August 8, 2011 by Sara Kreidler
I love lasagna. Love it. It’s not really a summer dish, but last week my new niece was born (!!!), and I offered to bring food to my sister-in-law and she requested lasagna. I was more than happy to make lasagna in exchange for some cuddle time with the new baby!
The sauce starts with the soffritto (celery, carrots, onion and garlic).
A few notes are needed before I get to the recipe. You may be thinking “hey, the picture of the finished lasagna is in a square dish, but the progress pictures are in a rectangular dish; what gives?” Well, I usually make lasagna in my Le Creuset baking dish which is 16 x 10 x 2.5 inches, and the recipe below fills up that oversized baking dish perfectly. However, that baking dish is cast iron and it weighs a freaking ton and I didn’t want to have to drag it to work with me and then to dinner after work, so I opted instead to divide the recipe between two smaller dishes, one standard sized 13 x 9 inch pyrex lasagna pan and one 8 x 8 inch pyrex pan. I baked the 8 x 8 pan immediately and after it cooled, I cut it into pieces and froze it for later use (the baked lasagna freezes really well, by the way). I popped the unbaked 13 x 9 pan in the fridge (it can stay in the fridge unbaked for 24 hours) and then took it to work with me today and kept it in the public fridge at my office with the intent of grabbing it on my way out at the end of the day and taking it to my loved ones for supper. Sadly, some jerk face at my office decided to stick their grubby paws in my food during the day and, well, we didn’t eat the lasagna, sauce or salad I made for dinner tonight and instead had to order take out. Mean people suck.
So ANYWAY, that’s why there are various baking dishes in the pictures. If you don’t want to make quite that much lasagna and just want to use a standard 13 x 9 baking dish, cut the beef and sausage down to about ¾ of a pound of each, the ricotta down to one pound, and use only 2 eggs. I’d still make the same amount of sauce though, because it’s nice to have extra sauce to serve with the lasagna. And if you have way more sauce than you need, just put the extra sauce in a freezer safe container and freeze it for later use (the sauce freezes really well too).
A note about the vegetable layer. I usually don’t make my lasagna with zucchini and yellow squash. Instead, I usually saute about 1.5 pounds of fresh spinach in olive oil and garlic and then add a layer of sauteed spinach on top of the ricotta. But this week I am overloaded with zucchini and yellow squash and decided to substitute it for the spinach. Use whichever you prefer or have on hand.
Lastly, a note about the origin of the recipe below. When I first started making marinara sauce and lasagna from scratch about 5 years ago, I followed verbatim the recipes from Everyday Italian by Giada De Laurentiis. I’ve now made these recipes easily 30 times and I’ve made tons of changes. The recipes below are adapted, quite generously, from Giada’s; I’ve changed the original recipes so much that I feel confident calling these recipes my own, but I also want to give credit where credit is due.
For the marinara sauce
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 medium onions, minced
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- Salt and pepper
- 2 celery stalks, minced
- 4 carrots, minced
- 3 quarts home canned whole tomatoes, or 4 – 28 oz cans of diced tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 4 bay leaves
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon dried rosemary
- ½ teaspoon dried basil
- ½ teaspoon crushed red chile flakes
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 medium zucchini, sliced into thin rounds
- 1 small yellow squash, sliced into thin rounds
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound ground beef
- Salt and pepper
- 1 pound bulk (not in links) spicy Italian sausage
- 3 eggs
- 2 pounds whole milk ricotta (fresh, if available)
- 1 box of Barilla no-boil lasagna noodles (I specifically recommend Barilla brand — they are the only no boil noodles I’ve ever used that I’ve really enjoyed)
- 4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- ½ cup shredded parmesan cheese
To make the marinara sauce
- Heat olive oil in a dutch oven over medium high flame. Add onion, garlic, salt and pepper and cook until soft, stirring frequently. Add celery and carrot and cook until soft, stirring frequently. This combination of vegetables is often used in Italian cooking and is called soffritto.
- While the soffritto is cooking, pour whole tomatoes with their juices into a large mixing bowl. Use clean kitchen shears to cut tomatoes into pieces (if using canned diced tomatoes, you can skip this step). Add tomatoes and remaining ingredients to dutch oven and stir well to incorporate. Bring to a simmer, reduce flame to medium low and simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour. Remove and discard bay leaves. Set aside to cool while you prepare the lasagna.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Remove butter from refrigerator and bring to room temperature while you prep the rest of the recipe.
- Spread sliced zucchini and yellow squash on a large cutting board. Sprinkle liberally with approximately 1 tablespoon kosher salt, then flip slices over and salt the other side with the remaining salt. Set aside for 30 minutes; the salt will draw some of the water out of the zucchini and squash.
- Heat olive oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium high flame. Add beef, season with salt and pepper, a cook thoroughly. Using a slotted spoon, transfer cooked beef to a large mixing bowl and set aside. Add sausage to the skillet and cook thoroughly. Using a slotted spoon, transfer cooked sausage to the same bowl and the cooked beef. Mix beef and sausage together and set aside.
- In a medium mixing bowl, beat 3 eggs. Add ricotta, salt and pepper and mix well to combine. Set aside.
- Transfer salted zucchini and yellow squash to a colander and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Transfer zucchini and squash to a clean kitchen towel and pat to dry.
- Use softened butter to grease and 16 x 10 x 2.5 inch baking dish (see notes above regarding dish size and alternatives). Ladle 3-4 scoops of sauce into the bottom of the dish and spread evenly to coat. Place lasagna noodles on top of the sauce, overlapping slightly, until the entire bottom of the pan is covered. Using a spatula spread the ricotta mixture over the noodles. Layer the zucchini and yellow squash over the ricotta. Make a layer of lasagna noodles on top of the zucchini/squash layer. Spread the meat and sausage mixture over the noodles. Ladle 3-4 scoops of sauce over the meat and sausage and spread it evenly over the meat. Sprinkle 2 cups of shredded mozzarella over the sauce. Add another layer of lasagna noodles and top with 3-4 scoops of sauce. Top with remaining mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese.
- Place a baking sheet underneath the lasagna pan and place in the oven (the baking sheet will catch and lasagna goodness that bubbles over and out of the pan, which makes for easier clean up than scrubbing the oven). Bake for 45 minutes or until top layer is brown and bubby and the center of the lasagna is piping hot (stick a knife in the middle of the lasagna to test if needed). Serve with extra sauce.