Lasagna the way I used to make it took hours. Who has the time to devote to layer after layer these days?
I set about finding a way to simplify the process and still enjoy this wonderful combination of ingredients layered into a sort of molten Italian food lover's delight. I consulted Oklahoma City chef Chris Becker, who is the creator of Della Terra Pasta, for some lasagna-making insight.
I figured Becker, with his New York City Italian restaurant experience, could probably make most any version of lasagna blindfolded and that he would have boiled down an efficient method to make the dish. When he offered to collaborate on making lasagna, I was excited. We met at the Urban Agrarian Market, where Becker makes his pasta when he isn't tending his day job at Francis Tuttle Technology Center.
I went into this lasagna project with the concept that lasagna consisted of multiple layers, including: a tomato-based sauce; lasagna noodles boiled al dente; mozzarella cheese; more noodles; more sauce; ricotta cheese mixed with fresh herbs, garlic and eggs; more noodles; more sauce; more noodles; a spinach layer; more noodles; more sauce; more noodles and cheese and sauce; plus cheese-infused white sauce marbled with the meaty tomato sauce and topped with Parmesan cheese — all baked together under cover until the last.
I never thought of my everything-but-the-kitchen-sink version of lasagna as being one giant run-on sentence. But looking at it now — well, you get the idea. I see why I haven't made lasagna in years. I understand why many home cooks have come to rely on their grocer's freezer case or just head to their favorite Italian restaurant when they have a craving for this dish.
When I made lasagna, I made a lot of it so that I could cut the cooled-down leftovers into squares, wrap them up and stock the freezer with individual portions to enjoy later without all the preparation.
Now with the help of Chef Becker, I am thinking of lasagna as a fairly simple process. He recommends using Italian sausage in the meaty tomato sauce. Italian sausage is infused with plenty of seasoning for the sauce. It is sauteed with diced onion and a fresh clove of garlic.
There are several ways to go with the sausage and several Italian-style sausages out there to use. You can even use Made in Oklahoma versions of Italian sausage: J.C. Potter's Italian sausage or some of that wonderful stuff made by Lovera's in Krebs. If you like traditional link sausage, it will be necessary to crumble it into a pan to saute it. Italian sausages can be found in pork, chicken or beef.