offset spatula.
I sprinkle the top with about 2 cups of shredded mozzarella, a handful of Parmesan and repeat the layers a second time.
I end with a layer of noodles and one of sauce again, then a small amount of Parmesan.
I cover the pans with foil and bake for an hour in a 350°F. After the lasagna has baked for an hour I remove the foil, add 2 cups of shredded mozzarella to the tops and bake another 20-30 minutes. If you don’t like your cheese as dark, adjust baking time and remove the foil and bake only 10-20 minutes more. I usually let the pan set for 20 minutes before cutting and serving, but this time I transported them across town so they were ready to cut and serve on arrival.
Much moaning and mmm’ing was done. The lasagna was so cheesy and tasty. One pan’s cheese was a little darker to appeal to those of us (including me) who like their cheese that way. A few brave souls had seconds and everyone was happily overstuffed. I served the lasagna with garlic bread and a lettuce salad drizzled with rhubarb vinaigrette. We had just enough room for pink filled cupcakes for dessert. It was birthday feasting at its finest!
Lasagna with Meat Sauce
4# extra lean ground beef
1 sweet red pepper; diced (or add two if desired)
3 28 ounce cans of diced or crushed tomatoes)
1 15 ounce can of tomato sauce
1 tablespoon of garlic; minced
1 tablespoon dried minced onion (or use 1/2 cup diced onion)
1 tablespoon of dried oregano
1 tablespoon of dried basil
a pinch of cayenne
1/4 cup sugar
4 cups ricotta
1 tablespoon parsley
1 teaspoon dried garlic
1 teaspoon salt
2 boxes dried lasagna, cooked according to directions in salted water
8 cups shredded mozzarella
3 cups shredded Parmesan
In a large skillet brown beef and crumble into smaller pieces. Put into large pot and add tomatoes, sauce and seasonings. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium low and simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally. Taste test for seasonings, adding salt to taste.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Prepare lasagna noodles according to box directions in salted water.
Mix ricotta, eggs and seasonings.
In a 17×10-in lasagna pan and a 9×13-in baking pan, spread thin layer of meat sauce on the bottoms. Layer in order in each pan:
1. layer of lasagna noodles, slightly overlapping
2. 1/6th of the meat sauce
3. 1/4th of the ricotta mixture
4. 2 cups of shredded mozzarella
5. 1/2 cup of Parmesan
6. repeat 1-5 above
7. layer of lasagna noodles
8. 1/6th of the meat sauce
9. 1/2 cup of Parmesan
Cover with foil and bake in preheated oven for 1 hour. Uncover, add 2 more cups of shredded mozzarella and bake 20-30 minutes more until center is hot and bubbling.
Let stand for 20 minutes, then slice and serve.