Garfield had it right: one of the world’s best foods is lasagna, and the world’s best lasagna is a homemade labour of love.
If 30 minute dinners are the primary fodder for your existence, you’re totally missing out, because 30 minute dinners require a lot of extra help to taste amazing… usually in the form of excess salt, artificial flavourings, or scads of butter. But when the making of a food is drawn out, things have time to soak into other things, flavours have time to get acquainted, and on the whole, you get a food that transcends a slapdash meal.
I think I’ve mentioned before that I live in a big Italian town, and I’m pretty sure I’d have an army of angry Italian nonnas coming over to beat me with their ladles if I implied that a good meat sauce could be made in anything less than a few hours. True to the best traditions, and with a little lazy cooking involved, I’ve made lasagna into a two-day process that I can accomplish easily while cooking other meals.
One of the ways you can speed up the process without watering down the flavour is with the cheese: my local grocer carries big blocks of Salerno mozzarella at the grocery store deli counter, among other extensive fine cheese options, (and hey, Salerno originally hails from Hamilton, and uses fresh Ontario milk, so we’re supporting a local product on top of it!). When you buy it sliced, you don’t have the added step of shredding and spreading other blocks. ALSO! When you use sliced cheese, you can get more layers in, for a less gloppy lasagna. Win win win. Salerno also makes soft cheeses like Traditional Ricotta that also go perfectly with the lasagna.
My personal recipe originally came from the World’s Best Lasagna recipe on Allrecipes, but I’ve adapted it over the years based on local ingredient availability. Where most lasagna recipes only call for mozzarella, Parmesan and ricotta, honestly (don’t hit me, nonna!) I don’t think you can make a lasagna without a third cheese for that extra dimension. And this is where you can personalize, a bit. I like to find something with a little, like one of the artisan Ivanhoe selections: Old Sharpe, or one of my favourite inclusions: Monterey Jack.
The sausage might seem alarming for some, but trust me: if you can find it, use the sweet Italian sausage. The Italian meat mix (equal parts pork, veal, and beef) is still pretty good, but it’s not the same. I can’t always get sweet Italian sausage here; it’s a winter product in Hamilton.
Make the sauce while you’re making dinner the night before, and for the love of all that’s holy, taste and season the food as you’re making it, at every step. Tasting and adjusting is the secret to success in most cooking. I don’t like to put exact amounts of salt and pepper on any recipe, because then people will dump it all in at once and the flavour won’t be the same. Frying onions? Salt it. Adding meat? Salt it then, too. You want to give things that time to meld together into a beautiful symphony.
Take the time and make the lasagna. You won’t regret it. It does take a little time, but it’s so, so worth it. The best part about it? Not only does it taste better the next day, the leftovers freeze well for quick dinners and lunches to go.
- 1 pound sweet Italian sausage + 3/4 pound lean ground beef OR 1 3/4 pound of Italian meat mix (veal, pork, ground beef)
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes
- 13 oz tomato paste
- 1 bottle strained tomatoes
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 tablespoons white sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil leaves
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper flakes
- Coarse Salt and Pepper
- 4 tablespoons chopped Cilantro parsley, divided
- 1 box fresh lasagna noodle sheets
- 6 ounces ricotta cheese
- 1 egg
- 3/4 pound mozzarella cheese, sliced
- 1/3 pound spicy Monterey Jack or other sharp cheese, sliced or shredded
- 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Olive oil
- In a large, heavy-bottomed pot like a dutch oven, add a little bit of olive oil, and begin sauteing the chopped onion over medium heat. Sprinkle it liberally with salt and a little pepper.
- When the onion is about half cooked, add the garlic and the meat, mincing and browning it with a little more salt and pepper.
- Once the meat is fully cooked, add the strained tomatoes, tomato paste, diced tomatoes, water, dried basil, half the parsley, Italian seasoning, cayenne, and sugar. Simmer covered for about 2 hours, stirring and tasting, and adding more seasoning to your preferences.
- Remove from heat and let sit overnight (you can refrigerate it if you like)
- Combine the ricotta, egg, parsley, and a pinch of salt and pepper in a bowl.
- Add a bit of cold meat sauce to the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan. Top with fresh lasagna sheets (no precooking is required), half of the ricotta mixture, 1/3 of the sliced cheese, then more meat sauce and 1/3 of the grated Parmesan. Repeat layers.
- Preheat the oven to 375F and tent the lasagna loosely with foil, making sure it doesn't touch the cheese on top.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes, remove foil, and then bake for another 25 minutes.
- Allow to sit for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
If you love cheese as much as I do, you can find more recipes on salernodairy.com.
Disclosure: I am part of the Gay Lea Ambassador Campaign and I receive special perks as part of my affiliation with this group. The opinions on this blog are my own.