No toil-no boil lasagna
Think easy when making lasagna with this simplified version of an Italian classic.
Collaborating with chef Chris Becker of Della Terra Pasta gave me a new perspective on lasagna: all that satisfying flavor of lasagna as I knew it layered into just a few exquisite layers of Italian bliss. You have to make it to believe it. Of course, you can add more layers, including linear slices of zucchini or eggplant or even spinach, but you will love the simplicity of this recipe. Besides, how often do you get to stir in a paper towel?
Makes 4 generous servings.
1 pound of Italian sausage; remove casings, if necessary; crumple into pan
1 onion, diced small (about ¾ to 1 cup)
1 clove garlic, minced
Optional: 1 or 2 paper towels
1 large (28-ounce) can tomatoes (Cento or San Marzano for best results)
Crushed fennel seed, oregano, thyme, parsley, basil, if desired, but most Italian sausage supplies ample seasoning
Sheets of lasagna pasta to make 3 or 4 layers in baking dish (9-by-9-inch, 8-by-8-inch or 7-by-13-inch oval or rectangular dishes work)
Optional: 1 (15-ounce) tub ricotta cheese
2 (8 ounce) balls buffalo-style mozzarella cheese (presliced or sliced as thin as possible)
¼ cup finely grated Parmesan or Reggiano cheese
Make sauce: Saute sausage with onion and garlic until cooked through. Wrap a rubber spatula in a dry paper towel and stir the sausage to absorb any excess fat as it browns, then discard the towel once it becomes soaked. Add tomatoes, using fingers to separate whole tomatoes into irregular-size pieces. Simmer mixture for about 10 minutes to infuse flavors, not to reduce the sauce.
Assemble ingredients: Spray baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and spoon sauce to make a base for the first layer of pasta. Press pasta into the sauce, breaking sections if necessary to fit. Add second layer of pasta, cover with sauce then cheese, followed by additional sauce. Then add another section of pasta, sauce (ricotta cheese if using) or mozzarella slices, cover with sauce, then the fourth layer of sauce, mozzarella covered with remaining sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Bake: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cover lasagna with nonstick foil making a small channel next to edges of dish to help keep sauce from bubbling over the rim during baking. Regular foil can be prepped with cooking spray or you can use a silicone baking mat over the top of the baking dish to seal the lasagna for baking. Place on middle rack of preheated oven. Bake 25 to 30 minutes until bubbly.
Remove cover and turn on broiler to finish, letting top cheese brown slightly, or simply let it remain in oven for an additional 10 minutes. Allow the lasagna to cool for about 10 minutes before serving.
AT A GLANCE
San Marzano tomatoes have a lovely Italian essence, but other varieties of whole stewed tomatoes may be used. I loved the results using Cento brand of tomatoes.
Look for Della Terra fresh lasagna pasta to be widely available in early November. Until then you will find the dried version exclusively at the Urban Agrarian Market (in the old public market area at 1235 SW 2 St., 231-1919). You will love these easy, no-boil sheets of locally produced pasta for making lasagna. I can imagine the fresh ones will be even easier to use.
cleaning up stuck-on cheese
Use cool water to remove cheese with ease. After rinsing with warm or hot water, switch to cool tap and watch the stuck-on cheese roll up and disappear from the dish.