Lasagna: Layer by Layer

January 24, 2008

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After my sister, Ali, upped the ante last week with her dinner pick (which she was forced to make in the wake of her Biggest Loser Bowl loss), I knew I had to come up with something pretty good when one of my teams got booted next. And if there’s a dinner that’s only too happy to one-up all the other dinners, it’s lasagna. A couple reasons for my choice …

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(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & a layer-by-layer recipe of sorts.)

First, I really like making lasagna. I confess: I love any dish that requires an assembly line. Call it my inner Henry Ford, but there’s something just plain fun about a line-up of delicious ingredients marching across the counter, ready to be put to use.

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Second, I’ve made lasagnas laden with meat and lasagnas that were very pared down: just pasta, tomatoes and cheese. The former was always too heavy and the latter a little too plain. I knew that I could find a happy medium, even if it required me to break free of recipes and invent one myself.

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Third, it’s bone-chillingly cold here in Chicago. And nothing is quite so warming as a bubbling, oozy pan of goodness, straight from the oven. Especially when it’s accompanied by a glass of spicy red wine and a blazing fire.

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In the end, this lasagna satisfied all of the reasons for which I chose it. I got to make an assembly line of beautiful ingredients and work my way through it several times, as I built the lasagna. And, because the assembly line included not just the plain Jane noodles-tomatoes-and-cheese, but also spinach and roasted zucchini and yellow squash, I also satisfied my desire to make a “happy medium lasagna.” And not only did it warm us up the night we ate it, but the next day too; a whole pan’s worth makes for some happy lunches, folks. Finally, and obviously most importantly, it totally out-did my sister’s pick. Beef Bourguignon Schmourguignon.

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Because I think of this as much more of a method than a recipe, I thought we could take it step-by-step. Or layer-by-layer, if you will. I’ll suggest variations along the way, but I’m sure that more creative culinary minds could go nuts. First, make your sauce. I went with a basic tomato sauce: saute onions (one medium), minced garlic (two cloves’ worth), fennel seeds (1 teaspoon) and chile flakes (as many as you can handle) in olive oil and a sliver of butter for a touch of richness; add two 28-ounce cans of whole tomatoes—one fire roasted and one not; simmer and puree. If tomatoes aren’t your thing, go for a bechamel or another pureed veggie (like, say, butternut squash). Spoon a thin layer of your sauce in the bottom of a buttered 9-by-13 pan, like so:

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Next comes the lasagna sheets. You might make them from scratch, like so, or buy fresh pasta, like so. And you might boil, par-boil or not boil them at all. I par-boiled mine (layer them in another 9-by-13 pan and cover them with boiling water; let them sit until they are slightly pliable and drain). But when I make this lasagna again, I will use dry sheets instead, as I think there was plenty of moisture in the fillings to soften them up and they got a bit too un-al-dente for my liking. However you prep your pasta, take several of the sheets and create a bed of them on top of the sauce:

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Next, whip up a ricotta mixture of sorts (mine contained half a container of regular ricotta and a whole container of fat free ricotta; one medium bag of frozen spinach, thawed and drained very, very well; and a sprinkle of salt and freshly-grated nutmeg). You can of course depart at this point to any filling you can dream up, but I think ricotta provides a great “glue” at this stage. Slather the ricotta mixture on the bed of pasta:

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Moving right down the assembly line, a layer of roasted vegetables would be lovely here. I went with long, slender slices of zucchini and yellow squash (3 medium-sized versions of each), roasted in olive oil, salt, pepper, chile flakes and dried herbs at 400° for about 30 minutes. I’ll mention a couple additions or substitutions—fennel, mushrooms, eggplant, leeks—but my list could never be exhaustive. Take your roasted produce, whatever it may be, and create the next tier of your lasagna:

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On the next step, I’ll be brief. Slice fresh, great quality mozzarella into rounds and pile those on next. After all that spinach and those veggies, we wouldn’t want this to get too healthy, now would we? A sprinkle of Parmesan won’t hurt either. Don’t be stingy:

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From here, head directly back to the beginning of the assembly line (sauce) and start it all over again. Repeat—sauce, pasta, ricotta, veggies, cheese—as many times as you can until you are dangerously close to the top of the pan. Stop at whatever layer you’re at (I got through the whole line-up three times) and spread the top with tomato sauce and create a final lid of mozzarella for your lasagna:

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Preheat the oven to 425° and, while you wait, take a minute to gaze admiringly at your nearly-finished product. Or, in my case, snap countless photos:

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Bake your lasagna at 425° for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the top is browned and bubbly and completely, totally irresistible. The last step—the very, very hardest step—is to let the lasagna sit for at least 20 minutes, so it can firm up. Good luck:

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Enjoy a square of the lasagna with a heap of mixed greens. And enjoy it the next day too. And the next, and the next …

19 Responses to “Lasagna: Layer by Layer”

  1. Maxine Says:

    This looks AMAZING!! I too am living with/freezing through Chicago’s frigid temps and this recipe sounds fantastic. I’m so impressed that even the sauce was homemade, though I must confess, I’ll probably use a jar. Regardless I will be trying ASAP. Thanks for the recipe and stay warm!🙂

  2. Brynn Says:

    Beef Bourguignon Schmourguignon. Too funny! Your recipe looks delicious, as always.

  3. amanda Says:

    this looks divine! can i come live in your kitchen please?! I’ll do the dishes I swear!

  4. ourkitchensink Says:

    Maxine: Thanks! A good jarred marinara would be great, I’m sure. I made mine while the veggies were roasting, so it wasn’t much of a time adder. I hope you try this — let me know how it goes! And hang in there with the weather. It sounds like it’s going to get better.

    Brynn: Thank you!

    Amanda: Thanks! Unfortunately, the dishwasher position is filled at this time, but I’ll keep your offer in mind!

  5. brilynn Says:

    I haven’t had lasagna in ages! I’ll definitely have to make some soon. I really like it made with ultra thin homemade noodles, it’s to die for!

  6. JEP Says:

    The vegetarian in me sends a big thank you as this recipe sounds very good!

  7. culinography Says:

    Oh. My. Need lasagna. Stat!🙂

  8. ourkitchensink Says:

    Brilynn: I definitely want to make lasagna using my own fresh pasta soon. And by soon, I mean the next time I’ve got a spare afternoon (at least!) … Here’s hoping one rolls around soon!

    JEP: You’re welcome! I find that our dinners are increasingly meat-free these days …

    Culinography: I wish I could send you virtual leftovers. I sent my sister home with two gigantic slices and I still don’t know how we’ll get through the rest of the pan!

  9. Adria Says:

    easy on the eyes, easier on the tastebuds–nicely done!

    thanks for the entertaining read, your blog is terrific!

  10. ourkitchensink Says:

    Adria: Aw, thanks!

  11. Lori Says:

    I really like this recipe, especially the roasted zucchini and squash. Looks delicious!

  12. ourkitchensink Says:

    Lori: Thank you! I hope you give it a try. Your site is lovely — gorgeous photos. I want to give those whole wheat scones a try.

  13. Lori Says:

    Thanks, I also think you have a beautiful site! You have great process photos…very helpful!🙂

    Enjoy your last year of law school classes. Third year was my favorite. 😉

  14. Julie Says:

    looks awesome!

  15. Susan Says:

    I made this recipe last night for book club and it was a HUGE hit. It’s winter in Chicago, and our veggies are smaller than in other parts of the country. I used 4 yellow squash & 4 zucchini and only got through 2 layers of everything. I also only used 1 container of low-fat ricotta cheese w/ half bag of frozen spinach. However, I used ALL of the sauce recipe you suggest. So maybe mine was saucier than normal, but it was just delish! Thanks!

  16. vanessa Says:

    this looks soo,soo,soo good which is why i attempted to make it last night. i omitted the spinach but added sliced, roasted mushrooms instead. i have it in the freezer, ready to be baked. i can’t wait to see how it comes out. im thinking that i’ll probably have it for dinner tomorrow night. thanks for the inspiration, your recipes all look incredible.

  17. laura b Says:

    Im very excited- I plan on making this dish for sunday when my family comes to visit. Its a great dish for a group… although i may have to double up for a group of 6, right? Out of curiosity, why frozen spinach?
    Thank for the great dish!

  18. ourkitchensink Says:

    Julie: Thanks!

    Susan: Thanks for reporting back!

    Vanessa: Let us know how it goes. I’d be especially curious to hear if you had to change baking times/temps due to the freezing. And I’m jealous of the mushrooms, which, according to my husband, are a major no-no.

    Laura B: I think this recipe would yield plenty to serve six people. It’s a 9″-x-13″ pan’s worth of a pretty deep lasagna — so about 12 good sized (3 x 4) pieces. Let me know how it goes! As for the spinach, fresh (sauteed and drained very well) would certainly work well too.

  19. Anne Says:

    i just made this for christmas eve dinner and it was amazing! thank you so much!


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