Yesterday Creg went out for a bike ride with his team, and I had brunch plans with a friend. My plans fell through, so I found myself with some time at home and got all of my usual Sunday stuff (shopping, laundry, etc) out of the way. So today, I had all sorts of time to putter around the house. I had planned on making a simple dinner, but then I thought why not make lasagna?? I had all of the ingredients in the house, and I’ve been starting to plan things that I can make ahead and freeze for the rents to have when Creg and I are on vacation next month. Plus, I love lasagna! It’s such a great meal if you need to feed a crowd (5 of us ate half of the lasagna tonight), and it freezes well, and/or makes great lunch leftovers the next day. It’s my go-to meal that I make for friends who are housebound, or just had a baby. Sadly, we discovered a crack in my favorite lasagna pan tonight when we were washing up, so this is the last lasagna that will come out of that pan. I hope to find a suitable replacement soon.
Normally, I try to do lasagna in stages. There are 4 basic components to this one, 3 of which (tomato sauce, ragu, and spinach filling) can be done days, or even weeks ahead and frozen separately. Today, since I didn’t have any of the components ready, the whole thing from start to finish took about 3 1/2 hours. Another benefit to this was that I had extra tomato sauce and ragu to freeze. The rents now have 3 dinners ready to go! All pasta, but they love pasta, so that’s ok.
I buy the Barilla oven-ready lasagna pasta to make this much easier to assemble, with the added bonus of not having to handle boiling hot lasagna noodles. They work remarkably well, and taste great. As with all of my cooking, I try to have everything organized and ready to go. I started the ragu first, as this has to simmer for 1 1/2 hours. After I put the meat in, I started on the tomato sauce, and while they were both simmering away, I put together the spinach filling. By the way, the spinach filling is the same that I use in my ravioli and crepes, so a double batch of this would be a great way to plan ahead for another meal, freezing the half that you don’t use.
1 large container Ricotta
Grated parmigiano reggiano
1 16 oz package Frozen Spinach
1 package oven-ready Lasagna noodles
Quick Tomato Sauce
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
2 28 oz. cans San Marzano tomatoes
salt & pepper to taste plus any dried herbs on hand such as oregano and basil.
Ragu a la Bolognese
1 onion, very finely diced
1 carrot, very finely diced
1 rib of celery, very finely diced
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. ground pork
3/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup heavy cream
Salt & pepper to taste
5 tbsp butter
1/2 cup flour
4 cups milk
tiny grating of nutmeg
Make the tomato and ragu sauces (below), or if you have them on hand in the freezer, just defrost! Mix the ricotta with the eggs, thawed drained spinach, and add some parmigiano (about 1/2 cup) and salt. Taste for seasoning. Make the bechamel right before you’re ready to assemble the lasagna, since you don’t want that to sit around for long.
When you’re ready to assemble, spread about 1/2 cup of tomato sauce in the bottom of a deep rectangular pan, then add a layer of pasta. Top with a layer of meat sauce, then white sauce. Add another layer of pasta. Top that with a layer of spinach mixture and tomato sauce. Repeat both layers. Then top with tomato sauce and grated mozzarella. Bake covered at 375 degrees for 1/2 hour, then uncover and bake for 15 more minutes, till top is bubbly and browned. Let sit for 15 minutes before serving. This is very important! If you don’t let it rest and settle, you will have a runny mess when you cut into it.
Quick Tomato Sauce:
Heat oil, add onion, salt, and herbs, and saute till soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute.
Put tomatoes through a food mill into the pan (including any liquid from the can).
Simmer for about 20 minutes.
Ragu a la Bolognese:
Melt butter in a large sauce pan, add onion, carrot and celery. Season with a bit of salt and saute till soft, about 5 minutes.
Add ground meat to pan and cook till no longer pink, breaking up with a wooden spoon (do not brown).
Add wine and cook till evaporated.
Stir in tomato paste until well combined, then add about 1/4 cup of the stock.
Cook covered for about 1 1/2 hours over a very low heat (just simmering), adding stock a little at a time. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Add cream and heat through (if you are planning to freeze the sauce, omit the cream and add it when you re-heat).
Melt butter, then stir in flour. Let cook for 2 minutes, then slowly add milk, whisking to make sure there are no lumps. Bring to boil while stirring constantly, then reduce and cook till sauce is thickened and coats the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes.