When I think about lasagna, and I think about lasagna more that I should being the pasta lover that I am, I almost always think about a nice creamy moist lasagna with red meat sauce and lots of cheesy goodness. (I mean truly, what’s not to like about lasagna?) Well, for me, it used to be the ricotta part of the cheesy goodness. I never really learned to appreciate the grainy consistency and blah taste of store-bought ricotta. Then I discovered traditional lasagna Bolognese. And by definition, a traditional lasagna Bolognese does not contain ricotta. So not being the slowest turtle in the herd, when I learned about lasagna Bolognese, I knew I had found the perfect red meat sauce lasagna for me. (And yes I know, turtles are solitary creatures that seek company only during mating season, but I still love the term “slower than a herd of turtles”.)
Anyway, this is a fairly fast and easy lasagna to pull together. (Not that any lasagna could ever be considered a fast dish to prepare. But by most standards, this is easier than nearly all others.) And bottom line, it is just plain old fashioned delicious. And it doubles, triples, etc. very well.
So give it a try next time you want a pasta dish that is both flavorful and can be prepared ahead of time. Absolutely perfect for entertaining. Serve it with a Caesar salad, crusty baguette chunks, and a hearty red wine and you have a meal fit for a king.
And if you feel like I do about store bought ricotta, give my recipe for Homemade Ricotta Cheese a try. Believe me, homemade ricotta and store bought ricotta have nothing in common. Homemade ricotta is simply “a horse of a different color”!
- 1 T. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 lb. bulk spicy or mild Italian sausage
- ½ c. chopped onion
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 (28-oz.) can chopped or diced tomatoes (Italian tomatoes preferably)
- 1 bay leaf
- pinch crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- ½ tsp. kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- ½ c. loosely packed fresh basil chiffonade*
- 1-2 T. butter, optional
In a large covered sauce pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the sausage, chop it into small pieces as it cooks, and sauté until nicely browned. Add the onion and sauté until soft and translucent, about 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for an additional minute. Add the tomatoes, bay leaf, red pepper flakes, oregano, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 30 minutes. When the sauce is done, remove from heat, remove bay leaf, add basil, and adjust seasoning. If the sauce tastes acidic, add butter 1 tablespoon at a time to round out the flavor. Set aside. (Even better if made a day or two ahead.)
- 4 T. butter
- ¼ c. flour
- 2½ c. whole milk
- ¼ tsp. freshly grated or ground nutmeg
- ¼ tsp. kosher salt, or to taste
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 c. grated provolone cheese
- 1½ c. grated Parmesan cheese, divided
While the meat sauce is burbling away, melt the butter for the béchamel sauce in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for 3-4 minutes or until the flour starts to turn a delicate golden brown. Slowly whisk in the milk and simmer until the sauce comes to a boil. Boil for one minute. Remove from heat and add the nutmeg, salt, pepper, provolone cheese, and ½ cup of the Parmesan. Set aside.
- 1 lb. lasagna noodles** (I use Culinary Circle Authentic Bronze-Cut Lasagna noodles)
- 1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
To Assemble the Lasagna:
Before cooking the noodles, have all the other ingredients prepped and ready to go. Cook the noodles in boiling salted water until al dente (firm to the bite). Remove from heat. Don’t drain. Leave the noodles in the water as you assemble the lasagna. Spread 1 cup of the meat sauce on the bottom of a buttered 9×13-inch, fairly high sided casserole dish. Place 1/3rd of the noodles in a single layer on top of the sauce. Spread ½ of the meat sauce over the noodles. Spread 1/3rd of the béchamel sauce over the meat sauce. Sprinkle 1/3rd of the remaining Parmesan cheese and 1/3rd of the shredded mozzarella over the béchamel sauce. Repeat. For the final layer, add the remaining noodles, béchamel, and cheeses. Cover the lasagna with a piece of aluminum foil that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Bake for 30 minutes in a pre-heated 375 degree oven. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until the lasagna is bubbly and the top is golden brown. Remove from oven and let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Note: This lasagna can be assembled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 3 days before baking. It can be frozen for up to 1 month. Bring to room temperature before baking.
*Chiffonade (pronounced “shif-oh-nod”) is a knife technique used for cutting herbs and leaf vegetables such as lettuce into thin strips or ribbons. To chiffonade leaves of basil, stack the basil leaves and roll them into a tube. Then carefully cut across the ends of the tube with your knife to produce fine strips.
**Hint: when deciding how many noodles to cook, spread the bottom of the pan with a single layer of uncooked noodles. Triple that number and you have just the right amount. (Took me years to figure this out. I’m obviously a slow learner!)