Wednesday, July 18, 2012

World's Best Lasagna

Here-ye, here-ye -- friends and fellow pasta lovers!

Behold, the last lasagna recipe you will ever need!

I have declared, for the official record of my household and, well, for the rest of my natural cooking life that this lasagna is by far the best one I've tried yet.
And I've made a lot of lasagna. With ricotta, without ricotta, with bechemel sauce, with alfredo sauce, with cottage cheese... need I go on?

The point is, lasagna and I have faced off several times over the last few years, and I'd like to think that I've delivered the final blow. I didn't even like lasagna for the irrational and misguided years of my youth, when I would go to a restaurant and bite into a slice of beautiful, cheesy lasagna and nearly gag  on the thickness and amount of the tasteless ricotta inside. It was a shame, and probably the catalyst for my quest to find the perfect recipe.

Anyway, while it's been disgustingly hot and humid here in Okinawa for the last few days and you would think that any normal person would want to avoid heating up their kitchen with this recipe, I clearly am not normal.    ...That, and this recipe is worth it. It is so good. I mean, SO GOOD. In my defense, it was a rainy week here, so I used the overcast sky as an excuse to deem it "lasagna weather." I also wanted to make a potluck friendly meal since we were saying goodbye to two of our wonderful staff members this week as they moved onto different duty stations.

I will forewarn you it does not fall into the category of a certain Food Network show highlighting dishes which can be made in the same amount of time it will take to watch an episode of Friends. It takes a couple hours.... BUT it makes a ton of lasagna, and I honest to goodness think it's better as reheated leftovers.

IF you are adamant that you will NOT be excessivly heating up your kitchen this summer no ifs, ands, or buts.... you can simmer the sauce in a crock pot before assembling and baking... but it will take slightly longer, and you still have to use your oven anyway. I simply cannot wait that long for delicious, homemade lasagna. This recipe also does not include any added granulated or brown sugar that some others do- the reason is that there is so much sugar already in the canned tomatoes and wine, adding more would be overpowering. You want a good balance between sweet and tomato flavors.

Best Lasagna Ever

moderately adapted from Allrecipes

2 pounds Jimmy Dean Regular sausage
1 pound ground beef
1 large white onion, diced
1 bell pepper- any color- seeded and diced
4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed, whichever suits your fancy
2 cans (28 oz) diced tomatoes
1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
1/4-1/2 cup red wine (don't you dare cook with something you wouldn't drink!)
     *If you do not drink/cook with wine, use 1 tablespoon Worcestershire and 1 tablespoon lemon juice.
1.5 tablespoons mixed Italian seasoning (thyme, rosemary, basil, sage, oregano)
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
30 ounces Ricotta cheese (the big tub- some are 32 oz- go for it!)
1 package  frozen, chopped spinach- thawed and drained well
2 eggs
1 package lasagna sheets (usually 16 oz)
1 pound shredded mozzerella cheese
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese

Brown the sausage and beef, then drain as much fat out as you can. Add onion and bell pepper, stirring often over medium heat, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, diced tomatoes and tomato paste, stirring well to combine. Add about 1/4 cup red wine and the rest of the spices, still well. Cover and turn heat to low, simmer for 10 minutes. Taste, and add more wine or a little water if you think it's too thick. I usually do not need to add anything. Cover and simmer for another 50 minutes, stirring often, until everything is merried together nicely. Taste at the end of the simmering period, then add more spices or black pepper if you think it needs anything. It probably won't. Uncover and simmer for an additional 10 minutes.

Total of 70 minutes of simmering, people. 10/50/10. Your taste buds will thank you.

While the sauce is simmering, mix together the ricotta, eggs and spinach. Feel free to add a dash or two of black pepper. I usually add about another tablespoon, but my husband prefers very very peppered foods.

Towards the middle of the simmering phase, cover a large pot of salted water and bring to a boil. Cook the noodles according to the package directions, but add about a tablespoon of oil to the water so the noodles don't stick as much when they cool. Cook to al-dente, drain and rinse with cool water to stop cooking. Try to keep them separated as their gluten will be like glue and the sheets will stick together.

...why you need 1" head room at the top of the pan
Time to assmble! Preheat your oven to 375ยบ

In a 9x13 baking dish, layer in this order: (Remember the key is thin layers- no globs of goop!)

-Meat sauce (about 2-3 ladel fulls)
-Sprinkling of mozzerella cheese
-Single layer of pasta
-About 2/3 cup ricotta-spinach mixture  -- no need to measure this, just eyeball it!

Repeat in this order until you have about an inch of space left from the top rim of your baking dish. Try to layer it so the last one should be meat, then cheese. Sprinkle on the parmesan on the very top. Cover with foil, and bake for 25 minutes. Uncover and continue baking for additional 20 minutes. Resist urge to devour right away and let cool for about 10 min, then serve.

After finishing the initial 9x13 pan, you should definitely have enough layering ingredients leftover for another 8x8 pan, maybe two depending on how thick each layer was, so feel free to layer those babies up in additional pans. Freeze, bake, give away- whichever- you'll have plenty!

**If you don't have enough leftover for more baking dishes, chop up the lasagna noodles and make a freeform lasagna! You'll need a snack while the 9x13 dish is baking, anyway!


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