Lasagna is actually easy to make despite the fact that my mother made it in the most difficult way possible. Imagine, all of your life being shown and told that something is really really hard only to realize when you are grown that it is easy. So easy. I don’t feel like my mother betrayed me or anything – not exactly. I guess I feel bad for her. Do I? She made it hard for herself. Is that the lesson here? We make things harder for ourselves than they need to be? I don’t think so. Things are pretty hard. Maybe this is the lesson: life is often so astronomically difficult that making lasagna should not be.
So, first off, don’t boil the goddamned noodles!! There’s no reason to. Just use a little extra sauce and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes. The noodles soak in the moisture as the lasagna bakes. When you truly give yourself over to this basic law of nature, making lasagna becomes easier than making grilled cheese sandwiches (though good grilled cheese does require a certain skill). If you’re being conscious about calories, you can also use vegetables as your “noodles.” Try using roasted eggplant rounds or thin roasted strips of zucchini or yellow squash instead. You won’t believe how yum for a fraction of the calories.
Second, use a good jarred sauce. My mother made all of her own sauces – and almost always from tomatoes she canned fresh from my father’s gardens. Okay, that’s beautiful and romantic and probably far more nutritious – and a gift I completely took for granted as a kid. I do, by the way, sometimes puree a roasted sweet potato and blend it with my jarred sauce to increase the nutrients and sneak some veg into my kids’ eats. That’s sort of DIY, right? Okay, Mom, If I ever get enough tomatoes from our CSA and ever learn to can them from Aunt Jo and ever actually can my own tomatoes, I’ll do the same. Until then, I’m using Newman’s Own Tomato & Basil Marinara [not a paid advertisement]. Please forgive me.
Third, use or don’t use whatever meat or non-meat is handy. Sometimes I make lasagna with silken tofu – and before you go all yuck-face on me, I promise you a thousand times over, you would never even know. Ground beef is the American Midwest standard though I saw a New England Italian family use pork sausage with Italian seasoning once (amazing!). Of course, if you are from Northern Michigan and happen to have family members, like my brother Mitch and his son Tyler, who are extraordinary hunters, you could also use ground Venison. Again, I feel the yuck-face coming on and you need to stop that. Venison is fantastic! People who act all self-righteous about eating deer because they’re so cute or because hunting is so brutal better not be eating beef or pork either considering the big, sweet eyes of cows and pigs and the repulsive way most of our mainstream meat is slaughtered in this country. So there. Back to my third point: And… don’t make the meat or non-meat complicated. Prepare it (cook it if it’s meat – crumble/cream it, if it’s tofu) and be done. Too much complicated flavoring of the meat will lead to a weird lasagna – trust me, I’ve been there. There’s already plenty of flavoring in the other bits.
Fourth, choose a cheese for the filling. I use ricotta. My mother always used cottage cheese but I have a suspicion that’s because cottage cheese was touted as a super diet food in the 1970s & 80s. When I have time and am taking my time, I mix my ricotta with a fair amount of parmesan (pre-shredded. Please!) and 1 egg. My mother used 2 eggs. I think the egg is supposed to be a binder. Honestly, the egg is pretty much totally unnecessary but I feel like my mother is missing entirely from my lasagna if I don’t put at least one in, so I do. Then, I mix in a fair amount of Italian seasoning and garlic powder (if I haven’t already put fresh garlic into a veggie layer). I often make quick lasagnas with no egg, no parmesan, no seasonings and whichever cheese I happen to have on hand – ricotta or cottage. And, if I use silken tofu, I don’t use either, the tofu is the cheese and the meat/ protein. But if that’s the route you’re taking (and you’re not vegan), still add the parmesan to flavor it up a bit. If you are vegan, flavor the tofu with Italian seasoning and garlic powder. The less you put into a lasagna, the simpler it tastes. This isn’t a bad thing but often when we make LASAGNA, we want that heavy complicated taste. My family knows to expect anything when I serve lasagna – it’s always good but isn’t always the same.
Fifth, got any veggies you can throw in? Do it. Or don’t. I just grab whatever we have that might actually mix with the taste of lasagna and go for it. Mushrooms, bell peppers, greens, eggplant, zucchini or yellow squash, onions, garlic – these all immediately come to mind. I’ve even used shredded carrot before. Sautee the veggies in olive oil until they’re just soft—not mushy. Or don’t use veggies at all. That’s easier. Serve a salad on the side instead. If you do use veggies, mix them into the meat after they’re both cooked. Or, if you’re not using meat, just use your veggies as that layer.
Now, layer. A little sauce on the bottom. Noodles. Sauce. Cheese. Meat. A little more sauce. Noodles. Sauce. Cheese. Meat. A little more sauce. Noodles. A little more sauce (and meat if you have any left) then mozzarella to cover the top. Cover it with tinfoil. 350 for about an hour. Then take the tinfoil off and broil for 2 or 3 minutes until mozzarella is bubbly and browning. So easy.
Note: I don’t offer exact amounts here because that’s not how I was taught to cook. I come from the just-eyeball-it school of cooking. About a pound of meat. One container of ricotta. A cup of parmesan. Two cups of mozzarella. A jar and a half of sauce. One box of noodles. That’s about as much as you’re going to get out of me.
Vaya Con Dios. Namaste.
All that Stuff.