Nothing is better on a weekend than a simple, delicious Italian/American meal, and you should DEFINITELY not be spending your dollars on Stoufers or anything else packed with chemicals!
I made these lasagnas a few weeks ago when my whole family was gathering for my great-grandfather's funeral.
Why do people eat so much when people die? I have no idea.
Anyway, we had a wonderful time sharing memories, laughing, crying, and enjoying cousins that we rarely see. Having the meal fully prepared (besides cooking) the night before was just an added bonus!
I made one vegetarian lasagna and one meat lasagna for this particular meal. The key here is to make one big batch of sauce and then separate it, adding veggies to one and meat to the other. Then, you're only doing the basics with garlic, onion, and tomatoes once!
A few other things that save time, money, and energy on this recipe:
- no-boil noodles. BUY THESE. They are so easy, so convenient, and save tons of time and pasta-pot-washing.
- pre-grated cheese. I use about a 12-oz bag per dish, sometimes more if I'm feeling randy, which I usually am when it comes to cheese.
- grated carrot - it adds texture and sweetness to the sauce for BOTH kinds of lasagna without adding calories - genius!
- 2 boxes no-boil lasagna noodles (check the box, most boxes are for one 9x13 dish)
- 4-6 cups marinara (make mine, it's so easy!)
- 2 bags grated mozzarella or Italian-blend cheese - whatever you prefer!
- 1 pound ground beef
- 2 medium zucchini
- 3-4 medium carrots
- 16 oz ricotta cheese
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
So, I start by making a lot of my own marinara (click here to see that recipe) - you'll need 2-3 LARGE cans of tomatoes (crushed is best), 5 cloves of garlic, 1 chopped onion, a cup of wine (optional), and 3-4 grated carrots.
Heat a pan to medium heat and add the carrot and onion with a drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of crushed red pepper, and a sprinkle of salt.
I am not kidding about tons of carrots. Grating ANY veggies is perfect for veggie sauce, especially in lasagna. It gives a great texture that is like....wait for it....meat sauce! Obviously you don't have the beefy flavor, but the thick sauce is genius and really adds to what can sometimes be a bland, watery veggie lasagna.
Stir the carrots and onions around for 5 minutes or so until they start to soften. Then add the garlic and stir that around for 2 more minutes.
Mmmm, garlic. Now, add the wine (if using), tomatoes, and another sprinkle of salt to the sauce. Let the sauce simmer while you get the other sauce ingredients ready.
For the meat sauce, brown the meat in a separate large pan until it's cooked though, about 10 minutes. Break it up with a spoon as you go.
When the meat is fully cooked, add half the carrot marinara to the meat and let it simmer on very low heat until you're ready to layer your lasagna.
There is really nothing like a great meat sauce, is there?
To the rest of the carrot sauce, grate the zucchini and add it directly to the sauce. Let that simmer as well.
Of course, you can add any other veggies you'd like to the meat sauce....mushrooms, fresh spinach, squash, fennel....the sky's the limit! I like to grate or chop everything in small bits to help the lasagna hold together, but you can cut your veggies however you'd like!
Taste both sauces and add more salt and pepper, if you need.
Now, make the ricotta mixture. Combine the ricotta, egg, and parmesan in a bowl with a fork.
Now it's time to layer the lasagnas! The method is the same for both - just keep track of which sauce goes in which dish!
Start by using some olive oil or cooking spray on the bottom of your dish, then spread a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of the dish. Top the sauce with a layer of noodles - overlap them a little bit so everything will hold together nicely!
On top of the first layer of noodles put another layer of sauce, then cheese, then noodles, then more sauce.
On top of the second layer of noodles/sauce, add half the ricotta to the pan and smear it around to form an even layer with the back of a spoon - be gentle with this!
Then top the ricotta with cheese, and do another layer of noodles/sauce/cheese until you've used all the noodles.
Note: Use a little more sauce than you think you'll need in each layer, since the noodles will absorb some of it as they cook.
When the noodles are all used up, top the lasagna with another smear of sauce and a ton of cheese.
And that, my friends, is all there is to it! At this point you can cover this tightly with plastic wrap and keep it in the fridge for 4 days or in the freezer for as long as you can stand the freezer burn.
When you're ready to bake it, follow the noodle instructions - usually these cook for about 45 minutes covered on 375F and then for a few more minutes uncovered, but check the box!
If you've frozen your lasagna, stick it in the fridge for 12-24 hours before you bake it.
And, that's IT. Once the lasagna has cooked let it rest for 10 minutes or so and cut it into big pieces.
Isn't my grandmama's table pretty?
Enjoy this one, guys. It's great to make the whole batch and save one for later if you're only using one dish of lasagna at a time. Why the heck not?