Lasagna from scratch is a meal to behold, but if you’re like most people, simmering sauce and making individual strips of pasta aren’t on your nightly schedule. Boxed pastas and store-bought marinaras save a ton of time without sacrificing any flavor. Some Sunday when you have a whole day to kill, build it from the ground up, but on a busy day — in a busy life — have no shame in shortcuts.
National Lasagna Day is right around the corner (July 29). You might be headed to your favorite Italian restaurant for a great big piece, but why not do as the Italians do, and make this delicious dish at home!
Here are a few tips for baking your best lasagne ever:
1. Careful with your noodles. Building a good lasagna requires a bit of architecture. Lasagna needs a good structure, and the noodles give it all it needs — except when you’ve overcooked your noodles. If the pasta gets too mushy, your lasagne won’t hold its shape when cut. Make sure your noodles are very al dente (about 2-3 minutes less than the box suggests) and error on the side of undercooked — they’ll cook plenty in the pan.
2. Prevent pasta from sticking with olive oil. After you drain your noodles, don’t just leave them in the colander. They’ll get stuck and become ruined. Instead, drizzle them with olive oil and use your hands to lightly coat each noodle. Then lay them flat on a baking sheet until you’re ready for them. Don’t linger — you don’t have all day — but this will buy you the time you need.
3. Give some extra love to the ricotta. Lots of people just scoop ricotta directly from the container, but if you’re not seasoning it, it probably tastes pretty bland. Season it with some salt, pepper, Parmesan cheese and even some dried oregano or dried rosemary. And never add ricotta above your top noodle layer. It will dry out and crack.
4. Drain your beef. Always, always, always, drain your beef for your lasagne. If not, you’ll have a gross, greasy mess.
5. Use a deep enough pan. No one likes a skinny lasagna.
6. A good start. Never start your layers with noodles. Your first layer should be sauce. It helps keep your lasagne moist and also helps it from sticking to the pan.
Classic 3 cheese lasagna with meat sauce recipe
Makes about 8 servings
- 3/4 lb. lasagna noodles (about 1 box)
- 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lb. ground beef
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tsp dried oregano + 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 jar marinara sauce (about 32 ounces)
- 16 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese
- 1/4 cup + 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Parsley for garnish
- 1 1/2 lb. fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
- Cook pasta in generously salted water according to the directions on the package minus about 2 minutes. Drain pasta and drizzle with olive oil. Gently toss to coat or use your hands and lay noodles flat on a clean baking dish.
- Preheat over to 375ºF.
- Meanwhile, on medium-high heat in a large skillet, brown ground beef. Break up clumps as it cooks. Meat is done when pink is not longer visible. Drain excess fat.
- Return beef skillet to stove top. Add some salt, pepper, garlic and 2 tsp dried oregano and let cook for about a minute. Pour in marinara and stir. Let cook until meat sauce is warm.
- In a medium bowl, add ricotta, 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Mix well. Set aside.
- In a large casserole dish, start with a thin layer of sauce and spread to coat. Then add a layer of noodles followed by a layer of the ricotta, then a layer of mozzarella. Repeat until all ingredients have been used. Your top layer should finish with meat sauce, 1/4 cup of Parmesan and a layer of mozzarella. (This will make it deliciously melty on top.)
- Cover dish with foil and place in oven for 15 minutes. Then, increase temperature to 400ºF, remove foil, and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes.
- Let rest 5 to 10 minutes. Garnish with parsley. Serve immediately, but lasagna leftovers are great too!
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