Let me start by saying I'm no chef. My culinary skill is middling at best, and I tend to only make meals that can be done in about thirty minutes, preferably with as few dirty dishes as possible. I generally only cook via recipe, since I don't necessarily trust myself to make it up on the fly.
But I do happen to have quite high standards when it comes to home cooking; I cannot abide a bland meal.
So when I got an itch to make lasagna, I wanted a good recipe. I did a lot of poking around online to find a few good ones, and sort of mushed the ones I liked together into my own. And happily, it turned out pretty darn well! My husband – who typically doesn't care for any Italian food – scarfs it down as if he'll never see food again. While it certainly doesn't take thirty minutes to make, it's by no means a difficult dish. But you will look like a cooking champ when it's finished.
Bonus: We tend to have tons of left-overs that heat up well from either the fridge or the freezer.
So here it is, ladies and gentlemen: my very own perfect lasagna recipe.
Step 1: Ingredients
Prep Time: Roughly 15 minutes
Cook Time: 70-100 minutes (in two chunks)
Yields: More than enough to fill a 9x13 pan, or, enough to feed 4 hungry adults with a ton of leftovers
For the Sauce:
- 1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
- 1 28oz can of diced tomatoes
- 1 8oz can of tomato paste
- 1 large white onion
- 3-4 cloves of garlic
- 1lb ground beef
- 1lb sausage (regular or hot, per taste)
- Dried oregano
- Fresh basil
- Crushed red pepper
For the Rest:
- Oven-ready lasagna noodles
- 1lb shredded mozzarella (Suggestion: have another small bag on hand just in case you need more)
- 1/2lb shredded parmesan (Suggestion: have another small bag on hand just in case you need more)
- 32oz ricotta (A lot of other recipes suggest less. I personally like a lot of cheese in my lasagna, so I opt for a larger container so I have plenty to spread around. I always have a small bit left over, so if you're savvy you could plan to make something else with the remainders later.)
- Large sauce pan with lid (I use a 5qt Le Creuset braiser, which I use for just about everything because it's amazing)
- Large baking dish, at least 9x13 (these can be a bit shallow, so I sometimes use a big old tin foil thing from the grocery instead)
- Large spoon
- Small spoon
Step 2: Step 1: Starting the Sauce
- Brown the ground beef and sausage with finely chopped onion and minced garlic. I often use a jar of pre-minced garlic, for ease. And for the record, I tend to use what equates to more like 5 or 6 cloves.
- Add some salt, pepper, oregano, crushed red pepper, and fresh basil as the meat browns. I typically add at least a teaspoon of each spice, more of the crushed red pepper. Add as much as you like of each, to taste.
- Also add some fresh basil at this time. I usually fold the leaves to make little cylinders and use kitchen shears to cut them into small pieces. Add as many as you like; I usually add about 4 leaves' worth.
- Make sure the meat is broken into tiny chunks; you don't want large chunks in your sauce. I use my spatula to break them up.
Step 3: Step 2: Finishing the Sauce
- When the meat is completely cooked, add at least 2-3 tbs of tomato paste. Mix it in thoroughly so it coats the meat. Allow the contents to simmer for a few minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add the 2 large cans of tomatoes.
- Bring to a light boil for about a minute and – optionally – add a little more basil if you like. Just toss it on top of the mixture for now.
- Reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook for 30 to 60 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
- Turn the oven on to preheat at 375 F.
Step 4: Step 3: Layering
- When the sauce is ready, use your large spoon to ladle some into the baking dish. Cover the bottom with a thin layer of largely juices. This will help the oven-ready noodles cook properly.
- Add a single layer of noodles.
- Cover the noodles with a good amount of ricotta. I typically make sure the ricotta is thick enough to obscure most of the noodle, as pictured. I use a small spoon to spread it around nicely.
- Cover the ricotta with a layer of mixed mozzarella and parmesan. I usually mix these up in a bowl so I can just grab a handful and sprinkle across the dish.
- Side note: I use a minimum of 1lb mozzarella and half a pound of parmesan, as listed in the ingredients section. However, I often use more than that, just to make sure everything is covered as I like it (extra cheese is never a bad thing). So if you love cheese like you should, I suggest having a little extra of each on hand.
- Cover the cheeses with more sauce. Don't be stingy, and make sure there's a good amount of juice as well as the chunky bits of the sauce in each layer; that will prevent the end result from tasting too dry.
- Repeat the noodle, ricotta, cheese, sauce sequence around 3 times. Or, as many times as will fit in your baking dish.
- The topmost layer should be entirely the mozzarella and parmesan mix. Make sure it's a little thicker than other layers so you get a nice cheesy top in the end result.
Step 5: Step 4: Baking
- Bake at 375F for about 40 minutes. No need to cover.
- Sometimes I end up with a little extra sauce left over. I just throw it in a jar and keep it on hand for other meals, since it's a good basic meat sauce.
While the lasagna is baking, I usually clean up my extensive mess. I end up with sauce and cheese all over the counters, empty shredded cheese bags, dirty spoons and cutting boards, etc. laying around. The kitchen is basically a royal mess, but that just means I'm doing it right.
Step 6: Step 5: Enjoy and Save
Congratulations! You have a piping hot dish of homemade lasagna. And it'll be good! And very hot. So be careful.
If you're planning to eat any left-overs soon, you can just cover the baking dish and stick it in the fridge. It'll keep for a few days. If you want to freeze any extras, I recommend taking this time to divvy the lasagna up into smaller containers and storing those. Not only are the smaller containers easier to cram into your freezer, they're also WAY easier to thaw and reheat. I once made the mistake of freezing a huge container of the stuff and it took forever to thaw and heat it through. It was essentially a massive, solid brick. It's impossible to break into smaller pieces without taking hours to thaw it or heat it back up. And you can't really fit a 9x13 dish in most microwaves, either.
Regardless of how you store it, I can assure you this stuff heats up really well. It makes great left-overs, and is really nice to have on hand in the freezer as well.
So, there you have it! Not the quickest dinner, but not difficult to make either. And the best part is, you'll look like a fantastic chef without too much work. Enjoy!