I’ve been craving lasagne, and basically every comfort food under the sun, during the COVID-19 pandemic. My brother made a lasagne for Super Bowl Sunday and I have been fantasizing about it since then. Yes, I have been thinking about lasagne for 2 months. Don’t judge me.
My mom makes an incredible meat lasagne that has a rich, creamy, bechamel sauce – basically my last supper. But when I started making lasagne for myself, I never felt like making a bechamel sauce. What can I say, sometimes I am lazy. Lasagne already has a ridiculous amount of cheese, so I don’t really miss the extra flour and butter. But to make sure the lasagne stays moist (everyones favorite word!), I add about a cup of milk or cream to the tomato sauce in lieu of the bechamel.
I insist you use a 9 x 13 inch pan. Don’t use a smaller pan. If you do, I can predict what will happen – the lasagne will overflow with the sauce bubbling down onto the bottom of the oven, where it will start to burn, and then your fire alarm will go off…How do I know this? Because I have done it more times than I can count. My sacrifice is your gain.
If you don’t have a 9 x 13 inch pan, pick a larger pan. Layer the lasagne tightly along the side of one edge of the pan – you can create a makeshift edge with folded aluminum foil, so the edge of the lasagne stays tight. I use my 10 x 13 inch pan but still get a nice edge on my lasage using this method, instead of lasagne guts all over. I don’t know about you, but the reason I make lasagne instead of a baked ziti is for presentation. Even if the only people that see it are myself and F.
1 ½ pounds grass fed ground beef
1 large or 2 small fennel bulbs, diced (onion works great too!)
5 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 32 ounce can of tomato sauce
1 cup of milk or cream
1 teaspoon red pepper (if you don’t love spicy food, you can omit)
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup parsley, chopped
16 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese
1 large egg
2 cups grated mozzarella
1 cup grated parmesan
1 box of lasagne noodles of choice
Heat a large saucepan or dutch oven on the stove over medium heat. I don’t recommend using cast iron pan here, tomato sauce and cast iron don’t mix.
After the pan is hot, add the ground beef and spread it around the pan. Then don’t touch the meat! You want to get a crust on one side so be patient. This can take anywhere from 2-5 minutes depending on how hot your pan is.
Once the meat is brown on one side, flip it over. Add the diced fennel, sliced garlic, salt, black and red pepper (if using). Combine everything and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing is sticking to the pan.
Once you smell the garlic and fennel, add the canned tomato sauce and give everything a stir. Turn down the heat to low, cover the pan and cook for about 40 minutes, checking the sauce every ten minutes to stir. Add the milk/cream at the end of the 40 minutes and do a taste test. Add more salt and pepper if needed. Turn off the stove and the sauce can hang out while you make the other components.
Mix the ricotta, chopped parsley and egg into a bowl.
Grate the mozzarella and parmesan cheese together and set aside in another bowl.
Make the noodles. You can just follow the directions on the package. Lasagne noodles tend to stick together (and can be a pain in the ass), so add a little olive oil and stir the pot frequently. After cooking and rinsing with cold water, lay the noodles out on a plate instead of keeping them in the colander. Then they will be separated and ready to use when you are ready to layer!
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil or butter a 9 x 13 inch baking pan, or larger pan if using (if using a larger pan, see my note above). Spread a layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of your pan ~ ¼ of the sauce. Layer 5 noodles evenly across the bottom of the pan.
Add ⅓ of the ricotta mixture and spread across the noodles. Sprinkle ⅓ of the cheese mixture on top of the ricotta. Add ¼ of the remaining sauce on top of the cheese. Layer another 5 noodles evenly on top and repeat two more times – you will have a total of three layers.
If you are using a pan larger than 9 x 13 inches, this is where you insert the folded aluminum foil along the side of the lasagne that is exposed. Make sure it is snug, otherwise sauce will leak. Cover the lasagne with aluminum foil before putting in the oven.
Bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil cover during the last 15 minutes so the top gets some color. Let cool for 20 minutes – this helps the layers stick together and when you cut it into slices, you get the instagram shot.