Growing up, lasagna was a food I only experienced through sitcoms. It was a staple meal that brought the family together at least once in the sitcom’s lifespan. Also, I loved reading Garfield comics, and Garfield LOVED lasagna. Lasagna, the food of real families.
the closest I ever came to lasagna was Hamburger Helper’s Lasagna.
If you don’t know what that is, let me explain: from the grocery story you could purchase a box of wavy bite sized noodles and a packet of red powder that were to be added to cooked ground beef and water in order to create quick and filling meal. Um, yuck. The 80’s were a very scary time in industrial culinary cuisine. Worse, this didn’t look anything like the casserole meal I’d seen on the table of my favorite sitcom families. Granted, this was way easier to make, but still!
When I got to college, free to make my own meal choices, I spent a good deal of time looking for this elusive authentic lasagna. I stumbled upon Ristorante Machiavelli early my freshman year, and I promptly stopped searching.
Its been at least 10 years since I’ve head lasagna. The problem with ordering lasagna at a family restaurant like Machiavelli’s is that it takes FOREVER to arrive. I like to think that it because they’re throwing it together as you order it. Its always delicious, but I usually end up starving or binging on bread waiting for it. I don’t order lasagna at chain restaurants (Louisa’s trattoria, cheesecake factory) because, well, its always hit or miss with everything else on the menu, why risk it with lasagna? Besides, they always look like they’re expensive Stouffer’s quality for a high mark up. Check out this timely article from Grub Street on the matter.
I threw my hat in to the ring of lasagna cooking a few weeks ago with a rather pleasant outcome! There are definitely things I would tweek but the overall lasagna was so good that I didn’t mind eating it for the rest of the week. Here are my caveats before I get into the recipe:
1) I make my own red sauce by pulsing a can of peeled tomatoes relatively smooth, and cooking it with onion, garlic, and olive oil. My taste buds tell me that I am missing something, possibly the sugar or the salt found in bottled red sauce. If you have your favorite bottled red sauce, use it.
2) various recipes call for using cottage cheese instead of ricotta cheese. Apparently this doesn’t change the taste and makes it easier to spread. This time I used non fat ricotta from Trader joes and had to cream it out with milk to make it smooth and easier to work with. Next time, I will try the cottage cheese.
3) I always forget to salt and pepper to taste. I usually just keep cooking on through. Don’t do this. Its easier to make something taste the way you want as you cook it then after.
Brown chopped onion and smashed garlic in a large skillet. Add the sausage and the turkey. Cook until they are brown. Drain.
**** salt and pepper ingredients throughout to taste***
Open can of tomatoes and drain liquid into meat. Use an immersion blender (or pour can into your blender, OR use 28 oz of tomato sauce) until sauce is smooth, just a little chunky. Add to the ground meat. Stir and heat until boiling. Turn down heat and allow to simmer.
In a small bowl, mix the ricotta cheese (you can use cottage cheese which is a little easier to cream), the Parmesan cheese, and milk. Use a wooden (or strong) spoon to cream the items together.
Rinse your 10 noodles with cold water to make sure they’ve each been wetted. They don’t need to be moist, they shouldn’t be moist, but a little water will stick to them. This will insure that the noodles will cook all the way through even if you don’t cover every inch in ingredients.
Spray a 13 x 9 inch pan with non stick spray. Spread 1/2 cup meat mixture in bottom of the pan. Arrange 4 noodles over meat mixture; top with half of cottage cheese mixture, 1 cup meat mixture, and 1/3 cup cheddar cheese. Repeat layers, ending with noodles. Spread remaining meat mixture over noodles.
Cover tightly with foil and bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Uncover; sprinkle with 1/3 cup cheddar cheese, and bake 5 more minutes or until cheese melts. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with parsley, if desired.
Serving Size: 9 servings (just divide the contents in your pan into 9 pieces)