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lasagna al forno

December 9, 2010

I was never a lasagna person growing up.   There are a lot of standard “American” dishes that I only discovered as an adult, because my mom’s cooking is heavily influenced by her Texan and Cajun heritages (which is a very positive thing, in case that’s not clear).  So while a lot of other families were eating meat and potatoes, or meatloaf and potatoes, or lasagna and other pasta dishes, I had a lot of beans and delicious rice, chicken and delicious rice, gumbo and delicious rice, etc.  Seriously, that rice was and is delicious.  And if you think making rice that delicious is easy – well, you’re wrong.   But more on that some day in another post far, far away.

This lasagna is not terribly easy to make by the world’s new “30 minute dinner” standards.  It’s not a one-pot recipe by any means.  Every time I make it, I curse the fact that I must dirty several mixing bowls in the process.  But then once I have a bite of this lasagna, all is forgiven.  There’s a freshness and a lightness to this lasagna that is very different from the heavier sorts that usually grace America’s tables.  Those are delicious, too, but they’re a different dish altogether.

Unlike many food bloggers, I am not skeptical of no boil lasagna noodles.  I am awed by them, and I say use them if you want to.  Just realize that they have to be completely coated in sauce or another liquid in order to bake into soft noodles once your lasagna is assembled and in the oven.  This can be tricky if you, like many lasagna-makers, place a lasagna noodle or two propped up vertically at either end of the lasagna in order to keep all the sauce and filling from spilling out of the lasagna. Typically the buffer lasagna noodles aren’t coated in sauce, so they’ll be crisp when they come out of the oven.  This isn’t a big deal – just leave them in there to serve as a buffer but don’t serve them to anyone.

I’m also going to note that the fresh basil really makes this dish.  Feel free to swap the fresh oregano for a smaller amount of dried oregano, but don’t swap the fresh basil for dried.

Lasagna al Forno

Adapted slightly from Tyler Florence

  • 1 lb box lasagna noodles, regular or no-boil
  • Olive oil (you’ll need random amounts for various things throughout the process)
  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 TBSP fresh basil, chopped
  • 4 TBSP fresh oregano, chopped and divided
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves if your jar is relatively fresh, 3 bay leaves if the jar is older or the leaves are small
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1.5 lb ground beef (it’s better to get a package with 1.7 lb ground beef than 1.3 lb ground beef, if you’re unable to find the elusive, ideal packet of 1.5 lb ground beef at the grocery store)
  • 1 lb ground sausage (I favor Jimmy Dean’s 1 lb rolls of sausage)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 30 oz ricotta cheese (2 standard-sized containers)
  • 1 1/2 lb mozzarella (if using bufala mozzarella – I’d guess about 2-3 cups of shredded mozzarella if not using bufala)
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded (note, this is measured in cups while the mozzarella is measured in pounds), divided (into 1/2 cups)
  • 1 (6-oz) jar of tomato paste
  • 4 cups of tomato sauce (feel free to use your favorite brand of prepared tomato sauce, but don’t buy one that’s already got a lot of oregano or garlic or other stuff in it, as it could be difficult to adjust the seasonings in the lasagna accordingly)

If you’re using regular lasagna noodles, get some water boiling.  Then, get your herbs and other stuff chopped (Emily tells me that this is called mise en place).  Chop all of the herbs, measure them, and set them aside into neat little piles on your cutting board or on a plate or in cute little bowls (which is cute but requires more clean-up).  Chop the onion (not too finely but not too roughly) and set aside.  Slice the garlic cloves – you want slices that are about 1/8 inch thick but not slices that are absolutely paper-thin.

Add the lasagna noodles (if regular) to the boiling water.  Throw in a splash of olive oil, which will prevent the noodles from sticking as they cook.

While they’re boiling, coat a large skillet with about 2 TBSP of olive oil and set it on a burner at medium heat.  Saute the chopped onion and garlic for about five minutes until they’re softened but not browned.   Add the basil, the bay leaves, a pinch of salt, and 2 TBSP of the oregano.  Then add the ground beef and sausage and saute for about fifteen more minutes until all of the meat is brown and none of it is pink anymore.  Note, however, that it’s going to bake in the oven for a while in the assembled lasagna, so it does not need to be dark brown.   If you’re using the Jimmy Dean sausage or, really, most sausages, it will be easy to break up the sausage with a wooden spoon as it’s browning.  At some point during the meat-cooking, the lasagna noodles will be ready.  Drain them and run them under cold water until they’re no longer hot.  Splash a little more olive in, mix it around until it coats the noodles, and set them aside until you’re ready to assemble the lasagna.

When the meat and onion and garlic mixture is done cooking, stir in the tomato paste and set aside to cool.

Now we’re going to work on the cheese mixture.   If your cheese isn’t grated already, go ahead and grate the parmesan cheese.  Get a medium-to-large bowl out, and throw in all of the ricotta and 1/2 cup of the parmesan cheese.   Add the beaten eggs, chopped parsley, salt and pepper, and the remaining 2 TBSP of oregano to the cheese mixture, stir, and set aside.

Now all your pots are dirty and yet so far nothing looks all that edible on its own.  We’re about to remedy that fact.   Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Pull out your favorite 9 x 13 pan.  Coat the bottom with a ladle full of tomato sauce (approximately 1 cup).   Arrange 4 of the prepared lasagna noodles lengthwise in the pan (they will overlap slightly).  Take two more noodles and prop them up at the two ends of the pan, curving them around the edges slightly.  You’ll likely have to tear off the top of these noodles, unless you have a very deep pan, or they’ll be higher than the top of the pan.   Now spread 1/2 of the meat mixture over the noodles, top with 1/2 of the ricotta mixture, followed by another ladle full of sauce (spread evenly) and 1/3 of the shredded/grated mozzarella.  Arrange 4 more noodles lengthwise on top.  Spread the remaining half of the meat mixture on top of the noodles, top with the remaining 1/2 of the ricotta mixture, the rest of the sauce, and another 1/3 of the mozzarella.  Arrange 4 more noodles on top and top with the remaining sauce.  Sprinkle the rest of the mozzarella and the remaining 1/2 cup of the parmesan cheese.  Tap the pan to get rid of any air bubbles.

Bake in the preheated (350 degree) oven for one hour – you’ll likely want to put a foil-covered cookie sheet underneath to catch any drippings.  Remove from the oven and let rest for at least 30 minutes before serving.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Sarah permalink
    December 11, 2010 7:42 pm

    It’s officially dangerous to read this blog before dinner. This lasagna recipe is one I’m definitely going to try, with substituted goat and sheep cheeses. I’ll report back how it turns out, but it if tastes anywhere near as good as this looks, it’ll be a real treat!

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