Thursday, September 10, 2009

Best Lasagna Ever.

Not to brag, but I make a pretty darn good lasagna. I've been meaning to share the recipe for a while, even though it's not super fancy or unique. It's just really a good classic meaty, cheesy, tomato-y lasagna.

Lasagna was always my favorite Italian dish as a kid. It used to be the dish that I always ordered without fail. Of course, as I got older and my tastes got more sophisticated, I scoffed at lasagna and passed it over in favor of dishes like gnocchi or saltimbocca.

I started cooking it myself at the request of Troy, for whom it was a comfort food from his childhood. After a few years of experimenting and adding and subtracting from various recipes, I finally hit upon a winner. Troy has actually declared my lasagna better than his mom's (shhh, don't tell)! I'll warn you right now though, he likes his pasta super saucey, so this recipe uses a LOT of sauce. I think it must weigh about 6 lbs. (not counting the pan) by the time it goes into the oven. I also apologize in advance for my lack of precise measurements in the directions. I'm not much for measuring.

1 lb. ground beef
2 jars tomato sauce*
1 box flat lasagna sheets (I use Barilla)
(1) 15 oz. container part skim ricotta cheese
(1) 10 oz. box frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg
1 lb. shredded mozzarella cheese
Salt & pepper to taste
1 tsp each dried oregano & parsley (optional)

*I'm aware that homemade sauce is better, but I usually use jarred for convenience. My preferred brand is Barilla, but lately I've been using the Simply Natural Organic brand from Costco, with very good results. I also usually sneak at least a jar or two of baby food (either carrots, winter squash or sweet potatoes) into the sauce for extra veggies.

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Brown ground beef. I usually add salt, pepper and dried herbs as I cook the beef, just to give it some more flavor. Drain off grease and add about 1 cup of tomato sauce. This is also a good point to add some baby food, if you want. Trust me when I tell you that no one will ever be able to taste that it's there. Set aside and allow to cool slightly.

3. Squeeze all of the moisture out of the thawed spinach. Combine the spinach in a small bowl with the ricotta, parmesan and egg. Mix thoroughly.

4. In a 9x13 pan, add about a cup of sauce to the bottom. You want to use enough sauce to have a thin layer across the entire bottom.

5. Layer 4 uncooked pasta sheets on top of the sauce. I usually put mine lengthwise 2x2, but you can also do them 4 across. They will overlap slightly in the middle. Don't worry that they don't reach across the entire pan. They will expand as they cook and absorb moisture from the sauce.

6. Spread half the ricotta mixture on top of the pasta sheets.

7. Spread half the meat mixture on top of the ricotta.

8. Sprinkle about 1 1/2 cups of shredded mozzarella on top of the meat.

9. Spread more sauce (about 1-2 cups) on top of the cheese. Be generous with the sauce. You want to make sure you have enough moisture for the pasta sheets.

10. Repeat steps 5-9.

11. Add one more layer of pasta sheets. Cover with sauce and more mozzarella.

12. Cover the top with a double layer of aluminum foil. I usually spray the inside of the foil with cooking spray to keep it from sticking to the cheese.

13. Bake in a 375 degree oven for one hour or until heated through. In my uneven oven, this sometimes takes more like 75 minutes.

14. Let stand for 5-10 minutes before serving. This gives everything a chance to set up so that it doesn't all fall to mush the second you cut a piece.

Like I said, it's nothing fancy, but it's quick to put together (especially with those no-cook pasta sheets), hearty and delicious. I'll also add that it's a great dish to let your kids help make - our 2-year-old daughter was delighted to sprinkle on the mozzarella all by herself - which also makes them more likely to eat it, spinach and all!

Sorry, no picture this time since I was just too tired to do anything but cut and eat by the time it was done. I may try and snap one tomorrow if I can.

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