Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lasagna: Simple & Hearty

Why is it that the work days drag, but the nights and weekends fly by in the blink of an eye?  I had such good intentions of making a spectacular Sunday dinner, but it was suddenly four o’clock in the afternoon and I hadn’t started a thing.  I was craving lasagna something awful, and there was no way I was making a labor and time intensive meal during the week.  Once it got past four on Sunday, let's face it...I wasn't making a labor and time intensive meal then either.

I turned to my America's Test Kitchen cookbook, expecting to find a recipe that was equally as involved as my family recipes which require boiling noodles, pulling out the blender to make the cheese filling, and simmering the sauce for hours on end.  Alas, the cookbook did not disappoint with its "Simple Lasagna with Hearty Tomato-Meat Sauce."  After a slight misread of the recipe, and a few substitutions, the end result was a wonderfully hearty, yet fresh tasting lasagna that was ready in about an hour.

Simple Lasagna with Hearty Tomato-Meat Sauce (printable recipe)
adapted from The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook, Season 3


2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 lg. garlic cloves, pushed through a garlic press (about 2 Tbsp.)
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. ground pork or bulk italian sausage
1/4 c heavy cream
1 lg. can tomato puree (28 oz)
1 lg. can diced tomatoes, drained
1 Tbsp. Italian Seasoning
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper

Ricotta Filling
1 15 oz. container fat free ricotta
1 5 oz. container freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/2 c chopped fresh basil (one 3/4 oz. package)
1 lg. egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

Noodles & Cheese
12 no-boil lasagna noodles
4 c reduced fat mozzarella cheese, shredded

Adjust an oven rack to the middle-top position and heat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until softened.  Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Stir in the meats, salt and pepper.  Use a wooden spoon to break up the meat as it cooks.  Cook until the meat is no longer pink, but not browned.  Stir in the cream, bring to a simmer and cook until the liquid evaporates and only the fat remains, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the tomato puree, diced tomatoes and Italian seasoning.  Bring to a simmer and cook until the flavors have blended, about 3 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

While sauce is simmering, you can easily put together the ricotta filling.  Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

To assemble lasagna, spread 1 cup of the sauce over the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish.  Place 3 noodles in a single layer over the sauce.  Spread 1/3 of the ricotta mixture over the noodles, then sprinkle with 1 cup of the mozzarella.  Spoon another cup of the sauce evenly over the cheese layer.  Repeat the layers two more times.  Top with 3 remaining noodles, the rest of the sauce and the last cup of mozzarella.

Cover dish tightly with a sheet of aluminum foil that has been sprayed with cooking spray.  Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and continue baking until the cheese has browned in spots, about 25 to 30 minutes longer.  Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

To make ahead:  Prepare lasagna as directed, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  When ready to bake, remove plastic wrap and cover dish with foil.  Increase initial baking time to about 25 minutes, or until the edges begin to bubble.  Then remove foil and continue baking as directed.

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