Lasagna is one of the few dishes my mom made on the regular growing up. She doesn’t like sausage (or many things, for that matter…love you mom!) so I never tried it with anything other than ground beef and Prego sauce until I was around 20.
I soon found out there are all kinds of different lasagnas…spinach lasagna, vegetable lasagna, seafood lasagna. Many, many trial and errors, both on the ingesting front and cooking front, have led me to believe one singular truth about this classic Italian dish. Don’t mess with it. It’s perfect as is. No, really. Stop it. Right now.
There are people out there, many of them in my own circle of friends, who dutifully try to “lighten up” classic dishes because MMMM who doesn’t want delish Splenda chocolate ganache cupcake or some peanut butter that started out in powder form? Me. Do not want. Here’s the deal: if you’re going to eat lasagna, eat lasagna. It will never, ever be healthy no matter what you do to it and every classic ingredient you wrestle from lasagna’s cold, dead hands to replace with some processed, low-calorie substitute is simply stripping the dish of flavor. Those flavors, all of them, are what make lasagna so great in the first place. And fat-free cheese ISN’T CHEESE. (No, seriously, it isn’t cheese. Don’t eat that stuff.)
I have very little patience for people who can’t genuinely enjoy a big, meaty slice of lasagna. Life’s too short.
CLASSIC SAUSAGE LASAGNA
serves about 8 people
2 large jars of your favorite marinara sauce or homemade (I use Classico Tomato and Basil)
1/2 onion chopped finely
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
8 basil leaves, chopped
1 box (1lb.) lasagna noodles (I boil my own rather than use the “no-boil” kind)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 cups ricotta cheese (full fat is best so the dish won’t be watery)
2 cups grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
2 large eggs
1/2 lb grated mozzarella (about 2 cups)
3/4 lb. Italian sausage (I prefer hot to sweet)
1. In a large pot, combine the jarred pasta sauces, the chopped onion, the single clove of chopped garlic, and three of the basil leaves. Bring to a simmer and let cook as long as you can, as little as 30 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a very large pot (or two) of salted water to a boil for the noodles – begin dropping them in the pots 7 or 8 at a time but be careful not to overcrowd them while they’re boiling.
***If you’re using no-boil noodles you can skip the boiling step – I find they stay too crunchy for my liking, though. With regular noodles, boil then remove with tongs onto paper towels or kitchen towels to dry, batch by batch.
2. While the noodles are cooking according to package directions, heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. When hot, add the sausage and brown, breaking up the sausage with a spoon. When the sausage is almost done, add the 2 smashed garlic cloves and cook about 2 minutes, until browned along with the red pepper flakes. Unless you’ve got an absurd amount of fat, resist the urge to drain! Remove the sausage pan from heat and allow to cool. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
3. In a bowl, mix together the ricotta cheese, the eggs, the remaining basil, salt, pepper, and 1 cup of the parmigiano-reggiano. Grease a (very) large baking dish with cooking spray and begin assembling the lasagna. Start with a couple of ladles of sauce to coat the bottom. Then add a layer of noodles. On top of the noodles spread 1/3 of the ricotta mixture, followed by 1/3 of the sausage, then another ladle or two of sauce, then a generous sprinkling of mozzarella. Continue 1) noodles 2) ricotta 3) sausage 4) sauce (be generous) 5) mozzarella. Finish the lasagna with a final layer of noodles, then sauce, covered with a very generous helping of mozzarella and the rest of the parmigiano-reggiano cheese.
4. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes or until hot all the way through (use a knife to check.) Remove the foil about 25 minutes before the dish is done baking so the top will brown – if it gets brown too quickly simply cover it back up. Allow to cool at least 15 minutes before cutting.
I read a neat trick in a magazine once that helps lasagna stay together. Gives it “structural integrity,” it said. After that first layer of noodles, alternate the way the noodles lay from layer to layer. It really works.