Amid my recent searches for recipes involving ground meat, I perhaps inevitably stumbled upon recipes for lasagna. In general, I have mixed feelings about lasagna. On the one hand, it seems like a sort of meal that’s ripe for variation, and in classic form, lasagna contains all the great flavors of Italian cuisine that beg for candlelight, checkered tablecloths and hearty red wine. On the other hand, lasagna can turn out very boring very easily. There aren’t a lot of good recipe variations to be found. It can also get dried out and rubbery, especially upon subsequent reheating (and, really, who eats an entire casserole in one sitting).
The last lasagna I remember truly loving was the creation of my friend Lisa Di, who made lasagna with paper-thin homemade noodles. The delicacy and freshness of the noodles made all the difference, as I recalled, though it had been many years since I’d eaten it. Having tried a successful noodle recipe a few weeks ago, and finding myself with a lazy Sunday, I felt ambitious enough to try out a recipe.
1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 (8oz) cans of tomato sauce
1 (6oz) can of tomato paste
2-3 plum tomatoes, chopped
4 oz of beer
1/2 teaspoon salt
cayenne pepper, to taste
fresh basil and parsley, to taste
1 lb. ground meat
water, as needed
15 oz. ricotta cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup sour cream
lasagna noodles, cooked and drained, or straight out of the pasta maker
1-2 cups shredded mozzerella
Saute the onions and garlic in the melted butter in a medium saucepan until onions are softened. Add tomato sauce, paste, chopped tomatoes, beer, salt, pepper and herbs. Cook until heated through; fresh herbs should be wilted in the sauce. Process with an immersion blender (this was my lazy step so that I wouldn’t have to chop the herbs, but it can be skipped by cutting them up ahead of time). Add the meat and continue to cook (I like to cut up the ground meat first so it’s easier to break up as it cooks).
Meanwhile, combine the ricotta, the egg, the parmesan and the sour cream in a separate bowl. When the meat is cooked in the sauce, and the lasagna noodles are ready (i.e. either cooked, or made fresh through the pasta maker), spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of a 9 X 13 square glass baking pan.
Put down the first layer of lasagna noodles. Spread with a layer of ricotta mixture and then another layer of sauce. Repeat layering: noodles, cheese, sauce. Finish with a layer of noodles, sauce and mozzarella on top.
Bake at 350 for 45 to 60 minutes, until mozzarella is golden and crisp.
If you have extra mozzarella, that can be included as its own layer, but I had a limited amount that I wanted to save for the top, and I’m not a huge fan of having too much cheese stringiness amongst the lasagna slices.
If you’re tempted to make your own lasagna noodles, the the above referenced noddle recipe makes just the right amount at the thinnest setting (number 9 on my pasta maker), and I definitely recommend using the thinnest setting. I was afraid, at first, that the noodles might be too thin, that they might dissolve in the sauce, but they held up wonderfully and the entire recipe turned out swimmingly!