Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Family Lasagna

If you've made our Sunday gravy and traditional Italian meatballs, then roll up your sleeves, because you are ready to tackle old-fashioned, Old World lasagna.

Fear not — if you mastered the tomato sauce and meatballs, you're practically Italian already!

I call this "family lasagna" for two reasons: It's more than enough to feed a crowd of relatives (or friends) and you can put everyone to work helping you make it. The process might seem a bit much, but I remember having lots of fun as a kid, sitting around the kitchen table with my parents, my siblings and sometimes my grandparents, chopping meatballs and sausage and mixing up the ricotta cheese filling before building the lasagna.

Yes, there are many short cuts, like using no-boil lasagna noodles or cooking ground beef with some Italian seasonings instead of making meatballs. But trust me. I've made lasagna the quick way numerous times. The final result just can't compare to the real thing.

Mangia! Mangia!

Family Meat Lasagna

20 wavy lasagna noodles (usually 1 and 1/2 boxes)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 (15 ounce) containers of ricotta cheese
5 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1 1/2 cups shredded parmesan cheese, divided
2 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
6 cups or more of homemade tomato sauce
1 1/2 cups cooked meatballs, chopped
1 1/2 cups cooked Italian sausage links, chopped (mild, sweet or hot)

Preheat over to 375 degrees. Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions, adding 1 tablespoon olive oil to water to prevent sticking. After draining noodles, place them on parchment paper.

While lasagna noodles are cooking, mix together ricotta, parmesan cheese, eggs, salt and pepper.

Set up a lasagna prep station, with all ingredients in easy reach.

Cover bottom of a deep 13 x 9 inch casserole dish with 1 cup tomato sauce. Layer 5 lasagna noodles on top, slightly overlapping them.

Top noodles with 1 cup ricotta mixture, 1/2 cup chopped meatballs and 1/2 cup chopped sausage. Top with 1 cup shredded mozzarella and 1 scant cup tomato sauce.

Layer another 5 noodles on top of first meat and cheese layer. Repeat the cheese, meat, mozzarella and tomato sauce layering two more times. Top final noodle layer with tomato sauce, ensuring that corners are covered with sauce. Sprinkle remaining 1 cup of mozzarella cheese and 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese on top.

Cover lasagna with foil lightly sprayed with cooking spray. Bake in 375 degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove foil and cook for 15 minutes more. Lasagna is done when it is bubbly.

Depending on your oven, it can take as long as 90 minutes to cook. You can also bump up the temperature to 400 degrees — just check the lasagna more frequently.

Remove from oven and let lasagna sit for about 15 minutes. Then slice and serve.

**Note on make-ahead preparation: You can prepare the lasagna the night before. Just refrigerate and bake within 24 hours.

**Note on freezing lasagna: If you plan to freeze an entire lasagna, it's best to freeze before cooking. Thaw, then cook as directed above.

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