Hearty Baked Lasagna Casserole
The Secret is in the Sauce
Making a marinara sauce from scratch seems to be unique to each person that cooks with each recipe having its own unique blend of ingredients known only to the chef. My husband finally shared his secret sauce recipe with me after just a few short years of marriage. He allowed me to watch the entire preparation process including the types and amounts of spices he put in it. Since that time, I've been making the sauce, mostly.
The basis for making a good lasagna casserole is the sauce.The secret of the sauce is letting it simmer long enough to develop a good flavor while finding the proper balance of spices, type of added sausage and meat and one or two special ingredients that change the flavor for the better.The sauce can be used in many different recipes including Manicotti, Ziti, Rotini, Rigatoni and with any other pasta. It works well with regular spaghetti, too.
Clemenza's recipe for sauce
If you watched the movie, "The Godfather" you might remember when Clemenza was cooking spaghetti for twenty guys and he added his secret ingredient to the sauce. His secret was adding a bit of sugar and a splash of wine to the sauce while it simmers.
Prepare this Dish Ahead of Time and Bake Later
Making lasagna at home can take a little time but the end result is well worth the effort. Usually, I make lasagna to serve on Christmas Eve or on the day before Thanksgiving since that's when most guests visit our house. The casserole can be made ahead of time, refrigerated and baked on the day it's to be served making it the ideal meal for a family gathering.
It can also be frozen for later use, however, I would recommend using a metal baking pan rather than a glass pan when freezing the casserole. It's possible to line the pan completely with aluminum foil so that the foil package can be taken out of the pan to conserve freezer space and free up the use of your baking pan.
Ingredients for the Sauce
- Two tablespoons of Olive oil
- One TBSP Minced onion
- Four 16 oz. cans of tomato sauce
- One 12 oz. can of tomato paste
- One pound of mild Italian sausage
- One pound of ground beef chuck or sirloin
- One tsp. oregano, garlic powder, seasoned salt to taste
- Two teaspoons of sugar
Marinara Sauce Ingredients
Start by warming a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot. Add the powdered garlic and minced onions. When they start sizzling and become transparent, add the ground beef and cook until thoroughly done. Sometimes I remove the cooked beef into a separate dish and drain it on paper towels if it's especially fatty.
Cook the mild Italian sausage until browned and drain off any excess fat. Return the cooked ground beef to the pan and add all four cans of tomato sauce. Add in the tomato paste and one teaspoon (or two) of granulated sugar along with the seasoning spices.
Cover the mixture and simmer over low heat stirring occasionally for one hour or more. While this is cooking, you can begin preparing the ingredients for layering in a casserole dish.
Ricotta, Parmesan, Mozzarella
Three Cheese Mixture
Preparation of the three cheeses can be done while the sauce is simmering. Often, I buy block Mozzarella cheese and shred it myself or ready-made shredded cheese works as well.
I scramble two eggs in a medium sized bowl and add the 16 oz. container of Ricotta cheese, then stir in the Parmesan and Mozzarella cheese. Some recipes call for parsley but I don't always add it to the cheese mix. Cover this mixture with cellophane wrap and return it to the refrigerator while the noodles finish cooking.
Cooking the Noodles
Cook the noodles according to the package directions in a large pan with boiling salted water. I usually cook them a couple of minutes less than the box calls for so they're easier to handle when preparing the casserole.
Drained and Cooked Lasagna
To Prepare the Casserole
Start by spooning a layer of sauce into the casserole dish, enough to cover the bottom of the dish.
Next, add a layer of the Ricotta, Manicotti and Parmesan Cheese mixture by spooning small amounts on the noodles and smoothing it over with a spatula.
Instructions for Assembling
Assemble the casserole starting with a layer of the sauce on the bottom of an oven proof casserole dish.
Place one layer of cooked noodles lengthwise over the sauce overlapping the side edges slightly.
Spoon a small amount of the cheese mixture over the top of the noodles in several places and spread it evenly.
Repeat this entire process ending with a layer of sauce on top.
Bake the Casserole
Bake the casserole in a 350 degree oven for around forty-five to fifty-five minutes until it becomes bubbly all the way through. Remove it from the oven and cool the dish for at least ten minutes before cutting it into servings.
If you're preparing it ahead of time for cooking later, cover the lasagna tightly with cellophane wrap and refrigerate. Cooking time is slightly longer if it has been refrigerated.
Ready to Bake
After baking, remove the dish from the oven and allow the lasagna to rest for about ten minutes before cutting to serve. I like to use a serrated knife and a spatula to dish out the servings.
Add a side salad and garlic bread to top off the meal.
Leftovers can be refrigerated and warmed up to serve the next day for a quick meal.
Make Enough Spaghetti Sauce for an Army
I usually make a large batch of sauce and after the first night of use, I freeze the rest in meal sized portions. My old Tupperware containers come in handy for this purpose. After the sauce cools, I ladle it into the containers, burp out the excess air and pop them into the freezer.
A warm, hearty meal can be prepared as quickly as you can boil water and prepare any type of pasta; usually less than twenty minutes. I pop the frozen sauce out into a microwave safe dish and cover it with wax paper. While the noodles are boiling, I microwave the sauce for one minute at a time, stirring between each minute until it reaches the temperature desired. That makes the entire dinner preparation time less than twenty minutes and is an easy way to serve your family real food after a long day at work.
I hope you'll try out some of these recipes soon.
© 2015 Peg Cole
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