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Mom’s lasagna

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SKILL LEVEL :
Easy but takes some time

Mom's lasagna

My mom taught me how to make lasagna way back in the day. Recently I went to look for a handwritten recipe card I have had for decades but it was nowhere to be found. So here is my recipe from memory. This is a very basic recipe, designed to keep preparation as simple as possible. Once you master the technique you can make all kinds of great variations.

Uncooked lasagna noodles are a game changer

The good news is some genius figured out you don't have to cook the lasagna noodles. Not only does it eliminate a step and an extra pot, but it greatly simplifies making lasagna. No more worrying about noodles sticking together and tearing.

The sauce

The sauce can be made a day or two ahead so all you have to do is assemble the lasagna and bake. You can even freeze the sauce and defrost it the day you want to assemble your lasagna.

 

I like to use a large heavy bottomed pan to make the sauce. I use a Le Creuset dutch oven, which provides good uniform heat. I know they are incredibly expensive, but you will get a lifetime of great meals out of it, and be able to pass it down to your kids. Interestingly, in France, Le Creusets are said to be the inheritance items siblings squabble over most.

 

By the way, the sauce stands on its own. You can toss it with some spaghetti noodles, dust it with a little parmesan and you are good to go.

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No-cook noodles vs regular lasagna noodles

The interesting thing is you don't need special no-cook lasagna noodles to make lasagna without cooking the noodles. You can use regular lasagna noodles. I did a test comparison of  Ronzoni no-cook lasagna noodles vs. De Cecco regular lasagna noodles and the regular noodles came out better than the no-cook, even though I did not cook them. The De Cecco were plumper and had better shape and texture.

 

One trick I use to insure the noodles cook evenly in the sauce is after the lasagna is layered, I use a spatula to gently press down on the top of the lasagna. The goal is to make sure all of the noodles are in good contact with the sauce.

 

A second trick is to cover the lasagna in foil for the first 30 minutes in the oven. This creates some steam in the pan and helps cook the noodles.

 

My third trick is if the sauce has become thick, I dilute with a little water to make sure it is thin enough to coat the noodles.

Tips for sneaking in more vegetables

If you have veggie-resistant eaters the nice thing about lasagna is there are lots of ways to sneak in more vegetables.  You can:

  • Add some chopped carrot and celery to the onion and garlic mixture at the beginning of the recipe. These added veggies will never be noticed by picky eaters.
  • Add zucchini slices, artichoke hearts, mushrooms or roasted red peppers to the sauce.
  • Add a layer of sauteed spinach.

 The cheese

Many lasagna recipes have you mix eggs and spices into the ricotta, and sometimes mix all three of the cheeses together. My goal was to keep this recipe simple. So rather than mixing the cheeses, I dot the ricotta straight out of the carton onto the meat sauce, add slices of mozzarella and sprinkle grated parmesan over each layer of meat sauce.

 

You can also vary the cheese you use for an untraditional lasagna. Mascarpone or cottage cheese can be used to replace the ricotta. Goat cheese, blue cheese, gruyere, swiss, cheddar or muenster cheese can be used instead of mozzarella. Romano or asiago cheese can be used instead of the parmesan.

The noodles

Lasagna noodles should be placed in the pan so they overlap slightly, about a 1/4."

Sizes and freezing

If you are serving a large group of people bake this lasagna in one large 13 x 9 x 2 pan. If I have a larger crowd I will increase the recipe by 50% and build a 3 layer lasagna in a 13 x 12" pan.

 

If you don't have a lot of eaters, you can divide the lasagna into two smaller pans and freeze one for later. No need to bake, just cover the baking dish in plastic wrap, wrapping all the way around the dish, not just the top, so you get a good seal and avoid freezer burn. Lasagna is good in the freezer for several months. Defrost overnight in the fridge and then bake per instructions.

 

You can also freeze individual portions after the lasagna is baked. Just cut the leftovers into square servings, carefully wrap in plastic wrap and freeze.

A labor of love

There is no getting around it, making homemade lasagna takes some time and is a labor of love. My advice is to make a couple pans of lasagna, because making two pans takes virtually the same amount of time as making two. And lasagna freezes so well.

 

Also remember there is less than an hour of active time when you make lasagna. The sauce cooks on its own for an hour (with a stir or two) and the lasagna bakes on its own for 45 minutes.

Mom's lasagna

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 10 -12 servings

This simplified lasagna is easy to make and can be made in advance, frozen and baked when needed. Add some mushrooms, zucchini or artichoke hearts to the sauce to increase the veggies in this dish.

Ingredients

Sauce

  • 1 T plus olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 3/4 pound mushrooms or zucchini, sliced (optional)
  • 1 pound hamburger
  • 1 pound sweet or hot italian sausage, casing removed
  • 2 28-ounce cans chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup red wine or water
  • 1 bay leaves
  • 1 t dried basil
  • 1 t dried oregano
  • 2 T chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 t red pepper flakes (adjust to your heat preference)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the lasagna

  • 1/2 pound regular lasagna noodles
  • 1 pound ricotta
  • 1 pound mozzarella, sliced
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. Saute garlic and onions in a heavy-bottomed pan for 5 minutes. If using mushrooms, add them now and continue sauteing for another 5 minutes, until all the vegetables are cooked.
  2. Add hamburger and sausage. Stir to break up meat into little bits. Continue cooking until the meat is cooked, about 10 minutes.
  3. If adding zucchini, add them now and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes, red wine, bay leaf, basil, oregano, red pepper flakes, parsley, salt and pepper. Stir to combine and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for an hour, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.
  4. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Put a ladleful of sauce in the bottom of a 13 x 9 x 2" pan and spread the tomato sauce so the entire bottom of the pan is lightly covered. Put a layer of noodles on top of the meat sauce.
  5. Spread half the remaining sauce on top of the noodles. Using a teaspoon, scoop up spoonfuls of ricotta cheese and dot over the meat sauce. You will use half the ricotta for this first layer. Then arrange half of the mozzarella slices on top of the ricotta. Now sprinkle half of the parmesan cheese over the mozzarella. Repeat with a second layer of noodles, sauce and cheese.
  6. Use a spatula to gently press down on the surface of the lasagna. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking another 10 to 15 minutes until the top layer of cheese is bubbly and beginning to color. Remove from the oven and let sit 5 minutes before serving.

 

THIS SERVES WELL WITH

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24 COMMENTS

Comments

  1. susan says:

    In Step 3 did you mean added the chopped tomatoes instead of
    add tomato sauce? (Obviously I thought it sounded like a great recipe as I read all the way through)

    1. Kim says:

      Thank you Susan, good catch. I have corrected the recipe to read chopped tomatoes instead of tomato sauce. Let me know how you like the recipe!

  2. Nancy B says:

    Sounds delicious! Have you ever made a meatless version? I’m thinking of adding more zucchini and eliminating the meat. What do you think?

    1. Kim says:

      Absolutely this would work. You could pump up the veggies by adding zucchini, mushrooms or artichoke hearts to the sauce. Or you could add a layer of braised leeks, sautéed eggplant, roasted peppers or sautéed spinach. Lots of options.

      The best thing about lasagna is making extra so you can fill up your freezer. Cook the lasagna as instructed and then let it cool and put it in the fridge overnight. The next day cut it into portion sizes and wrap each portion in plastic wrap. Put all the portions in a ziplock bag and put it in the freezer. This way you can thaw and heat up individual portions for an ultra quick but satisfying meal.

  3. Kierstyn says:

    This recipe sounds fabulous! I really like the idea of making two if I’m going to all the effort of making lasagna from scratch! This might be a silly question but, if I’m making two then I should double all ingredients in this recipe, right??

    1. Kim says:

      Hi Kierstyn,

      Yes, double your ingredients. You might also consider making different size trays. Or when you are finished with the lasagna, put the extra one in the fridge overnight. The next morning cut it into individual servings (it cuts more neatly when cold), and then wrap the individual portions in plastic wrap and freeze. That way you can defrost just what you need, plus you always have that quick individual meal at the ready.

  4. Gabrielle says:

    Hi there! Was wonderjng if i could prep this a day early…leave in fridge overnigjt and put in the oven when i get homw from work… i want to know if it will work with uncooked noodles…i dont want to ruin dinner by ruinjng the noodles if i leave it in the fridge uncooked…

    1. Kim says:

      Hi Gabrielle,

      Excellent question. I have not prepared 24 hours in advance personally, but will put it on my To-Do list. I did a little research and found this from Barella regarding their Oven-ready Lasagna:

      Can Barilla Oven Ready Lasagne be prepared in advance?
      Yes, Barilla Oven Ready Lasagne can be prepared in advance. However, please be aware that preparing food too far in advance is one of the leading causes of food-born illness. We recommend preparing lasagna no more than 24 hours in advance, holding it in the refrigerator at or below 40 degrees F. When cooking lasagne from the refrigerator, add at least an extra 20 to 30 minutes of cooking time. The internal temperature must reach at least 160 degrees F.

      To freeze Barilla Oven Ready Lasagne, we recommend that you do not bake the lasagna before freezing for best results. You may assemble the lasagne in a freezer-safe/oven-safe container, cover, and freeze. When you are ready to cook the lasagne, defrost in the refrigerator for 24 hours. When cooking, increase the cook time to 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Make sure the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.

      Please write back and tell us how it worked for you!

  5. Christina says:

    This is the best lasagna I have ever had. I used regular noddles and did not boil them prior. Added diced carrots and extra zuchhini. The red wine is a must! The aroma and taste! Yum. I made sauce in morning and assembled dish in evening and made two trays and froze them both without cooking. I had never done this before and the results were outstanding. Thank u!!!!!!!!!

    1. Kim Pawell says:

      Wow Christina! That is quite an endorsement. Thank you for sharing. Isn’t it wonderful to have a back up meal in the freezer ready to go? And I love the idea of adding carrots! Anyway to add additional veggies is always a win in my book. Thank you!

  6. Christina says:

    …. Update. Made again and my family raved about it as a sauce on spaghetti!! The wine in it is a winner!!!! Don’t cheap out on wine…. Makes a huge diff! Thanks again. Leftover sauce is making me a freezer lasagna for next week!

    1. Kim Pawell says:

      Funny you should use the lasagna sauce for spaghetti, because it is very similar to my recipe for my Spaghetti Sauce With Veggies recipe which is loaded with both vegetables and meat. It also freezes very well for a last minute meal.

  7. Jona says:

    This turned out so great and it makes a lot. I am making it a second time. I really enjoy the extra veggies. Thanks!

    1. Kim Pawell says:

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the lasagna and the extra veggies! You might want to try my Spaghetti Sauce, I load the sauce with extra veggies too!

  8. DeeAnn R. says:

    I have never been able to make a good lasagne until now. This is a HUGE hit in my house with my husband, son and all the twenty-something young men who hang out with us a lot! Love, love, this recipe. I doubled it and filled my freezer with extra pans for those times I don’t feel like cooking for the crowd.

    1. Kim Pawell says:

      I’m so glad you enjoyed this recipe. So smart of you to freeze extra pans of lasagna. I always feel like I’ve found a treasure when I take a pan of lasagna out of the freezer. It’s like money in the bank! Seeing you have a 20-something year old son who likes this recipe I thought you might enjoy the story of my 20-something year old son making lasagna.

  9. Stacy says:

    This lasagna was great! The directions were straightforward and I loved being able to use regular noodles with no need to cook prior. Adding wine to the sauce made it extra delicious! I made one batch and divided it into two smaller pans. One I froze to enjoy later. I will definitely make this again – thank you so much for the great recipe!

    1. Kim Pawell says:

      So glad you enjoyed it Stacy!

  10. JUDITH L SAUNDERS says:

    I am cooking the sauce right now, but it looks very thin and runny! Should I have drained the tomatoes? Can you let me know what the consistency should be? Should I thicken it with tomato paste? Thanks so much!

    1. Kim Pawell says:

      Hi Judith, it is hard for me to say without seeing it. I don’t drain my tomatoes, but my brand may be different than yours. If you feel the sauce is too thin you could add some tomato paste or you can cook it uncovered until it thickens up. You don’t want the sauce too thick because you want enough moisture in it to surround and cook the noodles. If you are cooking the sauce tonight to assemble the lasagna tomorrow, it will thicken up a bit in the fridge overnight.

  11. Judy Saunders says:

    Thanks so much Kim for holding my hand through the cooking of your fabulous lasagna. The sauce ended up to be perfect as I did refrigerate it to use the next day. Even though I almost chickened out about not boiling the noodles ( I actually had the water heating on the stove) I went ahead and followed your instructions and used them right out of the box, and they were perfect. I doubled the recipe and now have enough for another evening. YUM! You are the best!

    1. Kim Pawell says:

      Hand-holding is my specialty Judy. I’m so glad your lasagna was a success. And even happier that you now have a whole lasagna waiting for you in the freezer. Enjoy the rest of your holidays!

  12. Laura Griffith says:

    Delicious lasagna recipe Kim! Absolutely love not boiling the noodles first! Best tip ever! I was nervous to try, but went with your advice, and it was fabulous!! Thank you!!!

    1. Kim Pawell says:

      I am so glad the recipe worked for you Laura. I can’t believe I’ve been boiling my noodles all these years!

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