14 January 2014

Foodie Tuesday | Epic Lasagna (fo' realz)

One time way back during one of our first holiday seasons as a family, I was inspired of an afternoon to make homemade lasagna as my contribution to a festive pot luck that evening. And when I say "homemade" I mean HOMEMADE: every ingredient was from my own two hands, from scratch. I blanched, peeled and chopped tomatoes, then stewed them with red wine and fresh herbs until it cooked down to a perfect red sauce. Added that perfect red sauce to beef and Italian sausage browned with onions and garlic, which simmered on the stove for hours and made our house smell freaking incredible. Mixed the cheeses, boiled the noodles, laid it out in my French White in a pleasing criss-cross pattern and baked until golden bubbly.

Daryn said it was the best thing I'd ever cooked; the best thing he'd possibly ever eaten. So naturally in the fifteen years since I've never made it again.

Until now.

Among other goals for this year, 2014 is going to be the year I kick my kitchen's ass. I mean it: I'm a decent enough cook as it is, but this year I'm going to knock it out of the park. I'd like to take classes, to experiment (even) more, to push the limits of my abilities and my palate, and to finally get my kids to eat Brussels sprouts. It's going to be epic, and what better way to kick it off than with the most amazing (mostly) homemade lasagna.

I cheated a smidge: I didn't make my own red sauce. I used tinned tomatoes, etc. because let's face it: we're all busy. Not everybody has time to skin thirty tomatoes and cook them down to a cup of sauce. So I've made it easier on myself - and on you, too. All without sacrificing any of the flavor.

Preparation: 30 minutes | Cooking Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes | Serves: 8-10

  • 1 1/2 lbs extra lean ground beef
  • 4 large sweet Italian sausages, removed from casing
  • 1 Spanish onion, finely diced
  • 2 heaping tbsp. minced garlic
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3/4 cup red wine (your choice; I used a Yellow Tail Shiraz)
  • 1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes, drained well
  • 2 (6 0z.) cans tomato paste
  • 1 (13 oz.) can tomato sauce
  • 2 tbsp. white sugar
  • 2 tsp. dried basil
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. onion salt
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. chili flakes (optional)
  • 1 tbsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 18 whole wheat lasagna noodles
  • 2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 21 slices mozzarella cheese
  • cooking spray

Cooking Directions:
  1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; cook 3-4 minutes until onions begin to soften.
  2. To the pot add ground beef and sausage. Cook, stirring frequently; break up any large chunks into small pieces.
  3. When the meat is browned completely, add the next 14 ingredients (red wine through ground black pepper). Stir thoroughly. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low. Simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
  4. In a separate pot, bring lightly salted water to a boil. Add lasagna noodles and cook until just al dente. Remove from heat and rinse with cold water to prevent sticking.
  5. In a medium mixing bowl, crack two eggs and whisk until scrambled. To the eggs add ricotta cheese; stir to blend thoroughly. Then add parmesan cheese and stir again. Ensure the cheese is fully combined for best results.
  6. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  7. Grease a deep baking dish (14"L x 10"W x 3"D) with cooking spray. Scoop 2 large ladles of meat sauce into the bottom of the pan (approximately 1 1/2 to 2 cups). Shake slightly to settle the layer. Lay 6 noodles lengthwise on top of the sauce; each needs to overlap the other by approximately 1/2. Spread half the ricotta/parmesan/egg mixture over the noodles (I use the back of a spoon, and keep in mind the layer doesn't have to be exactly even; variations in depth are OK.) Add a layer of mozzarella slices: two lines of 3 1/2 slices (7 slices per layer). Top with 2 more ladles of meat sauce.
  8. Repeat these layers again (noodles, ricotta mixture, mozzarella, meat sauce) then top with a final layer of noodles, top with meat sauce, then the final (top) layer of mozzarella, and that bad boy is ready for baking!
  9. Cover the lasagna with tin foil, either tented (to ensure it doesn't touch the cheese) or sprayed first on the underside with cooking spray, to prevent sticking. Either option works.
  10. Bake in a preheated oven for 40 minutes, then remove foil and continue baking another 25-30 minutes until the cheese is browned and bubbling. Allow to cool for 10-20 minutes before serving (to let the sauce "set". We make it a classic "Italian restaurant" feast by serving with Caesar salad and toasty garlic bread. 

Be forewarned: this is a dish that takes some time and effort to prepare, but the results are oh so worth it. Girl Scout's honour.

Oh, and that extra meat sauce in the pot? Freezes beautifully, and is fantastic on spaghetti.

Other Foodie Tuesday pasta recipes you might like: