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Lasagna

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Recipe adapted from The New Best Recipe.  [Recipe fills (2) bread loaf pans, serving 8].

Lasagna is one of those dishes that everyone has a go-to recipe for, whether you're a beginner or an expert in the kitchen.  It's a classic Italian comfort food that everyone seems to enjoy and relate to.  The following recipe was kept very traditional (tomato-meat sauce, ricotta, mozzarella, fresh basil), but there is plenty of room for play.  I prefer Italian sausage for the meat, but ground beef chuck, veal, or pork are all valid options.  Not a fan of ricotta?  How about substituting it with cottage cheese?  Or you could completely change the dish and go with a spinach-b├ęchamel 'white lasagna'.  Whichever version you land on, I promise you won't be disappointed.

The main thing that I've changed from the original recipe is the type of pan to use.  The original recipe calls for a 13" x 9" pan, but I've altered this to (2) 9.25" x 5.25" bread loaf pans for two reasons:

  1. With the amount of ingredients used, I felt that the lasagna came out too thin using a large 13" x 9" pan.  By decreasing the surface area, this makes for thicker slices, which is perfect since bread pans allow for this increase in height.
  2. For those of us who don't have a large family to feed, eight servings of the same thing can seem like a bit much.  By splitting the recipe into two separate pans, you're given the option to bake off one pan and freeze the other for another night.  Just defrost in the refrigerator a full day before you want to serve, and bake as you would normally.

INGREDIENTS:

Tomato-Meat Sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine
6 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ground Italian pork sausage
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 (28-ounce) can pureed tomatoes
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained

Ricotta, Mozzarella, and Pasta Layers:
15 ounces ricotta cheese
2 1/2 ounces (~1 1/4 cups) plus 1 ounce (~1/2 cup) Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
12 (to 15) no-boil lasagna noodles
1 pound whole-milk mozzarella cheese, freshly shredded (4 cups)

DIRECTIONS:

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook for 2 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes.  Increase the heat to medium-high and add the ground meat, salt, and pepper.  Break apart the pork sausage until fine and no longer pink.  Add the cream and stir until the liquid evaporates.  Lastly, add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer for several minutes.  Remove from the heat and set aside.  [Side note:  If you wish to make your lasagna ahead of time and freeze, safely cool down your meat filling before proceeding to the next step to ensure that your pasta doesn't get a head start in the cooking process].

For the cheese filling, mix the ricotta, 1 1/4 cups of Parmesan (reserve 1/2 cup for the topping), basil, egg, salt, and pepper in a bowl until fully combined.  Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375° F.

To assemble, use the following diagram as a guide for each pan.  [Side note:  To avoid high and low areas in your finished product, avoid placing the pasta in the same locations for each layer].
Spray a sheet of tin foil with cooking spray and cover the lasagna.  Cook covered for 15 minutes.  Remove the foil and cook for an additional 25 minutes, or until the mozzarella begins to brown.  Let rest for at least 15 minutes before cutting and serving.  [Side note:  A common mistake is cutting into the lasagna too soon.  This 'rest time' is needed to give the lasagna the strength needed to stay together once cut into].  Top each slice with any remaining sauce, and garnish with fresh basil and Parmesan, if desired.

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