Yes, it is Italian, but it has also become a favorite American one dish meal. It seems this is the dish everyone turns to when they need a meal to take to someone. For convenience sake it, has also become a favorite food to dish out when you are feeding a crowd.
Recently I’ve had many requests for a good Lasagna recipe. There are many variations of lasagna. Some make it with cottage cheese instead of ricotta (and I love it—but I know all of my Italian friends will disown me, so I won’t mention that), veggies, ground beef, sausage, pepperoni, and various combinations of all of the above.
I’ll admit it—I am no expert when it comes to lasagna. It is sad, almost tragic, that many years ago someone in my family discovered a brand of frozen lasagna they really enjoyed. From that point forward, I cannot remember anyone in my family making it from scratch.
I did a lot of research and ended up “practicing” lasagna for a few hundred people so I’d be ready to share a recipe with you.
If you use no-boil noodles (or a very wet sauce) you can make your lasagna without precooking the pasta. My friend Dawn (who has a large family and often cooks for a crowd) surprised me with her technique of only doing one, thicker layer of the ricotta filling. She wisely pointed out that this makes it much easier to avoid the ricotta, especially if you have someone, like her daughter, who cannot have a lot of cheese. She also taught me her wonderful trick of adding fresh grated zucchini to the sauce for flavor, texture, and moisture for the noodles. Nick’s parent’s owned an Italian restaurant, so they’ve made their share of lasagna. When he helped me prepare lasagna for a large crowd, his wise advice was that we didn’t have to worry about spreading everything perfectly since everything spreads during the cooking anyway. And Laurel makes her own pasta noodles from scratch. I might be willing to consider a hospital stay for that! Wow!
A few pointers: If you are planning to bring this as a meal for a family that has been receiving a lot of meals lately, ask first. If they’ve had lasagna 3 nights a week for the last month, they may be less than thrilled when you drop one off. If you are using a lot of meat with your recipe, be sure to drain any excess grease before adding the meat to the sauce—that in conjunction with the cheeses can be very heavy. I also recommend you add the zucchini, like Dawn does. This adds more nutrition to the dish and helps it seem a lot less heavy.
For best results, bake until piping hot and golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 30 minutes before cutting so it will hold its shape.
- 6 cups of marinara sauce (click for recipe)
- 2 cups coarsely grated fresh zucchini
- 3 cups of “filling” (this can be cooked ground meat: beef, sausage, turkey, chicken or vegetables: grated carrot, sautéed onions, sautéed bell peppers, sautéed mushrooms, chopped spinach, etc., or any combination of these)
- 1 cup parmesan cheese
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1 lb ricotta cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
- ¼ cup chopped green onions
- 4 cups grated mozzarella
- 1 package no-boil pasta noodles
Heat oven to 375º.
Stir zucchini into tomato sauce. Stir ½ cup parmesan cheese, eggs, ricotta, salt, pepper, parsley, and green onions together. Pour 1 cup of tomato sauce into bottom of a 9×13 baking dish.
Top sauce with a layer of the noodles (they will spread a little while cooking). Carefully spread 1/3 of ricotta mixture on the noodles, top with 1 cup of mozzarella and some of the parmesan.
Stir 2 cups sauce into the prepared “filling” and pour half of that mixture over the cheese layer, top with another layer of noodles, then ricotta mixture, mozzarella, and parmesan; repeat noodles again, pour the remaining “filling” over that. Top with more noodles. Repeat ricotta layer, mozzarella, and parmesan. Top with remaining sauce (without “filling” in it–add another layer of noodles, remaining sauce, then the remaining cheese.
Cover with foil that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Bake for 20 minutes covered; remove foil then bake an additional 20 minutes or until cheese is golden brown and lasagna is cooked through. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before serving. (See note above.)