Sometimes I don’t want to try something new. Sometimes I want to make a classic comfort food that requires no recipe. For me, lasagna is one of those items. It’s very easy to make and can be as simple or as elaborate as you want. Typically I keep it pretty simple with the basics: noodles, sauce, cheese and meat… plus some added spices. Of course even just last year I never bothered to spice it up. Now I play around with the spices and even the level of heat each time I make it. I don’t think spices make or break lasagna at all so if you don’t have everything, skip it. You really can’t mess up lasagna.
If you’re up for a non-traditional lasagna in both shape and ingredients check out this lasagna pie. It was not only fun to make, because of it’s shape but the ingredients made it different from the norm as well. I promise, it smelled amazing as any lasagna does and had a nice combination of flavors.
But… if you want a basic lasagna you may want to give this recipe a try. It’s pretty quick, taking maybe a little over an hour start to finish including bake time. It doesn’t require any super oddball ingredients. You can spice it up or not. So even though I opted to add red pepper flakes for some added heat and flavor, that can very easily be left out if you are not a fan of spice. Even omitting the red pepper flakes would give you a wonderfully flavored dish. Another great thing about lasagna, this or any variety, it’s great for a weeks worth of lunches or perfect for a gathering. Maybe you have a potluck coming up this month and are wondering what to bring, this would be an easy item to whip up and take along.
Yield: serves 8-10
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 40-45 minutes
1 - 1 1/2lbs ground beef
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp basil
1/4 - 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, optional*
1 box lasagna noodles
1 - 8oz. jar tomato sauce
1 - 15oz. container ricotta cheese
2C mozzarella cheese, shredded
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fill a large stockpot with water, cover and begin heating. In a large skillet, cook ground beef. When it appears half done, drain any fat. I prefer to push the meat to one side and spoon out the fat. It's less risky or troublesome than pouring the fat out, even if you cover the skillet and then tip. After removing the extra fat, distribute the meat evenly throughout the pan. Sprinkle meat with pepper, salt, oregano, basil and the optional red pepper flakes. I used a full 1/2 teaspoon, you can use less or leave it out completely. If you don't like spice, I suggest you leave it out. Toss and stir until fully cooked. Transfer beef to a medium bowl. Pour roughly a third of the tomato sauce into the bowl, stir to coat well.
At this point your water should be ready or close to it. Cook pasta according to package directions. I almost always will cook pasta for 10-11 minutes but that's just my preference. When your noodles are done, pour into a strainer or carefully pour hot water out and refill slowly with warm water. Pour that water out and fill with cooler water. I usually do that method a few times. My reasoning for this method is letting the pasta sit in water while you're making the lasagna means the noodles won't end up sticking as you're putting the dish together. Noodles out of water get sticky and can be obnoxious to pull apart. You don't need to fill the pan full of water, just enough to barely cover the noodles.
Prepare a large casserole or baking dish with a spritz or sprinkling of olive oil, just enough to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. If you don't have an oil sprayer, pour roughly 1/2 tbsp in the dish. Using a paper towel, spread the oil around the bottom and slightly up the sides of the pan. Discard papper towel.
Lightly coat the bottom of the pan with tomato sauce of your choice. I used Classico fire roasted tomato and garlic.
Cover the sauce with noodles, enough to make one layer. Trim pieces as needed. I currently don't own any rectangular pans, mine are all oval so I have to trim the side pieces a bit.
Spoon sauce over noodles. Don't go crazy unless you want it sloppy. One good spoonful per strip should do the trick. Then spread the sauce out. If any area is too sloppy, scoop it up and put it back in the jar... you'll be using it but at least now it's out of the way. Spoon 1/4 of your meat over noodles and sauce.
Making large dollops, drop a total of 1/2 of the ricotta cheese over your current layer. Then press down gently with the spoon to spread it out a bit.
Cover with more noodles. Spoon sauce over noodles and top off with another 1/4 of the meat. Sprinkle with a third of the cheese. Repeat layers two more times, using up all of the meat and ricotta while reserving a spoonful or two of sauce and a third of the shredded mozzarella. After you have made four layers, top off with an additional layer of noodles. Spoon remaining sauce and spread it out gently. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.
Bake for 40-45 minutes or until cheese is fully melted and turning lightly golden in spots.
Let sit for at least 5 minutes before slicing into and serving. Store covered in the fridge for up to one week or freeze wrapped well and labeled.