Classic Lasagna (only easier)


Searching for culinary shortcuts that do not alter quality is one of my most delicious hobbies.  This lasagna from the brilliant folks at Cook’s Illustrated has been passed on to countless friends and family members.  I found this dandy back in 2002.  They had me at hello with “really good lasagna on the table in under 90 minutes.”

Typical feedback usually includes “It is the only lasagna I will make ever again.” and “It is so easy and so good.”

Before I continue gushing about my lasagna love, I will admit to my adoration of the traditional lasagna process: Make the sauce.  Boil the noodles.  Determine the fillings.  To bechamel or not to bechamel?  Mothers teaching their children the family recipe for lasagna.

But the Cook’s Illustrated recipe just appealed to my contemporary, time strapped self.  I have always told Marco that lasagna is a labor of love (and Marco LOVES his lasagna).  Should I let him in on my little lasagna secret?  I am thinking that this may fall under the tofu clause of no harm, no foul.

So for the recipe: Make a meaty sauce enriched with heavy cream.  The ricotta filling is classic with no frills. Use good quality tomatoes, mozzarella and Parmesan.  My noodles of choice are Barilla, the recipe only uses 12, so you will have a few extras.  After 45 minutes in the oven and a bit of rest time, you are done.  Seriously, it could not be easier.

Cook’s Illustrated Lasagna with Hearty Tomato Sauce
Serves 8 – 10.

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 med. onion, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. meatloaf mix (beef, veal, pork)
(or substitute 1/2 lb. beef & 1/2 lb. Italian sausage meat)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 (28 oz.) can tomato puree
1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes, drained
1 (15 oz.) container ricotta cheese
1 1/4 cups grated Parmesan
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
12 no-boil lasagna noodles
1 lb. shredded mozzarella cheese

Make sauce:  Over medium heat, warm the oil.  When hot, add the onion and garlic, cook and stir for about 5 minutes.  Add meat, salt and pepper, cook until onions are soft and the meat is just cooked through. Add cream, simmer until all the liquid absorbed, 4 minutes. Add puree and tomatoes.  Stir well.  Simmer for about 5 minutes.

In a small bowl, Mix ricotta, 1 cup Parmesan, basil, egg, salt and pepper until evenly blended. (I often add the basil to the sauce because Marco is a purist about his ricotta filling).  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Assemble lasagna:  Grease a 9 x 13 pan with cooking spray.  Spread 1/4 cup of sauce on bottom of the pan.  Lay 3 noodles across pan (see pic above). Drop a 3 Tbsp. of ricotta mixture on each noodles and spread out. Top with 1 cup mozzarella, 1 1/2 cups sauce.  Repeat this process two more times.  Top with last 3 noodles, remaining sauce, remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.

Spray foil with cooking spray and cover lasagna.  Bake for 15 minutes covered. Take foil off and bake for more 25 until the lasagna is bubbling and cheese is nicely browned.

Remove from oven and let stand at least 10 minutes before serving.

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