One of the first truly big meals I learned to make as a kid was lasagna. My dad just loved the stuff… so he asked me to make it once a week… kind of a funny request for a Portuguese man… but I have always loved making my Daddy happy so weekly lasagna it was! Over time, I started learing to tweak things here and there. I developed my own methods and preferences. It was really one of those repetitive recipes that unknowingly taught me how to cook… After all, I wasn’t following a recipe, I would do it week after week and almost each week something would change, some times I kept the change and sometimes not so much. What better cooking lesson could there be?
Through all this trial and error I learned that meat lasagna is the way to go. Although this recipe has taken me just about 25 years to perfect, it is pretty basic and pretty classic, but has an unbelievable flavor that is both simple and complex at the same time. Homemade meat sauce, hand mixed cheese and mozzarella along with thin flat pasta noodles are what makes up this delicious dinner.
This recipe is a rather large recipe, but you have options. If you have a big family, you can get 12-16 generous portions here, so great… If you would like to use it for a party, even better! But, if you just don’t need a huge lasagna, it’s still worth making and splitting half into a pan for the freezer! You are doing the same work, might as well get two or even three meals out of it!
Here’s how I do it… There will be 4 layers in all.
Let’s start with the sauce…
I start by mincing an onion.
Place onions in a pan with some heated olive oil over medium heat.
Here are the flavors that you will need to layout head of time… this method will make for a less stressful cooking experience.
Once the onions are starting to caramelize, add in the dry spices… crushed red pepper flakes and italian seasoning. This will allow their flavor to really bloom. Also, add in your minced garlic at this point so it doesn’t really get a chance to burn. Sautée for a minute or two with the onions.
Add in browned ground beef. I happened to have some that I browned up earlier in the week. If you don’t then be sure to brown and drain separately from the onions as draining the fat will take a lot of the flavor of the onions and spices away with it and won’t allow you to get the desired effect with the caramelization.
Add in a few swigs of Worcestershire sauce. This gives you an amazing background flavor you can’t get from much else.
Add in two extra large cans of tomato puree.
This ingredient is indispensable. Add in one full can of tomato paste.
This is what your can looks like when you are through adding in the puree, that won’t do.
Add some white wine into each and swish it around so you can get the remainder of that puree! I hate wasting. You could use red wine here, but I find it to be a bit too strong for a lasagna, so I use white.
Now this is a little more acceptable.
Mix it all together over med/low heat. Be careful! It starts to sputter at this point!
Strip the thyme leaves off the stiffer little branches.
Chop or rip up your basil.
Add in your fresh herbs now.
Cover up your skillet… as you can see, before I even got to my camera, the sputtering has continued.
Now let’s start on the cheese mixture.
You are putting so much work into this recipe… please use a real block of parmesan cheese (the best you can afford) and shred the cheese yourself, it makes a huge difference here.
This is the left over parmesan rind from the block of parmesan I used for the cheese, don’t throw that out! As a matter of fact, if you ever end up with a rind for another recipe and feel the urge to throw it out, avoid that urge and just freeze it for times when you are making sauce!
Toss that in the sauce.
Shred up your cheese and divide a handful of it out to reserve for later.
For this large lasagna, you are going to need a large container of whole milk ricotta cheese.
Dump that into your mixing bowl. You’ll want a medium to large mixing bowl.
Add in your parmesan along with about 3/4 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese. (You can cheat with the mozzarella if you choose to get the pre-shredded stuff or you can shred your own.
To the cheese add in a bunch of fresh cracked black pepper.
Then add in a good pinch of italian seasoning mix.
Add in two eggs.
Add a good pinch of salt.
This is what you should have when all mixed.
Now we just need to gather two more ingredients and we are ready to build our masterpiece!
The first is the pasta… I use this oven-ready pasta for three reasons 1. the big step of pre-cooking pasta before hand gets eliminated 2. the noodles are flat with no ripples and 3. they are thin… all things that make for a great lasagna!
And the next is the mozzarella … This is the cheese that I discovered as a kid and it really makes a big difference in the body of the lasagna.
Now we build!
This is an extra-large lasagna pan… this recipe won’t go all the way up the sides of this really big pan, but if you use a 9″x13″ pan, it certainly will.
Start off by ladling some sauce into the bottom of the pan… this serves a couple of purposes… 1st I always like to sauce the bottom and 2nd the pasta won’t stick to the bottom.
Place the pasta on top of the sauce.
Because we are using oven ready pasta, I like to put a sort of skim coat of sauce on top of the noodles.
Add on the cheese mixture.
Spread the cheese mixture as evenly as you can.
Add the mozzarella slices on top of the cheese mixture.
Now start on the next layer by ladling on more sauce.
when you start a new pasta layer on top of another layer of sauce, you always want to make sure you are laying them out in a different pattern so that when you cut into it, it’s got pasta running from the top of the slice to the bottom.
Finish off the top with a good coating of sauce.
Add some shredded mozzarella to the top.
Grab the little pile of parmesan we set aside earlier and sprinkle right on top.
At this point, bake for 45 mins to 1 hr until the cheese on top is thoroughly melty, but not burned.
When it comes out of the oven, let it set for a good 10-15 minutes before cutting.
Stacy’s Meat Lasagna
For the sauce:
2 28oz. cans of tomato puree
1 6-8oz.can tomato paste
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef, browned and drained
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup hot water
1 med. onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbs. fresh basil
1/2 tsp. fresh thyme
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. dry Italian seasoning
1 tsp. kosher salt
In a large skillet or shallow pot, sautée onion in olive oil over medium heat. When caramelized, add in red pepper flakes, Italian seasoning and garlic, sautée for a couple minutes. Add in ground beef, continue to sautée. Add Worcestershire sauce, continue to sautée.
Next, add in tomato sauce and paste. Rinse tomato cans with white wine and add in to sauce. Add in parmesan rind and cook over low heat for 30 mins. When done add in 1 cup of hot water to loosen if needed.
Check for salt at this point.
For the Cheese Mixture:
1 large container of Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/4 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper
Mix all ingredients together.
Build your lasagna:
1 box oven-ready lasagna noodles
2 packages sliced mozzarella cheese
meat sauce, prepared
cheese mixture, prepared
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
Pre-heat oven to 350°F. In a large lasagna pan, start by adding sauce to the bottom of the pan. Next, layer on the noodles. Skim coat the noodles with a bit more sauce. Next, add on a layer of the cheese mixture. Next, add on the mozzarella slices. Repeat until you reach the end of your ingredients. Be sure to think about how large your pan is and how to divvy up the layers. End by covering in sauce and adding on the shredded mozzarella and shredded parmesan.
Bake for 45 minutes or until all the cheese on top has melted and started browning nicely. Enjoy!