I don’t usually make casserole-style dinners because I’m opposed to the number of dishes it takes. The idea of cooking 4 different elements in 4 different pots, then combining said elements into a pan and baking them is beyond my ambition in my little dishwasher-less kitchen. Also, 4 pots will not fit on my stove at one time.
For a long time, this put lasagna out of my weeknight repertoire. I was too overwhelmed with the thought of using and washing all the pots and pans necessary to make the sauce, cook the meat, cook the pasta, and bake it. Then, the craving became too strong and I either had to buy one of those generally disappointing frozen lasagnas or buck up and make it; I started cooking. To my delight, this lasagna only required 2 pots and one pan, and it was delicious beyond anything the freezer section could offer.
The lasagna turned out so good and required so few dishes that I was instantly sold and vowed to make it on a regular basis. Though this does take more time than, say, broiling chicken, you must try it. If you’re in the mood for tons of super savory tomato sauce and nutmeg-y bechamel nestled between layers of noodles with gooey mozzarella cheese binding everything together (really, when are you not in the mood for this?), this is the dinner for you.
Though I feel a little sheepish calling it “perfect,” it really is. The bechamel beats out ricotta any day, ground pork brings a way better flavor than ground beef in this situation, and the tomato sauce that has simmered as the rest of the dish was cooking is just addicting. When you cut into it, it won’t look perfect (my slices always fall apart somewhere on their way to a plate), but it sure will taste it.
A few notes:
Ground pork: I love it. It’s cheaper than ground beef and it lends itself so nicely to tomato sauce. It’s also versatile. You can flavor it any way you want to. You can make your own Italian sausage with the addition of fennel seeds and red pepper flakes, or you can go the crazy savory route (as I did in this recipe) and cook it up with salt, sage, and thyme. Sadly though, out of the several grocery stores I frequent, only one carries it. If you can’t locate it, use your favorite crumbled mild Italian sausage, and leave out the thyme and sage.
Cheese and tomatoes: This is a shameless plug, but Costco is the way to go for cheese and tomatoes. I realize the stuff they sell varies by location, but I found a giant container of imported San Marzano tomatoes for $4. What a STEAL! Also, they have fresh mozzarella logs for less than $4/lb, making it just about on par with the not-fresh mozzarella in the grocery store. Of course, if you are not a member or live too far away, any kind of tomatoes or cheese will do.
Lasagna noodles: You can use the no-cook lasagna sheets if you want to. I don’t usually use them because I don’t think their texture is as nice, but if you want to save time, just sub them in.
1 lb ground pork
1 tbsp dried sage leaves
2 tsp dried thyme
2 garlic cloves
6 cups crushed or whole tomatoes
15 sheets of lasagna noodles (ends up being 5 or so shy of a box)
4 tbsp all-purpose flour
4 tbsp butter
2 cups whole milk
pinch of nutmeg
3 cups mozzarella, shredded or pulled into pieces.
In a large pot on medium heat, add a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the pork, sage, thyme, garlic, and a big pinch of salt. Cook the pork until it’s no longer pink.
Add in the tomatoes, crushing them if you’re using whole tomatoes. Add another pinch of salt, and bring to a simmer. Let it cook, uncovered, while you work on the rest of the dish.
Bring a pot of salted water to boil and add in the sheets of lasagna. Cook according to package directions, then drain and rinse with cold water (this will help the pasta stop cooking and make it easier for you to layer the dish without burning your hands).
Time for the bechamel. In the same pot you cooked the pasta (saving dishes here!), heat the 4 tbsp of butter. Whisk the flour into the butter. Then, slowly add in the milk, whisking as you add. Bring the pot to a boil and continue whisking until the sauce has thickened (about the consistency of sweetened condensed milk) and is no longer lumpy. Add in a pinch of nutmeg, take off the heat and set aside.
Assembly time! Spray a 13×9 pan with non-stick spray and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
I like to line up all the pots on the table in the order I will use them: (except for the first layer which uses an extra helping of bechamel at the beginning, it goes noodles, bechamel, tomato sauce, cheese, and repeat).
Pour ¼ cup bechamel sauce in the bottom of the pan, and layer lasagna noodles on top. Next, pour another ¼ cup bechamel over the noodles, followed by 1 ½ cup of the tomato sauce. Follow up with ½ cup cheese (I like to light-ish on the cheese, but feel free to add up to a cup each layer for a super cheesy dish) and another layer of noodles.
Repeat this pattern until you’ve used up all the noodles. If you have meat sauce or bechamel left over, just pour it all on, and make sure all the noodles are covered by sauce (or else the pasta will dry out and there will be an unappealing crusty layer on your otherwise perfect lasagna). Top with a full cup of mozzarella cheese.
Cover with foil (spray the with non-stick spray foil first so it doesn’t stick to the cheese), and bake for 30 minutes. Then, remove the foil and bake for an additional 15 minutes, or until the cheese is brown and bubbly.