Lasagne: Nature's perfect food

Lasagne is the ideal casserole for those of us who grew up with the sticky and bland noodle-soup-and-cheap protein dishes of our childhood and dreaded "casserole night."
For what is lasagne but noodles and protein bound together with sauce and baked until crispy around the edges? Oh, but what a difference the spicy sauce makes over the bland cream-of-whatever soup of yesteryear. And the addition of the cheese makes any meat protein unnecessary in a good vegetarian lasagne. However, where would a good Kansas City lasagne be without beef in it?

When a lasagne works, there will always be requests for the recipe. On the "good" occasions, I have had such requests. So for all those who asked, I am publishing my recipe.

Simple Beef-and-Cheese Lasagne
The strength of this lasagne is the relatively simple flavor. That is why the fresh basil is important. I make this lasagne in the winter with dried basil, and it is good, but the sauce takes on a different quality entirely with dried herbs. And most common herbs are not that difficult to

First you start the water boiling. When it is started, brown the meat. When it is almost done, add the chopped onion and garlic, if you are using fresh cloves. Do not let the garlic start to brown. Remove from heat and drain off the fat.

Somewhere in here, the water will come to a boil. Add as many noodles as will cover 2/3 of the surface of your pan times the number of layers of noodles you want. I have a pan that is 3 lasagne noodles wide, so I use 9 noodles for 3 layers.(3x3 is 9) You only want to cook these until they are relaxed enough to handle in the pan. They should be less cooked than "al dente" because they get softer in the casserole. Undercooking the noodles is preferable to overcooking.( I have even put dry noodles into the casserole and made the sauce a little thinner to compensate without much loss of quality. That is sometimes an option when creating this in a hurry.

Next add the tomato sauce, 2 cans if you like a moist lasagne. Then add the chopped basil. If you are timid about the amount, add 3 leaves and let the sauce simmer a few moments before adding any more. If you like a spicy sauce, try more basil. Now is the time to add powdered garlic, if you are using it.

Let the meat simmer gently while you put the ricotta cheese, egg and parmesan cheese in a food processor. (Or in a bowl and stir them together well.) If you are using the food processor, you don't need to chop your parsley before adding it to the cheese mixture. Just drop it into the food processor and run for a moment to chop it. (If you run it too long, it won't hurt anything, but your cheese will be a little green.) Then stir in your other vegetables, if you are using them.

All that is left is to layer the ingredients into the pan and bake. I usually make 3 layers - 1 of cheese and 2 of meat sauce. That is about all that will fit into my shallow pans. I like a lot of noodles, so I put noodles in first, then meat sauce over them, then noodles, then cheese. About this time I will sprinkle a little grated mozzarella over this. (All right, maybe not so little -- I like cheese) Add another layer of noodles and the last of the meat sauce. Then the pan is ready for the oven. If I really don't want to mess with it for another 45 minutes, I add grated mozzarella to the top and pop it into a 350 degree oven. If I want the cheese less toasted, I let the casserole bake for 30 minutes then add the mozzarella and bake for another 15. Lasagne is forgiving if it is moist. If it goes as much as 1 hour, it is still OK. Watch it carefully if you decide to run it over 45 minutes, though. Then you will know better the second time you want to do it.

Plan to let it cool at least 5 minutes before eating it. It will become easier to handle and less painful to eat. Lasagne really holds its warmth well, so don't worry about it getting lukewarm in 10 to 15 minutes out of the oven.

While you had all that time to kill during the baking, I hope you made a salad and sliced some good bread. (And if you cleaned up your assembly dishes, you are one smart cookie.) Ooh, yes.......... Now you know why your mother liked serving casseroles to the family. Lasagne cooks itself while you get ready for dinner.

RecipeLink GrowingHerbs


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Created by Grace Troeh October 10, 1999