Monday, July 23, 2012

love people; cook them tasty world's best lasagna

Our family is so very blessed to be a part of a wonderful church congregation.  It's a great mix of young and old, and it's on fire for community outreach.  Each Sunday evening, we get together with our home church group, eat, fellowship, sing, and discuss the morning's sermon even further.  We have so many young children in our group that the house usually rattles with laughter (and a few tears now and then).  It's a modern-day version of what I imagine life was like among the first Christians in Acts:  "And day by day, they worshiped together, breaking bread in their homes, and receiving their food with glad and generous hearts."  This is at the foundation of what we do.

Last night was our turn to host, and the group had decided on a pasta theme.  We had farfalle with marinara, fusilli with Alfredo sauce, a pot full of meatballs, bread and salad, and - of course - desserts galore!  I ended up cooking this lasagna.  It's slightly time-consuming, but I've done it so many times with no trouble at all, it's well worth the effort.  The slices hold together beautifully, and the blend of both ground beef and Italian sausage generously deepens the flavor. 

Lasagna is a great gift to a family in need.  It's hearty, comforting, and provides helpful leftovers.  The longer this one sits, the better it gets.  Once assembled, this recipe can be frozen and given to the recipients to use at their convenience.  It only requires an hour to thaw on the counter followed by baking as directed.

Put this one on your list soon and go bless someone!

World's Best Lasagna - 
makes one 9x13 pan (plus extra sauce)
  • 1 pound sweet Italian  sausage
  • 3/4 pound lean ground beef
  • 1/2 cup minced onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cans (6 oz.) tomato paste
  • 2 cans (6.5 oz) tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tbsp. white sugar
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil  
  • 1/2 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 1 tbsp. salt, divided
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 4 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • 12 lasagna noodles
  • 1 container (16 oz.) ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 lb. mozzarella cheese, sliced
  • 3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
~  In a Dutch oven, cook sausage, beef, onion, and garlic over medium heat until well 
     browned.  Stir in crushed tomatoes, paste, sauce and water.  Season with sugar, basil, 
     fennel, Italian seasoning, 2 tsp. salt, pepper, and 2 tbsp. parsley.  Simmer, covered for 30 
~  Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease 9x13 casserole dish.
~  Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil.  Cook lasagna noodles about 8 minutes.  
     Drain and rinse with cold water.
~  In mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese, egg, remaining parsley and remaining salt.
~  Using a standard size soup ladle, spread two ladles of sauce on bottom of pan.  Follow 
     with three lasagna noodles.
~  Place heaping tablespoon of ricotta mixture on each noodle and spread across length of 
     noodle with back of spoon.  
~  Ladle meat sauce over ricotta cheese, and follow with slices of mozzarella cheese.
~  Repeat layers finishing with shredded Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses.
~  Spray aluminum foil with non-stick spray and cover dish.  Bake for 25 minutes covered.  
     Uncover and bake 25 more minutes, or until cheese is golden and lasagna is bubbling.
~  Cool 15 minutes before serving.

Tips and Tricks

  • I only suggest simmering the sauce 30 minutes.  The original recipe calls for 1 1/2 hours.  I've done it both ways, and 90 minutes is not necessary.  If you are assembling a day ahead, you don't have to simmer at all, as sitting for several hours will allow the flavors to adequately develop.  If you are cooking immediately, do let the sauce simmer about a half hour, if possible.

  • This recipe makes about 2 or more cups extra sauce.  So plan ahead to use later in the week, or freeze.  It is WONDERFUL!

  • I let the noodles cook under al dente.  They will have no trouble finishing cooking in the meat sauce during baking time, and will soak up the flavor even more.

  • If you have a hand blender or immersion blended, I suggest using it with the ricotta mixture.  It makes it fluffier and much easier to spread, going further for the recipe.

  • I used to fret over the use of mozzarella cheese slices, thinking I needed to cover the entire surface.  There's not enough called for in the recipe to do this because it is not necessary.  I use a one-pound mozzarella log and thinly slice.  For each layer, I use about 5-6 slices.  Shredded mozzarella can be used in place of the slices, but the slices are more traditional in taste and consistency.