There are some foods that instantly bring joy and depression. The thought of consuming a wonderful piece of pasta, sauce, cheese and magic balanced by the overwhelming amount of work to create that moment is the catch-22 of Lasagna. One of the munchkins requested this dish for a birthday dinner, so there was no getting around the deed. To make your day shorter than mine, I’m going to suggest several steps to do ahead.
- Pre-spice your meat the night before.
- Pre-mix your ricotta the night before.
- Pre-make your sauce the night before.
If all these steps are done beforehand, the actual time to assemble and bake becomes reasonable. If not, you’ll spend all day, like I did Monday, cooking a dish that in this house, is gone in 30 minutes. (I usually make two pans and put one up, but both pans were completely gone within 2 hours.)
I finally got frustrated by not being able to find a sugar free, free range, hormone free mix of Italian pork sausage. Thanks to Grace I can make my own now.
- 2 lb finely ground pork
- 1 1/2 teaspoons rubbed sage
- ½ teaspoon thyme
- 1 teaspoon ground pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoon parsley flakes
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 bunch fresh Italian parsley
- 8 oz. ricotta
- 1 egg
- pinch of salt
- 12 oz mozzarella
- 1/2 white onion
- olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic
- 6-8 mushrooms
- 2 tsp. Oregano
- 2 tsp. Basil
- 1 tsp Fennel
- 6oz. tomato paste
- 28 oz. diced tomatoes
- 1 cup red wine
- 2 jars of premade unsweetened tomato sauce
1 box not precooked lasagna noodles
Other optional vegetables:
- fresh chopped spinach
- 1/2 bell pepper
- additional onion
- black olives
- 1 small eggplant or zucchini
- 1 large slicing tomato
Steps that can be made ahead:
In a medium bowl mix together the meat and the spices for the meat. This should marinate for several hours or overnight.
Roughly chop parsley and mix in a medium bowl with salt, ricotta and egg. Cover and refrigerate.
Chop the onion into medium dice. Finely dice the garlic. Remove the stems from the mushrooms and slice them into 1/8th inch slices. Saute the onions in the olive oil for 5 minutes, then add the garlic and mushrooms. Cook for 3 minutes, then add oregano, basil, and crushed fennel seeds. Warm spices and then tomato paste, diced tomatoes and red wine in pan. Cook the tomatoes for 5 minutes, then allow to cool a bit before pureeing in a food processor. This can now be refrigerated ahead for tomorrow if desired.
To Assemble Lasagna:
Bring water to boil in a large stockpot, as per package instructions for the noodles. I break them in half as they are easier to deal with and it makes no difference in the taste. Add a pinch of salt to the water while boiling and stir gently at intervals. These puppies like to stick together and make a big mess. Don’t let them. Once they’ve boiled for 10 minutes, pour them out into a colander. Add oil to the bottom of the stockpot and refill it with warm water. Stir the water and pour the noodles back in. You don’t want them to cook, stick, or be too hot to handle.
Brown the pork while the noodles are boiling. Pour off any fat and make sure the pork is in very small pieces. Once the pork is cooked, add all of the red sauce and stir.
Grate all of the mozzarella. Slice any fresh vegetables you may be using. Arrange all of the pots to where you can move easily between them and your 9×13 pans. You will be needing two 9×13 baking dishes. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
Begin by layering red sauce in the bottom of the 9×13 pans. Cover these with a layer of pasta noodles. Using a spatula, coat the noodles with the ricotta cheese mixture. Top with a layer of mozzarella. If you are using fresh vegetables, layer them in now.
Repeat the entire layer process, starting with the sauce, continuing with the noodles, the ricotta, the cheese and then vegetables again. Do this a third time if there is enough room in the pan. Top the layers with cheese.
At this point, you can cover one pan with plastic wrap and then with foil and freeze it for a second dinner. If you have a horde like I currently do, stagger them in the oven. Place one pan on a rack in the middle of the oven on the right and one on a higher rack to the left. Set your timer to switch them in 20 minutes, at the halfway cooking mark. They should be cooked all the way through at the 45 minute mark.