One of the biggest myths about making a lasagna is that it’s too hard. That idea is false.
When I first started receiving Bon Appetit, it was nearly ten years ago. Back then, the only type of food I knew I liked cooking was pasta – especially lasagna. Needless to say, most of my Bon Appetit magazines went untouched. When the March 1999 magazine arrived on my doorstep with an amazing looking lasagna in it, I ran to the grocery store to buy the ingredients and try it out. To be honest, I had never even heard of turkey sausage, and didn’t know if it was even available – that’s how much of a cooking novice I was. The next few hours were spent in an amazing cooking adventure, as I had never made a meal so involved before. Desserts, yes. Actual food, no.
I hate to say it, but alas: A good lasagna is a labor of love. That’s why this post doesn’t have the “Weeknight Cooking” tag anywhere near it. Sure, you can throw together any lasagna recipe you see (I’ve even made a few) but to make something spectacular, it takes time and usually a little more money than you normally spend on ingredients. The sauce, having nothing to do with crap in a jar, takes time to simmer before it gets anywhere near ricotta and noodles.
Recently, I pulled this recipe out again. Because it takes a while to cook, I made it on a Friday night and, by the time it was done, my spouse was ready to throw one of our cats on the George Foreman with some bbq sauce and eat it. This is one of my most favorite meat lasagnas and anyone can make it, as long as you have the time.
Spicy Tomato Sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon dried basil
3/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
3/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
2 28-ounce cans Italian-style tomatoes
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes with added purée
1/2 cup dry red wine
When I’m going all out on a recipe like this, I don’t skimp. I want it to taste as amazing as possible, and that means good ingredients — and no jarred garlic.
Just looking at that makes me hungry!
Heat up your oil and toss in your onion, garlic, oregano, basil, marjoram and crushed red pepper.
Let that cook for about ten minutes, then add everything else. Simmer gently and stir occasionally, breaking up the tomatoes.
When the sauce reduces down to about eight cups (after about an hour and a half of simmering), it’s done. You can season with salt and pepper if you want, but I leave it plain as the sausage that is added to it is more than enough salt for me. This sauce can be made a couple of days ahead if you want, or you can let it cool and start turning it into a lasagna.
Turkey Sausage Spinach Lasagna
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/4 pounds hot Italian turkey sausages, casings removed
Spicy Tomato Sauce
1 15-ounce container ricotta cheese
1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, squeezed dry
1 3/4 cups grated Parmesan cheese (not that green-canned garbage!)
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
9 uncooked lasagna noodles
3 cups shredded provolone cheese (about 12 ounces)
Remove sausages from their casings and brown them in a frying pan, about 7 minutes. Add Spicy Tomato Sauce (or, add your sausages to the sauce). Simmer for about five minutes to let the sausage flavor permeate the sauce. The hardest part of the lasagna is now done.
Wasn’t even that tough!
Now, place your the rack in the center, and preheat the oven to 375°F.
While the oven is warming up, let’s get the other components together. Whisk ricotta, spinach, only 1 cup of the Parmesan, eggs, cream, basil, oregano and pepper together.
Set it aside.
Spread one cup of the tomato sauce in the bottom of a 13x9x2-inch glass dish. Recipes will usually say “spoon” but I just take a one-cup measuring cup and dump it in there, then spread it around. It’s just easier.
Lay three lasagna noodles on top. I use a kind that doesn’t have to be pre-cooked – there’s so much liquid in the lasagna that the noodles will cook perfectly during the baking process.
Spread another cup of sauce over the noodles.
Now for the part that is a little messy. The first time anyone does this, it’s bound to feel a little awkward: Take one cup of the ricotta-spinach mixture and spread it on top of the noodles and sauce. I will take a utensil (spoon, fork, spatula, knife, whatever works) and spread it around as gently as possible. Keep in mind that the entire glass dish will fill up with liquid, and the contents of the lasagna will move around during the baking process, so don’t worry about being too exact. Just gently spread it around without breaking up your noodles. (And even if you do break your noodles, no one is going to know – it all tastes the same going down.)
After the ricotta is spread, sprinkle 1/4 cup of Parmesan and 1 cup of shredded provolone on top.
It’s coming together! Repeat the process: One cup of sauce. Three noodles. One cup of ricotta. 1/4-cup of Parmesan and one cup of Provolone.
For the last layer, the Bon Appetit recipe has you go slightly out of sequence: lay the last three noodles on top, pour one cup of sauce on there, and sprinkle the last bit of the cheeses. Then, dollop the remainder of the ricotta on top into six little rounds. Pour the rest of the sauce around the dollops. It looks like this, only less blurry:
You can definitely do this if you’d like, or, you can repeat the last layer normally and get the ricotta mixture integrated between sauce and cheese. Personally, I prefer to not do this dolloping thing on top, because when I eat it, I get a huge mouthful of the ricotta mixture, and for some reason I just find it unpleasant. But it’s a personal thing, and you can do it any way you want. When it comes to layering, there really is no right or wrong. It’s what you like to do.
The end result is a delicious and spicy lasagna with bold, layered flavors. It isn’t as scary to make as you may have thought in the beginning, just a little time consuming. My suggestion would be to make the sauce one night, then the lasagna the next night.
Serve with remaining wine, some bread and a little salad. Enjoy!