Doing less work is the key to making this crowd-pleaser perfectly portioned.
Lasagne is easy to make, and best when prepared in advance. It feeds a crowd, and travels well when you need to bring a dish to a family gathering or potluck dinner. The key to any good lasagne is the quality of the ingredients. Sauce made form scratch, fresh ricotta and buffalo mozzarella, and garden-picked herbs make all the difference.
Equipment: chef’s knife, cutting board, dry measuring cup; measuring spoons; large saucepan or stockpot; fork; can opener; large mixing bowls; rubber spatula; 9 x 12 x 2-inch casserole pan
for the meat sauce:
3 tablespoons olive oil 2 medium onions, finely diced 3 garlic cloves, minced 2 pounds sweet Italian sausage, casings removed 2, 15-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
1, 8-ounce can tomato sauce 1, 6-ounce can tomato paste 1, tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
½ bunch fresh basil, chiffonade
1 teaspoon kosher salt ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
for the cheese filling: 22 ounces fresh ricotta cheese (or 16 ounces ricotta, plus 6 ounces mascarpone) 1½ cups Parmesan, divided 1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley ½ teaspoon salt ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
10 lasagne noodles (regular or no-boil)
1 pound fresh bufallo mozzarella, thinly sliced
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2. To make the meat sauce, heat olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and cook over medium-low heat until translucent (about 5 minutes). Add the garlic and stir for one more minute. Then add the sausage and cook over medium-low heat, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, for 10-15 minutes, or until no longer pink and fully cooked. Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, oregano, basil, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Simmer uncovered over medium-low heat for 20 minutes.
3. While the sauce is simmering, prep the noodles (if using regular pasta) and make the cheese filling. Place the noodles in a shallow baking dish with hot water from the tap, as hot as you can get it, enough to fully cover them. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, 1 cup of Parmesan, the beaten egg, chopped parsley, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Set aside.
“There is no need to undergo the cumbersome and potentially hazardous task of boiling lasagna noodles. Once a lasagna is assembled, the noodles are covered in sauce and cheese, packed in layers of moisture that will soften and cook to tender perfection as they bake without becoming watery, limp, and soggy. A lasagna made the ILOC way should have a good, stable structure and this is one of the easiest ways to achieve it.”
4. Ladle one third of the meat sauce into a casserole or baking pan. Spread the sauce over the bottom of the dish. Then add approximately half the pasta (in one layer, cover the sauce with the noodles), half the sliced mozzarella, half the cheese mixture, and one third of the sauce. Add another single layer of noodles, mozzarella, ricotta, and the remaining sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup of Parmesan.
5. Bake uncovered on the middle rack for 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling.
Makes 8-12 servings.
“This dish should be made at least one day in advance of service. This gives the lasagne time to settle, which makes for beautiful slices with clean edges. ”
A Pinch of Red Pepper Will Do
You might to make your lasagne with a little kick. If you don’t feel like buying two different sausages (one sweet and one hot) because you only have access to pre-packaged sausage in 2-pound portions and you don't want more than you need for this recipe, just buy sweet Italian sausage and add ½ teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes to the sauce for the same effect.
Line the Oven Rack with Aluminum Foil
To catch any sauce that bubbles over during the baking process, do it the ILOC way and place some sheets of foil on top of the oven rack. Even the tiniest drop of sauce on the oven floor will burn, smoke, and smell. If such drips are caught on the foil, cleanup is a breeze. Don't be tempted to place the lasagna pan on top of a cookie sheet or the like; that will just create a barrier for the heat to surround the baking dish evenly, and that translates to uneven cooking. Foil is thin and foolproof!