There are things I know, things I can count on. They comfort me in a time when there is a lot of uncertainty (Becoming a mom! Owning a business! Politics!) And while I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with uncertainty, I have a long way to go before The Great Unknown and I are best buds. That’s the catch 22, isn’t it? Nothing in life is certain, but we long for some stability and routine in our lives. When I make this lasagna, I know, I just know that it will be good. I know that it will make a sh*t ton of food, and I know that the results will be well worth the effort.
Making lasagna is an event for me. I set aside a day and tell my family it’s my “lasagna day.” I make salad and Tracy’s Killer Garlic Bread and que up my podcast playlist. That’s how much I love making this dish; it’s something I look forward to and anticipate. Those that get to eat it get excited too, and it’s fun for all of us. You don’t have to make this a whole day event. In fact, you need as little as a few hours or an afternoon. Take it at your own pace.
Five lasagna hacks:
There are several things I’ve learned about making lasagna over the years, and I’ve also cut out a few unnecessary (and frankly, infuriating) steps. Namely, the boiling of the noodles.
Hack #1: Don’t boil your noodles.
Why oh why do people do this? It’s so unnecessary and working with those boiled noodles is really, really annoying. And no, you don’t need to spend extra money on “oven ready” noodles either! I use regular lasagna noodles, and as I’m layering them into my casserole dish I break the noodles to fit into the pan. Give them a little room to expand, and they will soak up the extra liquid from the tomato sauce and the cheese. This gives you an amazing, thick and rich lasagna, without the water tomato liquid and extra pot to clean. You may need to bake this one a little longer, but really, to me it’s worth it.
If you do boil your noodles ahead of time, they can’t absorb any extra liquid (or flavor) from your sauce and cheese, and so you end up with a sloppy lasagna and bland noodles. No one wants that! Try it, let me know what you think.
Hack #2: Half mild sausage, half hot
Using half hot italian sausage and half mild will give a nice heat level without being overly spicy. If you like things sort of medium hot, or to have a little bit of a kick without going over the top on the spice, this is the balance of spice and sweetness that everyone will love. I swear, this and the next hack are why this Lasagna is the best ever!
Hack #3: Use a blend of cottage cheese and ricotta cheese
Adding large curd or regular cottage cheese will impart a creaminess and give moisture to the ricotta cheese mixture. It’s so crazy, you guys! The first time I tried it I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but now I can’t make lasagna without cottage cheese. My favorite brand of cottage cheese is Organic Valley, but I tend to go with whatever brand is rBST free and on sale. 🙂
Hack #4: Fresh Mozzarella or Tillamook Farmstyle Shreds
Try it with sliced fresh mozzarella for the ultimate cheesy goodness! If I don’t use fresh mozzarella, I do use Tillamook Farmstyle Shreds (these are new!) because they are cut thicker then regular shredded cheese and it gives a similar effect. I usually buy extra mozzarella then what the recipe calls for, because I don’t like to run into a cheese shortage.
Hack #5: Cover with foil to bake, remove foil and broil at the end
Covering with foil and waiting to add the last layer of cheese until you remove the foil is the way to go for me. This keeps the foil from sticking to the cheese and tearing off all that cheesy goodness when you remove the foil for the last few minutes, but makes sure that the trapped moisture from covering cooks the noodles all the way through. When you add the last layer of cheese, pop the lasagna under the broiler for 5 minutes on high to get it all brown and bubbly. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing 😉
Those are my five lasagna hacks! They have served me so well, just like this lasagna recipe. In times of uncertainty, it helps to know you’ve got a back pocket comfort food recipe to feed you and your family and probably a few friends too. I’ll be packaging up portions of this lasagna for the freezer and relying on them in the days ahead – when the question of what’s for dinner remains to be answered – and the days are feeling a little uncertain.
Here’s my recipe for the Best Lasagna Ever:
- 16 oz package ground (bulk) hot italian sausage
- 16 oz package ground (bulk) mild italian sausage
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoon dried parsley, divided
- 1 tablespoon dried basil
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
- 1 large can (28oz) crushed tomatoes
- 1 14.5 oz can tomato sauce
- 1 6 oz can tomato paste
- 1 10-16 oz box lasagna noodles (around 12-16 noodles)
- 2 cups large curd cottage cheese (16 oz carton)
- 2 cups ricotta cheese
- 2 eggs, beaten
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 pound mozzarella cheese (either a fresh ball, thinly sliced, or grated)
- In a large skillet or saute pan over medium heat, saute the sausages, breaking them up into small pieces and mixing them together. Cook for 5-10 minutes and then add the minced garlic, 1 tablespoon parsley, 1 tablespoon basil, oregano, and ½ teaspoon of salt. Cook until the sausage is slightly browned, and the garlic and spices are well incorporated.
- Add all three cans of tomatoes and turn the heat down to simmer. Stir well and let the meat sauce simmer while you prepare the rest of the recipe.
- In a medium bowl, add the cottage cheese, ricotta, eggs, parmesan, 2 tablespoons parsley flakes, and 1 teaspoon salt. Mix together thoroughly and set aside. If using fresh mozzarella, thinly slice and set it aside.
- Create your layering station: get out your lasagna pan or several small pans if you are making smaller casseroles to freeze for later.
- Open your box of dried noodles (remember, we don’t cook these!) Have these, the cheese mixture, the meat sauce, and the sliced mozzarella lined up to start layering them into your casserole dish or favorite lasagna pan.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Start layering: pasta, cheese mixture, meat sauce, mozzarella. Repeat until your dish is full and you are on the last meat sauce layer. Set aside your last layer of cheese, you will use this at the end!
- Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and carefully remove the foil (watch out for steam!) and then top with the last layer of mozzarella. Return the pan to the oven for 10 minutes and bake until the cheese is melted.
- Turn on the broiler and broil for about 5 minutes to get a crusty top that is slightly browned and bubbling. Take the lasagna out and let cool for about 10 minutes before slicing.