Lasagna – non traditional, but delicious and easy
Nearly everyone enjoys lasagna, but sometime the thought of making it seems like a lot of work! Let me share a secret, well it’s not a secret, but not everyone knows this – hope you’re sitting down – you don’t have to pre-cook the noodles! That’s right, you can make an awesome and delicious lasagna using the noodles right out of the box, dried and hard.
There’s lots of room for all types of lasagna
Now, this is not to be confused with an authentic Italian lasagna, one made with handcrafted fresh pasta sheets. No, but this makes a great dinner, you can do more than one at a time and it freezes well.
The recipe I’m using here does not have a long-simmered sauce either, however, it was inspired by a recipe from Marcella Hazan who was an authoritative Italian cook. In fact, there is no hard and fast recipe for the sauce, it’s more of a technique. I make the sauce is made with two 28oz/790ml cans of whole San Marzano tomatoes, 1 24oz/680ml bottle of pasata (uncooked tomato puree), a whole onion (diced very small) and a big chunk of butter (around 2 ounces/56g). How much butter is really up to you. The role of the butter is to give the sauce a velvety, unctuous mouthfeel and taste. Don’t skip this ingredient. This all needs to be cooked until the onion is soft. As the tomatoes are soft, I use a potato masher to break them up.
Once the sauce is made and cooled, it’s a case of simply layering all of the ingredients, wrapping tightly with plastic wrap and letting the lasagna sit for at least four hours – even better overnight in the fridge. The lasagna needs to sit because of those uncooked noodles. To prepare the veggies, I slice the mushrooms and zucchini into disks and saute them in a little olive oil, with garlic. I often add a combo of dried thyme and oregano to the mushrooms, it makes them really tasty. Use fresh herbs is you have them, but in the winter, dried is the way to go.
Cheese brings it all together
For the cheese mixture, I use cottage or ricotta cheese – whatever I have managed to pick up at the grocery store, mixed with a couple of eggs (helps to bind it all together) and mozzarella cheese and Parmesan and some parsley. I discovered another new ‘trick’ with the mozzarella…. the lasagna doesn’t care that you put it in sliced. I used to always grate the mozzarella, but it’s sorta sticky and is messy and annoying to do this. I’ve also shredded it in the food processor, but that is also clumsy unless you’ve partially frozen it (and planned ahead better). You can, of course buy the pre-shredded stuff, but also requires additional planning and lots of people don’t care for the chalky coating on pre-shredded cheese. (Also, because it’s more expensive).
When assembling, make sure you cover the noodles entirely with sauce, this will help them soften and turn into a delicious meal. This lasanga can be made vegetarian by using layers of cooked mushrooms, zucchini etc. instead of meat.. or even better, in addition to meat.
Layers and more layers
When creating the layers of lasagna, I start with sauce, add the first layer of pasta, then another layer of sauce. Then add your meat, veggies and cheese and repeat. A typical lasagna (for me) has three layers of pasta and ends with whatever cheese is left, along with an extra sprinkle of Parmesan and some parsley for looks. I often will add some extra veggies – often to indicate that this is the vegetarian version if that’s what I’m doing in addition to the meat one.
I typically make two large pans worth of lasagna, one in a regular 9 x 13 baking dish and one done in three skinny single-noodle-wide pans. I’ve had these a very long time, bought on a whim, but decided they were perfect for lasagna – everybody can get a crispy edge. Here is a pan that would let you get that effect.
Once the lasagnas have sat for at least four hours or overnight, I bake for 45 minutes at 375, then let them sit 15 minutes before serving. These are best baked before freezing.
- 1.5L (6 cups)prepared tomato sauce
- 2x 500g ( 16oz) tubs cottage cheese or ricotta
- 700g (25oz) mozzarella
- 200g (7oz) Parmesan cheese
- 3 eggs
- Mushrooms, zucchini, onions - as little or as much as you like
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- Oregano, basil, thyme, salt and pepper
- Lasagna pasta noodles - 1 box (approximately 18 noodles) - regular or spinach - note: you are not pre-cooking these and they do not have to be the 'no-boil' type.. just regular ones
- 300g (11oz) ground beef, cooked or 3 Italian sausages, cooked, chopped
This recipe makes two pans of lasagna, you might as well do two at the same time and pop one in the freezer for the days you just don't have time to do from scratch.
There are no strict quantities for this except for the sauce and the cheese. The more meat and/or vegetables you put in will change how heavy or light this lasagna is. The big deal here, is that you don't pre-cook the pasta noodles, this is what makes it such an easy meal to prepare.
- Sauté your veggies of choice - onions, zucchini, mushrooms etc. Add garlic where you like. Set aside.
- Start by putting a layer of sauce in the bottom of the lasagna dish. This needs to cover the whole surface.
- Lay down the first layer of noodles - an average 9x13 pan will take three noodles per layer. Press the dried noodles into the sauce.
- Start layering your ingredients... meat and/or veggies, the cheeses then another layer of sauce.
- Repeat layering - with the dried noodle going on top of the sauce until you have three layers of pasta. Make sure the very top pasta noodle is completely covered in sauce. Does not have to be thick, but don't leave any exposed dried pasta.
- Finish the top layer with additional grated Parmesan cheese and a little parsley.
- Wrap the dish with plastic wrap - this is important to help the dried pasta absorb the moisture from the sauce.
I often make one lasagna vegetarian and will mark that one by putting additional veggies on the very top...so the meat lovers don't get all bent out of shape from choosing the wrong one.
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