I Heart Lasagna


Good lasagna is meaty, drips with rich tomato sauce and oozes with gooey cheese. It's a meal where you can really stretch your dollar. I have yet to come across a lasagna recipe that doesn't make at least three or four meals for two people. Lasagna is filling and comforting at the same time.

I have spent the last few years in search of a totally awesome lasagna recipe. Not a mediocre lasagna recipe; not a forgettable lasagna recipe; not one that makes you shrug your shoulders and say, "Eh." I wanted a lasagna recipe that will one day make my now 4-month-old child want to come home from college for regular visits.

The first time I made this lasagna, my carnivore husband had decided he wanted steak for dinner. I agreed but went ahead with the lasagna anyway, because I planned on freezing the remainder for the upcoming weeks. I managed to recruit him as my sous chef, and as he was stirring (and tasting) the pot of Bolognese sauce, he quickly changed his mind. He went back for seconds.

This is not something you are going to be able to throw together in a few minutes and pop in the oven. The sauce really does need to simmer slowly for two hours to bring out all the flavors. The good news is you can make the sauce a few days ahead of time, and store it in the fridge until you are ready to assemble.

You can try to save a few dollars by using the rubbery pre-shredded mozzarella, but you know that gooey trail of melted cheese you get when you lift a slice of hot, homemade lasagna onto your plate? That only comes from real, fresh mozzarella.

This recipe makes enough to feed a crowd, and it's perfect for freezing: follow the recipe, but don't bake the lasagna before freezing. Thaw it in the refrigerator for 24 hours before baking as described.

Lasagna for a Crowd
1 1/2 pounds sweet Italian sausage
1 1/2 pounds lean ground sirloin
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
8 cloves garlic, crushed
1 8-ounce package of sliced mushrooms
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
3 6-ounce cans tomato paste
2 15-ounce cans tomato sauce
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 tablespoon dried basil leaves
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
6 tablespoons fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped and divided
12 lasagna noodles
32 ounces ricotta cheese (part-skim or regular)
2 eggs
3 pounds fresh, soft, "buffalo" mozzarella cheese, sliced
3 cups grated Parmesan cheese

In a Dutch oven or large skillet with lid, cook sausage, ground sirloin, onion, mushrooms and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until well browned. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce and balsamic vinegar. Season with sugar, basil, oregano, thyme, bay leaves, fennel seeds, Italian seasoning, one-and-a-half teaspoons salt, pepper and two tablespoons parsley. Simmer on low, covered, for at least one-and-a-half to two hours, stirring occasionally.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese with eggs, remaining parsley and half teaspoon salt.

To assemble, spread enough meat sauce to cover the bottom of two 9-by-13-inch baking dishes. Arrange three raw lasagna noodles lengthwise over meat sauce. Spread noodles with half the ricotta-cheese mixture. Place a third of the mozzarella-cheese slices on top of the ricotta. Spoon about a cup and a half of meat sauce over mozzarella, and sprinkle each pan with a quarter cup Parmesan cheese and a quarter cup Romano cheese.

Repeat layers (noodles, ricotta, mozzarella, meat) and top with remaining mozzarella, Parmesan and Romano cheese.

Cover pans with foil. To prevent sticking, spray the under side of foil with cooking spray.

Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 25-30 minutes or until the cheese on top is nice and golden. Cool for 15 minutes before serving.

Makes two 9-by-13-inch pans; serves approximately 10 to 16.


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