The fact that my family and I have a deep love for Italian food may seem a little odd, given that we are Puerto Rican and have never traveled outside of our island and the United States. My exposure to good pizza, lasagna, good mozzarella and other delicacies have come through the blessing of having extended family members who know good food when they taste it. My sister was the one who always took care of making lasagna for special occasions, so it wasn’t until recently that I dabbled in the art of constructing beautiful structures of sauce, meat, pasta and cheese.
My first attempt was a true success and amazingly enough it was thanks to a recipe I found online. Allrecipes.com is a great place for people looking to add to their recipe collections, especially since the page allows for people to give suggestions for tweaking recipes. I’ve taken a recipe for classic lasagna and adjusted it slightly to my personal preference. It is an almost fool-proof lasagna recipe that doesn’t involve any boiling! This means one less pot to clean and more time to actually enjoy a meal with your friends and family.
Let’s begin, as always, with the ingredients:
1 box lasagna noodles, uncooked
1 large jar of your preferred pasta sauce (I use Prego)
1 can diced tomatoes
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 8oz tub of ricotta cheese
½ cup of cream cheese, room temperature
1 pound ground beef (turkey or pork can be used, depending on your preference)
1 tomato, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
9×13 baking pan
The first thing to do is cook the meat in a large skillet until it has browned. Usually you’ll get the suggestion to drain the water out of the pan, but I’m going to tell you not to. This is going to be mixed with the meat and sauce, helping to cook the noodles. Once there’s water in the pan, just raise the heat and cook until it has evaporated somewhat. Once the meat is cooked, add the tomatoes, onions and peppers. Add salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder to taste (although these last two are really just spices I like to cook with—if you don’t want to, you don’t have to.)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. After the veggies in the meat have softened, turn off the heat and move the skillet aside. In a large pot, add the sauce and diced tomatoes. Heat together and add garlic powder and onion powder to taste. Lower the heat and allow simmering to happen for a few minutes. In a medium sized bowl, add the ricotta cheese. Add one egg at a time into ricotta cheese (first checking it in a separate bowl to ensure freshness.) Mix together until a gloopy cheese sauce has formed. Add the cream cheese and mix thoroughly (if it’s hard to mix, it’s not at room temperature.) Once you’re done with the cheese, set aside. Take the warmed up sauce and add it into the skillet with the meat. Mix together.
Now, for the layering! In your 9×13 pan, spoon enough meat and sauce into the pan to cover the bottom. Place uncooked noodles onto the sauce to form a layer. Pour enough cheese sauce over the noodles to cover them well and sprinkle half of the shredded cheese on top—both kinds.) Place another layer of pasta noodles over the cheese. You will have left over noodles since there are only two layers in this recipe, but you can use those for future lasagnas. They tend to keep pretty well. Layer meat and sauce over the noodles and cover with more cheese sauce and shredded cheese. If somehow you have enough space in the pan, feel free to try and go for another layer. The key is to make sure there is enough sauce and cheese on both side of the noodles so they can cook properly. Once you have a final layer of cheese on the top, it’s time to bake!
Covering the pan with foil, place the lasagna in the oven for 35 minutes. After the time has elapsed, remove the foil and lower the heat to 300 degrees F. Cook for another 25-35 minutes. Check the lasagna with a knife after the first 35 minutes to check the progress of the noodles. Once cooked thoroughly, you should be able to easily insert the knife through all the layers. After it’s done, take it out of the over and allow cooling before serving.
What you now have is tasty lasagna without the excess water that can sometimes happen when you use cooked noodles. You can always add veggies to your liking (red peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, spinach) and change the cheese to your particular tastes, but don’t lose the ricotta!! The sauce helps cook the noodles all the way through, and the creamy taste helps cut through some of the tomato acidity.
Voila! You now have the recipe for delicious lasagna, which I’ve made a few times to the enjoyment of many. Don’t be afraid to experiment with flavors and don’t think that it’s too complicated a meal to make. It takes less than 2 ½ hours and that’s really only because of how slowly I chop! Enjoy!