Lasagna. Easy AND Cheesy.
So, the other day someone asked me if I always make everything from scratch.
To this I quickly responded, HECK NO!
I love to cook, therefore I love to make things from scratch. I also have a life. Sometimes that life gets completely crazy but you still have to eat.
Enter 2 of the world’s greatest supermarket products….No-boil or Oven-Ready Lasagna Noodles and Anything Made By Paul Newman.
Loved his movies. Love his Marinara.
Lasagna used to be a pain…boiling the noodles, draining the pasta, making the sauce….it took forever. Now it’s a snap!
Here’s what you need:
Oven-Ready/No-boil Lasagna Noodles, 2 jars of Marinara Sauce*, ground beef, Italian Sausage, Ricotta Cheese, Mozzarella Cheese, Parmesan/Romano cheese,1 egg, Baby Spinach, Diced Tomatoes, Mushrooms, Dried Basil & Dried Oregano.
Obviously if you see something here that you don’t eat or don’t like, feel free to make your own substitutions.
Also, before we get all carried away with a gazillion steps and photos, this REALLY is EASY to make. It took me less than 30 minutes to cook and assemble the lasagna. And that includes stopping to take pictures of every dang mushroom and piece of cheese along the way.
For this particular lasagna, I’m using both Italian Sausage AND ground beef but you could certainly make it using one or the other. OR you could leave them both out, add some zucchini and eggplant and have Vegetarian Lasagna.
If you haven’t used Oven-Ready Lasagna Noodles prepare to be amazed.
I don’t know how or why they work, but they do and they’re great! There are several varieties available in the store. Just look for noodles that say Oven Ready or No Boiling Required.
May we also just take a minute in praise of Paul Newman?
I love to make Homemade Sauce. However, I also ALWAYS have a couple of jars of this in my pantry. It’s all natural – not filled with a bunch of junk – AND all the proceeds go to charity. There are several varieties but the Cabernet is VERY tasty. After all, it’s made with wine. This sauce is great on pizzas too.
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
If you’re making your lasagna with Italian Sausage, begin by removing the outer casing from each sausage link.
Toss the sausage in a big pan with the ground beef. I have about 1/2 pound of beef.
Use a spatula or wooden spoon to break apart the sausage and ground beef as it cooks and begins to brown. The sausage will become easier to break apart as it cooks.
Continue to cook the meat until the pink has cooked out of the sausage and both meats are nicely browned.
Add one jar of sauce to the cooked meat.
Now, you COULD totally stop here and start building your lasagna. However, I like to add extra stuff to my sauce to make it even better.
Remember the mushrooms? Wash them and slice them up. I like to pop out the stems as they are woody and weird and don’t really contribute any flavor.
Add the mushrooms to the meat and sauce. I also like to add 1 can (14 ounce) of diced tomatoes for extra texture and flavor. I really love the extra little tomato bits in the sauce.
Stir this all together and decide if (yes) it needs a little more Marinara Sauce. At this point I usually add about 1/2 to 3/4 of the second jar of Mr. Newman’s fine sauce. Just remember to save some Marinara Sauce for coating the bottom of the lasagna pan.
On to the other parts of the lasagna. In a separate bowl, combine 1 container (15 ounce) of Ricotta cheese with 1 egg.
Add 1 teaspoon of dried oregano and 1 teaspoon of dried basil. Stir it all together to combine.
Don’t forget the spinach! The spinach is (other than the Italian Sausage) the best part about this particular lasagna. It adds lovely green color and great flavor. No need to cook it. Just dump the whole mess out on a cutting board and give it a rough chop into smaller pieces.
I’m using Baby Spinach so you can use both the leaves and stems. They’re all tender and good.
Grab a big dish. Mine is 9 x 13 but any big pan will do. You can even use those cheap, disposable aluminum pans from the store. Just pick something with high sides so you can make lots of tasty layers.
Pour some of the reserved Marinara sauce in the bottom of the pan. Spread the sauce around and put a layer of the magic no-boil lasagna noodles on top of the sauce.
Yes the noodles are stiff and “raw”. That’s the magic part. Somehow, they absorb the sauce and cook and bake at the same time.
The only trick here is that the noodles need to be completely covered with sauce. When your lasagna is all layered, just be sure there are no dry noodles sticking out anyplace.
Next take about 1/3 of the ricotta cheese mixture and spread it over the noodles.
Sometimes it’s a little hard to spread so you might have to use your (clean) fingers. No need to make this perfect, just get a nice even layer of cheese on there. We have many layers of goodness and cheese to go.
Spoon a generous portion of the meat sauce over the cheese. Admire the mushrooms and bits of tomato.
Add a layer of shredded Mozzarella cheese on top of the sauce. You can sort of guesstimate the proportions of cheese and sauce. Use about 1/3 for each layer.
Add another layer of pasta…
And another layer of ricotta cheese…
And then add ALL the spinach! Yes, all of it. Remember spinach will shrink down when it cooks so even though it looks overwhelming now, it will just be a thin layer after the lasagna is done.
We still have another delicious layer to go, so take you hands and carefully press down on the spinach to flatten things out a bit.
Add a layer of meat sauce over the spinach.
Notice how the warm sauce is already wilting the spinach. Add a layer of the shredded Mozarella…
One last layer to go. 3 more pieces of pasta…
It’s okay to gently smoosh this down as you go to make room in the pan. Layer on the last of the Ricotta cheese…
And the remainder of the meat sauce. This is the point where you want to be sure that no little edges of dried pasta are sticking out anywhere. Ladle on the sauce!
Top with the last of the Mozzarella cheese. I had a 4 cup bag of shredded Mozzarella divided out to about 1 cup for each layer of lasagna.
And then, because we can — and also because it helps make a delicious crispy cheese topping, add about 1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese over the top.
This is a great do ahead recipe! You can stop at this point, cover the lasagna with foil and pop it in the fridge until you’re ready to cook. I have even made this a day ahead.
When you’re ready to cook, cover the lasagna with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the foil and continue to bake for 15 – 20 more minutes until the top is golden brown and bubbly.
Try to have some self-control and let the cooked lasagna rest for about 10 minutes. This will make slicing and serving MUCH easier.
If you can’t wait, go ahead and chow down! It won’t be as pretty, but dang, it tastes good.
Excuse me, but I need to go watch The Sting now.
All praise Paul Newman. And Robert Redford too.
Here’s the recipe: