Party Hearty with Luscious Lasagna

Mother Nature threw one of her curve balls the day of our intended party for members of Russ’s “Men’s Group” and their spouses. What was supposed to be a dusting of snow in our area turned into 4 or 5 inches (laughable by Michigan standards), and with the temps hovering in the teens to low 20’s, hazardous roads were a given.

Understandably, several of the attendees called to say they didn’t want to be out driving at night in those conditions; and with that Russ made an executive decision to postpone until the following day. Isn’t it amazing how in our 20’s, we wouldn’t have even thought about NOT going to a party over a little snow? Yes, I guess maturity and wisdom are the voice of reason in our later years…

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Here’s the “dusting” of snow—and a few more inches fell after this!

Since we were hosting, we decided to make a large lasagna, however I was halfway through the prep when I learned the party was postponed. No biggie, I just finished assembling it, covered with foil and into the downstairs fridge it went. (The question then became, what were we going to do about dinner that night?)

Back to the lasagna. We wanted to use our gluten-free, no-boil noodles to eliminate the process of boiling and draining. Russ found just the ticket on Cook’s Illustrated’s website. The 12-minute tomato meat sauce is cooked using onions, garlic, and meatloaf mixture (ground beef, pork, and veal) and then adding cream and tomatoes. That was new to me—cream in the meat sauce?

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To create a classic cheese layer quickly, we incorporated ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan, fresh basil, and an egg to help thicken and bind the mixture. Covering the lasagna with foil before baking helped soften the noodles; removing the foil during the last 25 minutes of baking allowed the cheeses to brown properly. Of course, since ours was refrigerated over night, we put it on the kitchen counter about an hour before sliding into the preheated oven, and then also extended the cooking time.

If you can’t find meatloaf mixture for the sauce, or if you choose not to eat veal, substitute 1/2 pound ground beef and 1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed, for the meatloaf mixture.

The assembled, unbaked lasagna, if wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and then in foil, will keep in the freezer for up to 2 months. To bake, defrost it in the refrigerator for a day or two and bake as directed, extending the baking time by about 5 minutes.

Our lasagna casserole dish is somewhat larger than most so we increased the amounts of meat and cheeses, and cooked 15 minutes longer to compensate—but the recipe below is the original.

Ingredients

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TOMATO-MEAT SAUCE

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped fine (about 1 cup)
  • 6 medium cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press or minced (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1 pound meatloaf mix or ⅓ pound each ground beef chuck, ground veal, and ground pork
  • ½ teaspoon table salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 1 can (28 ounces) tomato puree
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained

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This old fashioned Italian ricotta was so light and tasty, it’s a winner if you can find it.

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Fresh basil leaves are waiting to be chopped up.

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Parmesan, ricotta, egg, basil, salt and pepper are all put into a mixing bowl.

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The mixture is stirred with a fork until well-combined and creamy.

RICOTTA, MOZZARELLA, AND PASTA LAYERS

  • 15 ounces ricotta cheese (whole milk or part skim, 1 ¾ cups)
  • 2 ½ ounces grated Parmesan cheese (1 ¼ cups)
  • ½ cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • ½ teaspoon table salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 12 no-boil lasagna noodles from one 8- or 9-ounce package
  • 16 ounces whole milk mozzarella, shredded (4 cups)

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Smear the entire bottom of your baking dish with 1/4 cup meat sauce.

img_9732No-cook lasagna noodles are placed on top of the bottom meat sauce.

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Drop 3 tablespoons ricotta mixture down the center of each noodle, then level by pressing flat with back of measuring spoon. 

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For the top layer, sprinkle with remaining cup mozzarella, then with remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan.

Directions

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees
  2. Heat oil in large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering but not smoking, about 2 minutes; add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high and add ground meats, salt, and pepper; cook, breaking meat into small pieces with wooden spoon, until meat loses its raw color but has not browned, about 4 minutes.
  4. Add cream and simmer, stirring occasionally, until liquid evaporates and only fat remains, about 4 minutes. Add pureed and drained diced tomatoes and bring to simmer; reduce heat to low and simmer slowly until flavors are blended, about 3 minutes; set sauce aside. (Sauce can be cooled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 2 days; reheat before assembling lasagna.)
  5. Mix ricotta, 1 cup Parmesan, basil, egg, salt, and pepper in medium bowl with fork until well-combined and creamy; set aside.
  6. Smear entire bottom of 9- by 13-inch baking dish with 1/4 cup meat sauce. Place 3 noodles on top of sauce. Drop 3 tablespoons ricotta mixture down center of each noodle. Level by pressing flat with back of measuring spoon. Sprinkle evenly with 1 cup shredded mozzarella. Spoon 1 1/2 cups meat sauce evenly over cheese.
  7. Repeat layering of noodles, ricotta, mozzarella, and sauce two more times.
  8. Place 3 remaining noodles on top of sauce, spread remaining sauce over noodles, sprinkle with remaining cup mozzarella, then with remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan. Lightly spray a large sheet of foil with nonstick cooking spray and cover lasagna.
  9. Bake 15 minutes, then remove foil. Return lasagna to oven and continue to bake until cheese is spotty brown and sauce is bubbling, about 25 minutes longer.
  10. Cool lasagna about 10 minutes; cut into pieces and serve.

img_9786An edible work of art!

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The “Men’s Group” has been together for 30 years! Some of the members from left: Steve, Joe, Charlie, Pete, Bill and Russ.

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