Wednesday, September 12, 2007

This Thing About Lasagna

I have always maintained that, if you are an Italian-American from the NY-metro area (and parts of NJ & Conn, too) that you are either in the mafia or know someone who is. (And, for what it's worth, I fall into the latter category. )

I have a similarly sweeping statement about those of Italian descent and lasagna: the version you grew up with is the best there is.

Sure, you might go to a fantastic restaurant, or eat dinner at a friend's who really knows how to cook, but their lasagna, no matter how delicious, just isn't as good as the one you know.

This is how I feel about my lasagna. Yes, I've had other versions -- really delicious versions! -- but they weren't mine, so they weren't the best.

Ironically, the recipe doesn't come from my Dad's (Italian) side, but my mother's (Irish) side. My mom's aunt by marriage (Aunt Ann, who, um, happened to be German) picked up this recipe from her days cooking in a school cafeteria in Queens, NY. This was during the days when cafeterias actually cooked food as one might at home, though on an admittedly larger scale.

I feel a little sheepish admitting this lasagna's pedigree (Irish? German? CAFETERIA?!?) but, who knows -- maybe Aunt Ann got the recipe came from an Italian woman who worked alongside her. Plus, it's a damn fine lasagna.

In any event, I didn't find out this story until I was in college, and by then my love for it had been long cemented. I hope you enjoy it.


This lasagna always tastes better the next day. You may assemble the lasagna a day ahead with stellar results. Leftovers reheat nicely in the microwave, but I like to eat it cold, too.

16 oz. lasagna noodles
1 lb of ground beef
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Approx 37 oz. of marinara sauce (if using jarred sauce, this is typically 1 and 1/3) plus a little more for the baking dish & top of the lasagna
2 lbs of ricotta cheese
8 -12 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 375-degrees F. Cook pasta per package directions, being careful not to overcook. Drain, then place back in the pot adding cold water to stop cooking process and prevent the pasta from sticking together.

While the pasta is cooking, in a large frying pan, brown the ground beef over medium, removing cooked meat with a slotted spoon to a small bowl. Drain all but 1 1/2 TBS of fat from the pan. Add onion, cooking until translucent. Toss in minced garlic and cook briefly. Put meat back in pan, mix well, then add in sauce.

Drain pasta well (I use my index and middle fingers as a squeegee to help get rid of excess water). In the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish, spread a bit of the reserved marinara sauce, then lay down the first layer of lasagna, overlapping the edges. Add a layer of the meat sauce (about 1/3), spreading well to cover the noodles. Add the ricotta (again 1/3 of the total) dropped from a tablespoon in an even but random pattern. Top this off with a scattering of mozzarella cheese (about 1/4 the total amount). Repeat this process two more times, layering the lasagna in alternate directions and tucking in the edges, until complete. Top the final "uncovered" layer with lasagna noodles, and lightly cover with marinara sauce. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, or until hot in the center. Remove foil, sprinkle with additional mozzarella cheese, and bake another 5 minutes. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Depending on how you slice it, this serves 8-12. (I usually slice it for 12.)


slush said...

Lasagna is one of the many dishes I am afraid of. Why? I have no idea! I have made it before, with so-so results. It was either too dry or too wet. Your recipe looks fabulous and easy to boot! I may just give it another whirl!

Laura Rebecca said...

Hi Slush!

I haven't had a problem with lasagnas being too wet, probably because of "the finger squeegee" method. My mom likes to keep a cloth napkin (or a really lint-free dishtowel) nearby and will even dab her noodles with that to get rid of the excess moisture, and I do that sometimes, too.

As for being dry, the top corner edges of the lasagna sometimes get a little crisp. This has never bothered me (each crisp spot only affects the top noodle and is only an inch long and about 1/4-inch wide) but you can avoid this by tucking in the edges or even just trimming the spot off before serving. The filling tends to stay moist, I think, because of all the ricotta. Plus, I don't use extra lean ground beef (I pick up the 80% lean) which helps keep the meat moist, too.

Good luck -- I hope things turn out well for you!

Deborah said...

I have been craving lasagna for weeks now, but haven't gotten around to making it. I agree that everyone thinks that their version is the best, but your version sounds wonderful!

Peabody said...

Have you ever tried the recipe from Cream Puff in is to die for and they only way my husband will eat it now. He wont even order it at resturants now.

Belinda said...

Well...whether your lasagna is of legitimate Italian heritage or not, it sure looks wonderful...and I love the sound of the recipe. I especially like that it doesn't have eggs in it. I'm copying it right this minute! :-)

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

We had some of the best lasagna I have had in years lately at a little mom & pop restaurant a few miles north of here. I will have to blog about it and try and emmulate their recipe.Your recipe sounds very close!!!

Lis said...

Your lasagna looks excellent! And who cares where the recipe came from as long as it's delish, eh?

Although I must admit, I'm one of those who doesn't really like the lasagna I grew up with. My mother (also Irish) made a fantastic lasagna and when placed on the menu as a special on the weekends, it sold out every time.. but for me it was soooooooooo rich. I couldn't eat more than a lil square.

And then.. yep, I found another lasagna recipe from someone's mom (Ivonne's) and fell in love. It's a basic cheese lasagna with no meat - but the sauce that you make special, and the creamy cheese is just outstanding together.

I told my mom when I first made Ivonne's Mom's recipe and thankfully my mom isn't the jealous type - she just demanded a slice of it. Now when I make it? If I don't give her several slices (for freezing) she get's ticked. hee!


Unknown said...

looks good!

Kirsten said...

This sounds just like my family version (for what its worth, I am Irish-German with a bit of French and Polish and random other things mixed in).

I LOVE lasagna, but sadly never make it - perhaps when it cools down a bit. :)