Everybody’s got a recipe for lasagna I would imagine. For years I just did the recipe on the back of the box. Now I pretty much do it out of my head. I don’t try to get fancy. And this isn’t a recipe that my Great Grandma used to cook in Sicily or Naples or anything like that. It’s just good old basic Lasagna with 3 cheeses and uses canned sauce.
Yes, canned sauce. Have I ever explained why I use canned sauce rather than making it from scratch? It’s simple. Making it from scratch is delicious. It takes the better part of a whole day, or longer, to simmer properly and get the full, rich flavor. But I quit making it from scratch (which I used to do all the time) about 25 years ago when I discovered one thing.
What was the one thing? My kids couldn’t have cared less that it was homemade sauce. Dinners with little kids needed to be cooked quickly and served just as quickly before the little ragamuffins starved to death right before my eyes. So I went to prepared sauce.
Then it took me about another 17 years to figure out that the canned stuff was not only 1/3 the price of the jarred stuff but that I liked the way it tastes a lot better—more like real tomato sauce with just a bit of acid still in it rather than the over-sweetened stuff in a jar. There are only so many glass jars that I can stuff in my cupboards for future use anyway.
So if that’s too plebian for your taste that’s all right with me. Because I’m the Cheap Bastid. If you want to foo-foo your lasagna with all sorts of stuff, that’s OK too. Have at it. Use more expensive and better quality cheeses. Do a gourmet sauce. All that’s fine. Mine tastes good and sticks to your ribs. Plus it’s cheap.
Recipe: Homemade Lasagna
Summary: Lasagna doesn’t have to take hours and hours to make. Here’s my version which is simple and tasty and inexpensive.
- 1 lb ground meat (I used ¾ ground beef and ¼ ground pork) or Italian sausage
- 1 package lasagna noodles
- 1 can/jar prepared pasta sauce
- 1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
- 8-12 oz shredded mozzarella
- 4 oz grated parmesan cheese
- 1 16 oz container cottage cheese (4% fat preferred)
- 2 eggs
- Spices: I use crushed red chili, cumin, dried parsley, dried basil, garlic, thyme, fennel seeds and oregano
- Get out a 9 x 13 pan and grease it. Take out a large mixing bowl. Take out a medium sauté pan and your pasta pot.
- Fill your pasta pot with about a half gallon of water (more or less—you know your pot). Put it on the stove turned to medium high and put the sauté pan on the stove turned to medium. Put the ground meat into the sauté pan to brown. Season the meat with salt, pepper, crushed red chili, fennel seed, garlic and cumin. (I know cumin is more of a Mexican seasoning but I like it!) How much spices? Enough! Do it to taste. Remember though, go a bit light. You can always add more but once it’s in you can’t take it out.
- Keep stirring the meat up to brown it evenly. When pasta water comes to a boil, put the lasagna noodles in it. You’re going to par-boil it—really “al dente”. And stir it a couple of times to make sure the noodles don’t stick together. When the meat is done, scoop it into your large mixing bowl—fat drippings and all. Open the sauce and pour it in the bowl. Add the 8 oz can of tomato sauce. Sample and season it to taste. Stir it up really good.
- When the pasta is al dente—about 6-8 minutes remove from the stove and drain into a colander. Now take the cottage cheese and put it into a medium bowl. Then add the parmesan, egg and about 2 tablespoons of dried parsley. Mix it all up together really good.
- Take out your shredded mozzarella. Reserve a good handful for the final layer on top.
- Now you’re going to build your lasagna. If your oven’s not on, then pre-heat it to 375.
- Start with about a cup and a half of sauce on the bottom of the dish. Then add your first layer of noodles—running lengthways down the dish. Next put a layer of the cottage cheese mix on top of the noodles (about 1/2 of it) and then put a layer of sauce on top of that followed by another layer of noodles. Next sprinkle a layer of mozzarella (half of it) and some more sauce with a another layer of noodles. Keep building it. There should 2 layers of the cottage cheese mix and 2 layers of the mozzarella with each layer having sauce. The final layer is the last of the sauce with the reserved mozzarella and a final shake of parmesan cheese. One thing I like to do also is to put a couple of the noodle layers cross ways—fold the noodle or snip it off to length.
- Cover the dish in foil and put it into the oven for a total of about 45 minutes. At 30 minutes remove the foil to let the top brown a bit.
- Remove from oven, let cool for about 10 minutes and serve.
Preparation time: 45 minute(s)
Cooking time: 45 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 12
A couple of notes on this post. First, you may have noticed that I used ricotta cheese as well as cottage cheese. I normally don’t because of the cost of the ricotta but I had a really good coupon for ricotta and decided to splurge. I had a good coupon for mozzarella too and ended up using about ¾ lb of it that I sliced.
Second, the photos of the finished lasagna were actually taken the morning after. Why? Well, the photos taken right after it came out of the oven didn’t show much of the layers. When the lasagna cooled the sauce thickened back up and you could see the lasagna noodles and a bit of the cheese. But, when I take pictures of the finished dish, it’s the serving that I’m going to eat! And I want to eat it reasonably hot. I’m not a professional photographer and I take photos as I go in the cooking process and of the finished dish. I strictly use a hand-held digital camera with a built in flash—nothing fancy.
Make yourself up a really great salad and some garlic bread or garlic toast. This isn’t “true” Italian cooking but it’s a good American version of an Italian classic that will feed a whole family, stick to your ribs and have you wanting seconds—or even thirds. It’ll easily feed six.
The Cheap Bastid Test: As I just said this dish will feed 6. It costs about $8 to make in my “Cheap Bastid” version. If you want you can get the price up there all the way to $20 or more if you go pricey on cheeses and sauce and meat. And $8 for a dinner that easily feeds 4 adults with left-overs is price effective in this ever more expensive world of ours.
That’s the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Good. Eat Cheap. Be Grateful!