OK, it might be a strong claim to make. There are many lasagna recipes out there, not all of them made with the traditional meat-cheese-ricotta-spinach combo. But I’m a bit of a lasagna purist – while I appreciate butternut lasagna and matzo lasagna and lasagna rolls, I’d always choose a slice made from a classic recipe.
Lasagna seems impressive and time-consuming, but it’s really a snap to make. It can be made with any combination of meat, veggies and sauces – once you get the hang of it, try using chicken, seafood or sausage, roasted vegetables, creamy sauces and different cheeses. No-bake lasagna noodles are infinitely faster and easier to work with, but it’s important that you use enough sauce so that they are able to cook without drying out the whole dish. You can of course use regular lasagna noodles and cook them first according to the package directions. If you don’t have time to make the sauce from scratch (or don’t feel like it), use bottled pasta sauce and add your own cooked meat and veggies if you want to – just use this as an assembly/baking guide.
World’s Best Lasagna
1 box no-bake lasagna noodles (you’ll only need about half the box)
olive or canola oil, for cooking
1 large onion, chopped
1/2-1 cup (125-250 mL) sliced mushrooms
3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 lb. (500 g) lean ground beef, or 1/2 lb. lean ground beef and 1/2 lb. spicy or mild Italian sausage
2 – 28 oz. (796 mL) cans diced or crushed tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste (about 1/4 cup)
1 Tbsp. (15 mL) brown sugar
1 tsp. (5 mL) oregano
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp. (1 mL) dried red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
1 – 500 mL container part-skim ricotta cheese or cottage cheese
1/2 cup (125 mL) grated Parmesan cheese
1 – 10 oz. (300 g) pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 large egg
4-5 cups (1-1.25 L) grated part-skim or regular mozzarella
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
To make the sauce, heat a drizzle of oil in a large, heavy skillet set over medium heat. Sauté the onion, mushrooms and garlic for about 8 minutes, until softened. Add the beef and sausage to the pan, squeezing the sausage out of its casing, and cook, crumbling it with a spoon, until the meat is no longer pink. Drain any excess fat out of the pan.
Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, brown sugar, oregano, bay leaf, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Simmer for about 20 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Discard the bay leaf and set the sauce aside to cool slightly. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
To make the cheese layer, stir together the ricotta, half the Parmesan cheese, spinach, egg, and some salt and pepper. Now you’re ready to assemble the lasagna! Get out a 9- x 13- inch baking dish (glass if you have it), and spread about 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce over the bottom.
Lay 3 or 4 noodles over the bottom of the pan – you may need to break one of them to get it to fit. I usually place 3 noodles parallel and then break the end off a fourth to fit it across at the end. Spread half the ricotta mixture over the noodles, and then sprinkle with 1-2 cups of mozzarella cheese. Spoon about 1 1/2 cups of the tomato sauce over the cheese, then repeat with more noodles, the rest of the ricotta mixture, more mozzarella, and another 1 1/2 cups of tomato sauce. Place another layer of noodles on top of the sauce, and pour the remaining sauce on top. Sprinkle with what’s left of the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.
Cover the lasagna with foil and bake for half an hour, then uncover it and bake for another 45 minutes, until it’s golden and bubbly around the edges. Let it sit for at least 15 minutes to allow it to set before cutting into it. Serves 8-10.