Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Basic, Traditional, Wonderful Lasagna

I use the terms basic and traditional because this lasagna features the classic elements of tomato-based meat sauce, with pasta (as opposed to sliced veggies) and lots of cheese. However, please don't take basic to mean this is just a boring run-of-the-mill lasagna recipe. Because this lasagna was terrific, got rave reviews from my dinner guests, and is--hands down--my new go-to lasagna recipe.

photo credit: Heather, as posted on
I hadn't made a traditional lasagna since I was a kid and my mom requested it for her birthday dinner. (At which time I had to call her at work many times during the making of her lasagna in order to pester her with questions. Sorry, Mom!) Over the years, I've remarked to numerous people that I actually like Stouffer's better than my own homemade lasagna. Well, Stouffer's. You'd best move over, 'cause there's a new lasagna recipe in town! This lasagna was just really good all around. It had a lot of flavor, with a good balance and depth of flavors, and was plenty saucy and plenty cheesy without being over the top.

The recipe (which I've only slightly adapted) has a five-star rating with over 8,000 reviews on All Recipes. Just sayin'.

Also worth mentioning, I can now check goal #1 off my list of 2014 food goals!

Finally, a note before diving into the recipe: Please plan ahead for making this, as it's not the kind of thing you can just throw together at the last minute. For best flavor, the sauce needs to simmer for at least an hour or so (the longer, the better!). I recommend making the sauce and assembling the lasagna the night before, then refrigerating overnight and throughout the next day to let the flavors deepen even more. Pull it out of the fridge 30-60 minutes before baking to let it get closer to room temperature.

Wonderful Classic Lasagna
Adapted slightly from All Recipes
Yield: one 9x13 pan, or 12 servings

1 lb. lean ground beef
1 lb. ground sausage (see notes)
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
3 cloves garlic
1 (28-oz.) can crushed tomatoes
2 (6.5-oz.) cans tomato sauce
2 (6-oz.) cans tomato paste
1/2 cup water
2 tsp. sugar (more or less to taste)
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1-1/2 tsp. dried Italian seasoning
1-1/2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil (or 1-1/2 tsp. dried)
Kosher salt, to taste

16 oz. part-skim ricotta cheese
4-6 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 egg
1/2 tsp. kosher salt

3/4 lb. fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
3/4 to 1 cup shredded 3-cheese Italian blend (Asiago, Romano, and Parmesan)
12 lasagna noodles
Additional fresh basil, chopped or torn, for garnish (optional)

In a medium to large pot, brown the beef and sausage over medium heat. If there's a fair amount of fat, soak it up with paper towels and discard. Add the onion and cook until somewhat tender. Add the garlic and cook for a couple minutes more, stirring frequently.

Stir in the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, water, sugar, pepper, and Italian seasoning. If using dried basil, stir that in now, too. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for an hour or two, stirring occasionally. Taste it after about 30 minutes and adjust salt, sugar, and pepper if needed (mine didn't need any extra salt since my sausage was pretty salty). Right before assembling the lasagna, stir the fresh basil into the sauce.

To make the ricotta filling, stir together the ricotta, fresh parsley, egg, and 1/2 tsp. salt.

To prepare the noodles, fill a large bowl or pan with hot tap water. Add the lasagna noodles to the water, and let sit for 15-30 minutes. Shoot for the lower end of that spectrum if allowing your lasagna to sit overnight before baking, and the higher end of the spectrum if planning to bake the lasagna right away. Drain the noodles and set aside until ready to assemble the lasagna.

Spray a 9x13-inch glass baking pan with cooking spray, get your mozzarella and 3-cheese Italian blend ready, then assemble the lasagna! You can do your layers any number of ways; here's how I did mine:

  • layer 1: meat sauce + noodles + mozzarella slices + Italian cheese blend
  • layer 2: meat sauce + noodles + ricotta mixture + Italian cheese blend
  • layer 3: meat sauce + noodles + meat sauce 
  • top layer: mozzarella slices + Italian cheese blend

For each round of meat sauce, use about 1-1/2 cups, and for each round of noodles, use 4 (or 3.75 if your pan is shaped like mine). If you have extra sauce toward the end, add extra with layer 3, or reserve and freeze for the next time you need a quick spaghetti meal.

Spray a sheet of foil with cooking spray (to prevent cheeses and sauce from sticking to it), then use it to cover the lasagna and refrigerate until ready to bake. Remove from fridge 30 minutes to an hour before baking. Preheat oven to 375. Bake, still covered with the foil, for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 25 more minutes, until cheese is melty and lasagna is bubbly and toasted. Allow to cool/rest for 15 minutes before serving. If desired, sprinkle with more chopped or torn fresh basil immediately before serving (the basil will darken as it sits).


  • For the sausage, use whatever flavor profile strikes your fancy. Obviously an Italian sausage makes sense, a spicier sausage would add some heat, etc. All Recipes calls for sweet Italian sausage, and I actually used wild boar sausage that my neighbors shared with me!
  • Fresh mozzarella really is lovely. For a less expensive alternative, you could use basic shredded mozzarella, but be sure to use more of it. Fresh mozzarella has a much higher water content, which makes it more gooey and wonderful. 
  • If you don't have time to let the sauce simmer for so long, the world will not end. But the flavors will be better if you let it simmer at least an hour while you go do other things in other parts of your house.
  • Reviewers on All Recipes said this recipe freezes really well. After assembling the lasagna, cover well, then freeze. Thaw in your fridge (probably for at least 8 hours or overnight), then proceed with baking. 

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