Hannah Palmer Egan
Classic Ricotta Lasagne
One of my earliest food memories is making lasagne with my mom. She worked at Bradford's Colatina Exit
as a prep cook when I was little, and I'm pretty sure her method came mostly from that kitchen. Over the years, she made the recipe her own, and now I've worked it into the regular rotation at my house, using my home-canned tomatoes, local meats (usually from PT Farm, in Haverhill, N.H.
, but most pig farmers sell it at market), cheese (Mountain Home Farm makes beautiful ricotta
) and whatever spinach I can get my hands on — frozen is cheap and works really well.
The result is a totally classic, midcentury-style Italian casserole: savory and rich — I cook the raw sausage right in with the tomatoes, so all that fat goes straight into the sauce, not down the drain. It's pretty easy to prepare and nearly impossible to mess up. Prep can take half an hour if you're efficient about it, and it bakes for about an hour.
Note: This recipe makes a decent portion: one heaping 9" by 13" pan, plus a loaf pan, filled about halfway. Usually, we'll eat most of the big pan when we have friends or family over — it's about enough for six people to eat heartily — so it's nice to have the smaller pan in the wings for later in the week. It also freezes well, so you can stash it more long-term if you like.
All of the measurements are a little fudge-y — I make this from memory, so it's a little different each time. But the basis is solid, and built around standard unit-measures of product: one quart of ricotta, two eggs, one package noodles, two pounds sausage, two quarts canned tomatoes.
You can sub finely chopped kale for the spinach if you like, use ground beef instead of sausage — though I really think sausage is better — or swap vegetables for the meat, if you're a vegetarian. If you go that last route, add a splash of olive oil and allow the sauce to thicken a bit. The veggies have lots of water in them, and you don't want your casserole to be too soupy or it won't set correctly.
Classic Ricotta Lasagne
Makes one 9"x13" pan, plus one 9"x5" loaf pan
For the sauce:
- 1 package dry lasagne noodles, uncooked
- Butter or cooking spray, for the pans
- 1 cup Parmesan, shredded
- 2-4 cups mozzarella, shredded
For the stuffing:
- 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, loose
- 1 pound hot Italian sausage, loose
- 2 quarts whole peeled tomatoes, in juice or purée
- 3-4 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
- Half a large onion, diced*
- 1/4 cup red wine*
- One quart ricotta
- 2-3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
- 2 eggs
- 1 9-ounce package frozen spinach (thawed), or 2-3 cups fresh spinach, packed tightly
- 1/3 cup Parmesan
- Salt/pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and place a rack on the center rung.
- Make the sauce first: Heat the sausage (you can use links if you like, but remove them from the casings), tomatoes and garlic (with red wine and onions, if desired) in a covered saucepan over medium heat. Break up chunks with a spatula until the sauce is more or less the consistency of a watery bolognese — lumpy, but consistent in its lumpiness, and relatively wet. You want a little extra water in the sauce as that's what will cook the noodles, which go into the casserole raw.
- While the sauce is cooking, blend the ingredients for the stuffing in a large bowl.
- Grease your casserole dishes and splatter just a little sauce in the bottom of each pan — about a quarter inch, or a very thin layer.
- Place a layer of uncooked noodles on top of the sauce, then a layer of the ricotta mixture, a thin layer of Parmesan, and a thin layer of mozzarella. Cover with a generous layer of sauce. Repeat once, then skip the ricotta for the final layer, ending with with noodles, sauce, Parmesan and mozzarella on top.
- Spray two pieces of foil with cooking spray, cover the casseroles and bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 15-20 minutes, until cheese starts to brown and you can see bubbles rising up the side of the pan. If you like your cheese extra crispy, broil for 2-3 minutes to crisp up, watching through the oven window to make sure it doesn't burn. Because nothing ruins an amazing lasagne like scorched cheese!