It seems that everything eventually comes full circle. All of the things I enjoyed as I child have gained popularity in the last five years or so. All of the toys I was so fond of when I was a kid have all been turned into movies, 80’s music has seen a resurgence, and even some fashion trends from that fabulous decade have made their way back to the forefront. The same holds true for food trends.
All those old classics we enjoyed in our youth have been reestablishing themselves as the dishes people actively seek out, especially in times of stress such as the current climate with the COVID-19 outbreak. Meat loaf, Beef Wellington, Chicken Cordon Bleu, and so many other dishes that were up until recently considered dinosaurs have been regaining their former notoriety and with good cause. These comfort classics satisfy like no others and are just as good now as when we were younger. One of my favorite dishes that is making a comeback is lasagna.
When I think of Italian food I tend to think of those Italian-American classics that we all grew up with: pizza, Chicken Parmesan, spaghetti and meatballs, and of course, lasagna. In my eyes, lasagna hits all those comfort food pleasure points that we all look for in a satisfying meal: pasta, a rich, meaty tomato sauce, gooey, melty cheese, and that crispy cheese on top after it gets broiled. Served with a nice salad simply dressed with an acidic vinaigrette to balance all those rich, delicious flavors and you have what I consider to be a perfect meal.
Lasagna is a dish that is iconic in the American lexicon but actually has deep roots in Italy. Lasagna can be traced back to Naples during the Middle Ages. The first recorded recipe for lasagna was recorded in the early 14th century Liber de Coquina (The Book of Cookery). The traditional lasagna of Naples, lasagna di carnevale, includes sausage, fried meatballs, and hard-boiled eggs. Not really what we typically think of when we think of lasagna, that’s for sure. In Bologna, the pasta used for lasagna is traditionally green due to the addition of spinach to the pasta dough. In almost all of these recipes a traditional white sauce, or Bechamel, is used. Bechamel is one of the 5 Mother sauces and is quite simple. Equal parts butter and flour are cooked until slightly nutty and whole milk is whisked in until the sauces obtains a smooth, creamy consistency. For our purposes with this recipe, we are going to be using a blend of ricotta cheese and seasonings.
I prefer to use ricotta cheese in place of the traditional Bechamel because I like that the ricotta adds a bit more body. I find a lasagna made with Bechamel tends to be a little runny and is not the easiest thing to assemble and keep together. Another adjustment I will be making for the purposes of making our lives a little easier is to use no-boil noodles. In my opinion, par-boiling the noodles for lasagna is the most unnecessary and tedious step of making lasagna. No-boil noodles are delicious, incredibly easy to use, and are readily available in most local grocery stores. Using these simple shortcuts will lead to a fantastic final dish that is substantially easier to prepare but will still satisfy your craving for this Italian-American classic.
If you’re interested in more Italian classics, including how to make fresh pasta, be sure to check out our Pasta Workshop: Spring Menu on Monday, 4/6 from 6-9 PM at our Merchandise Mart location. We hope to see you back in our kitchens cooking as soon as we are able to open our doors.
Ricotta Lasagna with Meat Sauce
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1 pound 85/15 ground beef
1/2 yellow onion, fine dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 Tablespoon dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 14 oz. bag shredded mozzarella
1 32 oz. container ricotta cheese
1 9 oz. package oven-ready lasagna noodles
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pot over high heat.
2. Place ground beef in the pot and saute until well browned.
3. Remove beef from pot to a colander inside a bowl and allow excess fat to drain.
4. Turn heat down to medium-low and add 1 Tablespoon of drained beef fat back into the pot.
5. Saute onion until softened, 5-7 minutes.
6. Saute garlic until aromatic, 2-3 minutes.
7. Add diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, basil, and oregano. Simmer 15 minutes.
8. Add beef back to the pot and simmer an additional 15 minutes. Allow to cool.
9. While sauce cooks and cools, place ricotta cheese in a mixing bowl, season with salt and pepper, and place in a piping bag.
10. Ladle about 1/4 cup of meat sauce into the bottom of a 9" x 13" baking dish. This will keep the pasta from sticking and also establish a nice base for the lasagna.
11. Place 3 sheets of the oven-ready lasagna noodles across the pan, on top of the sauce.
12. Cover pasta with a thin layer of meat sauce.
13. Pipe ricotta mixture over the meat sauce.
14. Top ricotta with about 1/4 cup of shredded mozzarella and top with 3 more sheets of pasta.
15. Repeat layering process until the pan is almost full to the top, 3-5 layers and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
16. Cover pan with foil and bake 60 minutes until cheese is hot and bubbling and pasta is tender.
17. Set oven to broil. Uncover lasagna and broil until top is browned and crispy.
18. Let lasagna rest 10 minutes to set up. Cut into entrée sized squares and serve.
Did you know that you can even make lasagna in your Instant Pot? Check it out for a different way to make this classic comfort food.