I learned how to make Lasagna, not so much from my dad as a series of lessons but as a combination of direct observation and osmosis. It was always a big deal in the house - an all-day event. First would have to come the music, meatball music: Dean Martin. My father's term of meatball music is not a slur against Italians, it's the music he needed to have playing in the house in order to create his meatballs. My dish is a pale comparison to his. Where I just quickly brown the meat and mix in some sauce, he started his lasagna by making meatballs. Big tasty meatballs sautéed in olive oil and simmered in his home made sauce hours and hours before the first noodle hit the boiling water. These meatballs were as big as my pre-adolescent fist.The smell was enough to drive you wild with hunger. The house was alive with the amazing aroma of the sauce, the meatballs made with a blend of ground beef, veal and pork, onion, garlic, oregano, and breadcrumbs. The house would reverberate with Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, my dad singing along with all his might. It is one of the most vivid and pleasant memories of my childhood.So I kind of derived my recipe from watching what my dad did in our kitchen. It’s not so much a recipe as it is a formula. I make a fairly big one but it can be scaled down, this version will fill a good sized roasting pan like the one I use to cook a 20 pound turkey.
Two 1 lb. boxes of lasagna noodles
1 lb. ricotta cheese
2 large eggs
1 good sized onion or 3-4 shallots, chopped
1 green bell pepper, finely diced
4-5 cloves of garlic, chopped
Two 1 lb. bags of shredded/grated mozzarella cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
½ lb. ground beef and ½ lb. ground pork OR 1 lb. of ground turkey if you want to be healthier (I actually tend to go a little heavier on the meat, but that’s just me)
2 jars good quality pasta sauce
A nice fruity red wine
3 cups grated Parmesan cheese, separated.
In a good sized pot, sauté the onions/shallots, bell peppers and garlic over medium-low heat till almost translucent. Add the ground beef/pork mix or turkey meat. Season generously with salt, pepper and oregano to taste. Brown meat well. Deglaze the pan about a cup of the wine and lower to a simmer. Add the pasta sauce, 1 cup of the Parmesan and let simmer.In a large mixing bowl mix the ricotta cheese, eggs, a generous dash of salt and another cup of the Parmesan cheese until well combined. Sometimes I’ll add some canned or well-thawed frozen spinach to this mixture but not always. Set aside.
In a large pot (the one I use is large enough that the lasagna noodles can lay flat in the pot), boil water with about a tbsp of salt. At this point I boil the noodles in batches and begin layering. The noodles should not be even close to al dente since they will cook in the oven as well. In the bottom of the pan lay out enough of the meat sauce to cover the pan. On top of this, lay out a layer of the parboiled noodles that have been well drained in a colander. On top of the noodles spread out a layer of the ricotta mixture. On top of the ricotta sprinkle enough mozzarella cheese to cover the ricotta evenly and then sprinkle some grated Parmesan cheese on top of that. Add another layer of noodles, cover with enough sauce to completely cover the noodles. On top of the sauce, again sprinkle mozzarella to cover the sauce and sprinkle with Parmesan. Continue to alternate layers (should be 2 layers each of sauce & ricotta) ending with sauce on top, again covered with mozzarella and Parmesan. Cover with foil and bake at 375° for about 30 minutes. Uncover and bake another 10-15 min until the cheese on top is golden brown and bubbly.Enjoy with what’s left in the bottle of red wine. (I like Chianti with lasagna…)
Let me know how it turns out!