Thursday, November 21, 2013

My Lasagna

I have been making lasagna for many years, following many different recipes requiring varying degrees of work and difficulty. This is the recipe that I find offers the most taste and satisfaction for the least amount of work. It uses many shortcuts that do not sacrifice flavor. It takes about 45 minutes to prepare plus 45 minutes in the oven. My family—including Gerard—is always happy when I make it. This lasagna is probably his favorite non-French dish. 

(Serves six–eight)

2 cans (14.5-oz ) Del Monte Stewed Tomatoes (Original)
2 cans (14.5-oz ) Del Monte Stewed Tomatoes (Italian Style or with Basil, Onions and  Garlic)
3 leaves fresh basil
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
2 pounds chopped beef (least fat)
1 pound thawed frozen sausage meat (Jones) or fresh sausage meat
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 pint milk (1-percent or skimmed is fine)
Dash grated nutmeg (optional)
2 packages Barilla's NO BOIL Lasagna pasta
1 pound ricotta cheese
1 sliced fresh mozzarella or bag of shredded mozzarella (Sargento)
1 cup grated Parmesan (optional)


Preheat oven to 350° F.

Make the tomato sauce:
Empty all four cans of tomatoes into a food processor (or into a pot if you use an immersion blender) and mash until they become a thick liquid. Warm up with the fresh basil in it, remove from the heat and allow the basil flavors infuse the tomatoes. Remove the basil before using.

Sauté the meat:
Sauté the chopped onion in the heated olive oil. When soft and translucent but not yet browned, add the minced garlic. Break up the chopped meat and sausage meat into bits and add to the pan, turning so that all of the meat browns evenly and mixes with the onions. Add salt and pepper. Drain and add a half cup of the tomato sauce. Mix.

Make the béchamel sauce:
In a saucepan, over low heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and whisk in the 2 tablespoons of flour. While constantly whisking, slowly add (¼ cup at a time) two cups of milk (I use skim). It will thicken. Remove from heat. Add salt, pepper and a touch of nutmeg. Cover the bottom of an oven-proof lasagna pan (roughly 9 inches x 14 inches, or 8 inches x 12 inches) with this white sauce.

Prepare the pasta:
The no-boil pasta makes this dish so much easier to make than when we had to boil the pasta first and deal with the wet noodles. The only inconvenience is learning to gently break the uncooked pasta to fit your dish without crumbling the pieces. Now that I have mastered the technique, I actually only use one box of pasta—but I suggest you purchase two so that you have some spares. Place a layer of uncooked pasta in the béchamel sauce to cover the bottom of the pan. The pieces will probably not fit exactly, so you will have to gently break a few of them in half lengthwise to fill in the gaps. (This does not have to be exact. There can be a very little space between them or at the sides.)

Layer the lasagna:
Ladle a thin layer of tomato sauce over the dry pasta and cover with half of the meat. Use a spatula to spread evenly and cover the entire layer. Place another layer of dry pasta and cover with the ricotta cheese. Add another layer of pasta and meat. Place the last layer of pasta and cover with tomato sauce. Cover with mozzarella and spoon on a bit more tomato sauce.

Bake in the preheated oven for 40- to 45 minutes. Allow to stand, covered with aluminum foil, for 10 minutes before serving.  Spoon some of the remaining tomato sauce on each portion and serve with grated Parmesan on the side for those who wish to add it. 

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