Weekday Lasagna

Time is On Your Side. Yes, it is.

My grandmother (Vo, if you’ve not pieced that bit of info together yet) makes a lasagna that takes a good two days to cook.  San Marzano tomatoes are gently simmered with tender cuts of pork, italian sausage and homemade meatballs.  My family has been know to ration portions of the dish for fear that it’ll be months (nay, full years) before they’ll be in the right place at the right time and lucky enough to snag a bite.  Men have been known to stab each other with forks for a helping.

I have to make a pledge to you, faithful reader, that I’ll convince Vo to let me post her recipe.  That way, you too might be able to wield such powerful culinary prowess.  But I can assure you, that there will be a time when you want oozy deliciousness, and you don’t want to wait two days for it.  When I am jonesing for lasagna that is a) fresh and b) simple as hell, this is the recipe that I turn to.  And who knows?  Maybe this is enough to charm the pants off your friends and family until you can tuck Vo’s lasagna recipe into your rolodex.

The secret to this is thinning out a jar of bottled marinara with some chicken stock – this does wonders in coating the pasta sheets and gives the sauce a slow-simmered tastiness. Also, the richness of your dish is vastly determined by the quality of your ingredients – use whole milk mozzarella, whole milk ricotta, and good parmigiano reggiano to get a restaurant taste.  Part skim varieties work, but will be a lot less delicious – sorry, calorie counters.  And shredding your own mozzarella helps as well – the cheese is less dry and more flavorful than pre-shredded varieties.  But don’t worry if you don’t have the time to shred it – this is supposed to be simple.

For you vegetarians out there, substitute the chicken stock with vegetable stock and the ground beef with 1 1/2 lbs. of mixed mushrooms sauteed in olive oil – I like portobello, cremini and white buttons for this, but go to town.  Round things out by adding 1/2 pkg of frozen spinach (squeezed of water), 4 julienned basil leaves and 2 cloves of minced garlic to your ricotta mixture.

And vegans, try out this Vegan Ricotta recipe (from the Post Punk Kitchen – a real Vegan gem) along with the vegetable stock and mushroom marinara.  You’re not going to be able to get a melty, delicious crust with any mozzarella substitute that I’ve ever found, so just leave it out.  The vegan ricotta filling is really so good, it’s not necessary.  And a good trick for you presentation gluttons out there would be to spread the ricotta on the pasta sheet, roll and top with sauce, and then bake.  The pinwheel looks elegant and doesn’t require the whole crust of cheese that the stacked lasagna needs.

Alright, get cooking!

Weekday Lasagna

1 1/2 jars of marinara sauce (Barilla or Classico works – get it on sale)
1 1/2 c. of chicken broth
1 qt. of ricotta (whole or part-skim)
2 eggs, beaten
2 tbs. of oregano, chopped (or 2 tsp. of dried oregano)
1/4 c. of parmasean
1 tsp. of black pepper
1/2 tsp. of salt
1 tbs. of olive oil

2 lbs. of ground beef
2 cloves of minced garlic
2 tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. of salt

1 box of lasagna sheets
12 oz. of mozzarella, shredded

Set a large pot of heavily salted water to boil.  Cook lasagna noodles as directed for al dente, strain, and run under cool water for a bit so that you can handle them later.

Mix marinara and broth in a saucepan and warm gently.  Mix ricotta, eggs, parmasean, oregano, pepper, salt and olive oil until blended.  By the way, when I use part skim ricotta, I’ll add an extra egg to the mix to make the ricotta stay together a little better.  Not a fan of it all oozing out at once when you cut into it.  Set mixture aside.

Brown ground beef and drain.  Add garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil and a few ladlefuls (1 1/2 to 2 cups) of the marinara sauce to the meat and stir over medium heat until garlic cooks a bit – about 1 minute.  Set aside.

Spary a baking pan (13×9 is fine) with Pam.  Ladle a good amount of sauce over the bottom of the pan.  Arrange pasta sheets in even rows.  Spread all of ricotta and top with a handful of shredded mozzarella.  Top with pasta sheets and then all of the meat mixture.  Top with shredded mozzarella and the rest of your pasta sheets.  Crown the whole thing off with the last of the marinara and mozzarella on top.

Place lasagna in a 350° oven for 25 minutes.  Let sit for 5 minutes after you take it out, lest you cut into a gooey mess (and I mean this in the bad way).  Stuff your face and enjoy the rest of your weeknight.