Got a minute? You won’t have time to make this dish. Got five hours? Okay, now we’re talking. You may be asking yourself why anyone would want to spend five hours in the kitchen. The answer is because I enjoy the process (and the results). If I have the time, I love making recipes the old fashioned way – sauces from scratch, slowly simmered, fresh ingredients. I want my food to taste homemade, it doesn’t have to look perfect, but I do want it to reflect the care and time I took to prepare it. Do I have time to do this every day? To quote Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles, “No way, Jose!”
When I do have time, one of the dishes I like to make is lasagna. This recipe is adapted from Rao’s cookbook. The alterations I’ve made are to suit my taste, but you are certainly able to modify to suit yours. Sometimes when I make this, it cuts beautifully, perfect little layers, no oozing of sauces. Sometimes, like the times I want to photograph it, there is a little too much liquid in the sauce and it’s a sloppy mess that tastes delicious. The key is not to cook the pasta all the way so it will absorb the liquid while baking in the oven. Checking math homework sometimes makes you forget to check the pasta soon enough.
Lasagna with Meat Sauce:
adapted from Rao’s Cookbook
- 1/3 cup good quality olive oil
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1-2 tablespoons minced garlic. I love garlic, so I use 2
- 2 pounds lean ground beef
- 1 pound hot or mild Italian sausage meat, removed from casings and chopped
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 3 – 28 ounce cans of San Marzano tomatoes, with juice, hand-crushed
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/4 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
- 4 cups water
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 pound ricotta cheese (I don’t like ricotta, so I only use 1 cup, you could use two, if you like ricotta)
- 1 egg yolk (use two if you are using 2 pounds ricotta)
- 1 pound lasagna noodles
- 2 cups grated fresh mozzarella cheese (don’t skimp, buy good quality FRESH mozzarella)
- 1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- 1 pound fresh mozzarella chese or provolone cheese, sliced
- 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
Heat oil in a large saucepan, I used a 6 quart pot, over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for 3 minutes. Stir in the beef and sauté for 5 minutes or until well browned. Remove the beef with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the sausage to the saucepan and sauté until browned. Return the beef to the saucepan.
Add the wine and cook for 5 minutes or until it’s evaporated.
Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste, basil and water. Add salt and pepper and let simmer for 2-3 hours. You want most of the liquid to evaporate out while and of the flavor concentrates and comes together. At this point, you could cool the sauce and place it in the refrigerator overnight. This yields a more flavorful sauce and makes it easier to skim the fat since it will congeal on the top of the sauce. If you are tackling this in one day, skim the fat using a spoon.
Put the ricotta in a cheesecloth lined colander and allow it to drain for two hours. Combine with egg yolk(s) and blend well. This will help keep the lasagna from being too watery.
Boil lasagna noodles in rapidly boiling salted water just until al dente, do not cook all the way through or it will not absorb any more water from the sauce, resulting in lasagna that won’t hold its layers when cut. Drain lasagna into a colander and rinse well with cold water to stop the cooking process.
Place noodles flat on a clean, damp kitchen towel, you should place them in a single layer unless you are working quickly because they will start to stick together as they dry. Cover with another clean, damp kitchen towel.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Ladle a thin layer of meat sauce into a lasagna pan (12 x 18 x 2 inches or 14 x 10 x 3 inches). Cover with noodles, laid lengthwise, then cover noodles with a layer of meat sauce, spread a thin, smooth layer of ricotta over the meat sauce.
Sprinkle with grated mozzarella and Pecorino Romano. Continue layers of pasta, sauce and cheese, alternating the pasta in opposite directions for each layer.
Finish with a layer of meat sauce covered with sliced mozzarella (or provolone) and sprinkle with Romano cheese and Italian seasonings.
Bake in preheated oven for about 45 minutes or until the cheese topping has melted and lasagna is bubbling.
Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes before cutting into squares and serving.