Apologies for the uninspired portrait of this lasagna; it was taken in haste as it came out of the oven and sat for a few minutes while we gathered plates and forks and tore off paper towels in lieu of napkins for everyone around the table who had come to celebrate Mike’s birthday.
W chose lasagna for dinner, and the next day my friend Emily Richards’ beautiful new cookbook arrived in the mail – a book of recipes from the kitchens of her extended Italian family. When I make a lasagna – not that I have for ages – I generally make a big pot of meaty tomato sauce, grate piles of mozzarella and then wing it, starting with tomato sauce spooned over the bottom of the pan, then noodles, more sauce, spoonfuls of ricotta, grated cheese, and so on. I used fresh lasagna sheets this time, which are as inexpensive as dried noodles if not as convenient to keep stashed in your cupboard, but are a dream to work with – there’s no boiling and handling slippery noodles, or crunchy edge from the no-boil kind that didn’t manage to get adequately covered with sauce.
Emily is a fantastic cook and a solid recipe writer, and excels in the realm of Italian home cooking; when she came to visit this summer, she brought me a gnocchi board handmade by her dad, and deftly mixed and shaped a batch for dinner one night as we hung out in the kitchen. If I went out looking for a lasagna recipe, there’s no one I’d trust more.
Fortuitously, I had just simmered a big batch of fresh tomato sauce in the slow cooker, and cooked up a bunch of ground beef and Italian sausage that needed cooking. I followed her direction fairly loosely (I think I added more ricotta), but in the end was layers of meaty sauce, ricotta, grated cheese and fresh pasta sheets, baked as per her instructions, and it came together like a dream.
Emily’s Meat Lasagna
extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 lb. lean ground beef (or turkey or veal – I used some crumbled Italian sausage too)
salt and pepper, to taste
6 cups homemade tomato sauce (bottled is fine too, just make sure it’s the good stuff)
1 pkg (about 350 g) fresh pasta sheets
1 container ricotta
1 ball mozzarella, grated (about 3 cups)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan or extra old Gouda
In a large, heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat and saute the onion until soft. Add the garlic and oregano and cook for another minute, then add the beef and cook, breaking the meat up with a spoon, until it’s browned and no longer pink. Season with salt and pepper. Add the tomato sauce and simmer for a few minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Spread 1 cup of the sauce in the bottom of a 9×13-inch or lasagna pan. Top with a layer of lasagna sheets, another cup of sauce, some of the ricotta cheese and some of the mozzarella. Repeat with pasta sheets (I cut mine to fit), sauce and cheeses. I put all the ricotta in between the first two layers, then top the last pasta sheet with sauce and mozzarella, and then the Parmesan.
Cover with foil. (Emily recommends putting your lasagna on a baking sheet, but I like to live dangerously.) Bake for 45 minutes, then uncover and bake for an additional 30 minutes, until bubbly and golden.
Serves 8-10 very happy people.