Middle-Aged Pasta

Nope I am not referencing my age – just acknowledging the fact that Lasagna noodles were invented by the Greeks but perfected into the dish we know and love by the Italians as early as the middle ages!

That’s a lot of lasagna over the years!

For some, lasagna is a special dish prepared only on holidays and possibly at Sunday dinners. At my house lasagna is a weeknight treat too! Yup you read that right – weeknight lasagna and I promise it doesn’t take all night!

The key is use the “no-boil” noodles (they are pretty good these days!) and convenience items like jarred sauce, already roasted veggies and pre-cooked meats.

the parts

Pick up precooked meatballs from the deli/prepared foods counter and slice thin for an easy layer of meat. Check out the deli/salad bar for items like roasted mushrooms and caramelized onions. A jar of your favorite red sauce works perfectly. Be sure to pick up a container of grated cheese and some fresh parsley to add to the container of ricotta. (you will also need an egg for the ricotta mixture.)

The key to the no-boil noodle is a generous amount of sauce and a tight foil cover for most of the cooking time. Take the cover off for the last 10-15 mins. The box of no-boil noodles has a good basic recipe you can follow, just use layers of things you want to eat.

I skipped the heavy cheese layers and did 2 layers of the mushroom/onion and 2 layers of the sliced meatball, topping it only with grated cheese since my husband doesn’t love all the gooey cheese like I do. And my waistline thanked me too. I made mine in a very manageable 8×8 dish that fed 2 people with plenty of leftovers for lunch or could feed 4 with a salad on the side.

Not fond of meat? Use a layer of sliced eggplant or zucchini instead of meatballs! As a bonus you can sometimes find sliced zucchini in the salad bar or veggie aisle.

the best part

 

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Let It Rest

Isn’t that the title to a Beatles song?

Oh wait that song is actually “Let It Be” – still… both are words of wisdom!

In my case “let it rest” usually refers to some big cut of meat like a roast or chicken or something, but in this case it refers to lasagna!

Good Old Fashioned "All American" Lasagna!

Good Old Fashioned “All American” Lasagna!

Letting lasagna rest is a must for a clean, neat cut and so you don’t burn the roof off your mouth!

This lasagna was inspired by the green baking dish it was made in. I received it for Christmas this year from Aunt Barbara and I have been cooking in it a couple of times a week ever since! Mac and cheese, lasagna, you name it!  How did I ever live without this perfectly sized dish with handles!!

Production Notes

I used standard lasagna protocol here – nothing crazy or exotic. 3-4 layers of regular meat sauce, ricotta and noodles.  This time I used standard “boil first” noodles, but I have done it both ways… here and here.

Week DAY lasagna

When I found myself home on a weekday recently, puttering around pretending to clean the house, my thoughts turned to lasagna. I hadn’t had it in a awhile and was hankering for a “red sauce fix.” And since I had the time – I decided to splurge and use the regular noodles that you have to boil first. Typically I enjoy the quicker week NIGHT version that employs the “no boil” noodles from Barilla but I was feeling fancy and had some time on my hands so…

boiling the noodles

…boil the noodles I did.

…and clean out the freezer of the late-summer red sauce I had packed away from my saucegarden tomatoes.

I swore to myself that I wasn’t going to make enough for an army – just one small pan. (lasagna is always measured in ‘pans’ around here no matter what the vessel is actually made of) But of course there were tons of extra noodles and lot of rich ricotta cheese with its eggy-parmesean goodness added to it. So what’s a gal to do, but make two pans. One pan is the first pan – all perfect and “saucy” -the way I like it. The other pan is the scraps. Leftover torn bits of noodles, light sauce cause you had to stretch it. You get the idea.

Can you tell which one is which?                                   What about now, with cheese on top?

2 lasagnaswith cheese

I decided to freeze the “nice” one…

…in case I wanted to whip that out for company one day and bake the “patch job” since it was just for us. It was perfectly delicious even with out all that extra saucy-goodness that I normally endorse!

not too saucy

Production Notes:

I happened to have a random 1/4 lb of frozen sweet Italian sausage hanging around the freezer that I browned up and added to the red sauce but you could easily omit this for a very satisfying vegetarian lasagna. Toss in some crushed fennel seed instead to get that “sausage essence” without actually using it!

Weeknight Lasagna

I know, I know – weeknight lasagna sounds impossible….but it is not. And we had some leftover red sauce from Sunday.

(wondering what’s floating in the sauce? Click here.)

It was delicious on Sunday with pasta but I had noted that it came out a little thinner than usual and made a mental note that this sauce would be great to make lasagna with the “no boil” noodles as they require lots of sauce to cook successfully in the lasagna.

Don’t knock them until you try them

I can only swear by the Barilla brand. They are delicious and make weeknight lasagna a reality.

So I timed myself last night – 25 mins of active prep time, 1 hour in the oven baking while I changed the laundry load and paid bills.

The secret to the weeknight lasagna is committing to the snack.

If you are anything like me…I get home from a long day at work starving, tired and cranky. Oh wait that actually describes my husband!  Just take a minute and have a quick snack – cheese/crackers, an apple, a handful of sliced pepperoni – anything. This way you aren’t fainting from hunger as you prepare the lasagna, put it in the oven and do some chores. Personally, I find that after I eat my giant yummy dinner I am no good anyway – all I want to do it fire up the DVR. So commit to the snack, put dinner in the oven and be productive around the house BEFORE dinner and eat a little later.

OK, let me climb down from my soapbox and tell you how I did it.

Turn the oven on to preheat 375 degrees. Brown up 1lb of some lean ground meat of choice that is inevitably hanging around the fridge. Add some sliced onions and garlic. (or just use garlic and onion powder if  slicing garlic and onions just seems like too much work.)

While the meat and optional onions/garlic are browning…crack one large egg into the medium size part-skim ricotta container. Add a healthy dash of salt/pepper and a healthy tablespoon of dried Italian seasoning. Mix carefully and add a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan.  Mix all of this very carefully so as not to spill and make you wish you had dirtied a separate bowl after-all.

To the browning meat I like to add 1 small can of tomato paste at the end. The paste gets kinda “toasted” in the pan. Now add your favorite red sauce. That could be from a can, a jar or leftover homemade like mine!! Turn the heat off and set aside.

Open the box of noodles. Spray your casserole dish (9×13 ish) with no stick spray of choice. Add a couple of spoons of the sauce on the bottom. Put a layer of the noodles across the bottom, add plenty of the sauce, scoop on lots of the ricotta mixture and add another layer of the dried noodles. Repeat until the noodles are used up.

Be sure to end with noodles and red sauce on top but no ricotta. It is important to be liberal with the sauce when using this kind of noodle.  I think a thinner sauce works even better than a thick sauce. But I like things a little “saucy.”

Wrap the top tightly with foil and bake for 45 mins. Unwrap the foil carefully, sprinkle the top with whatever shredded cheese you have on hand, as much as you like and return to the oven for 15 mins more – uncovered!

Let sit 10-15 mins before slicing or just dive right in….but ENJOY!!