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As a child, one of my favorite times was our once-a-month family gatherings. The best of these was for Christmas, when my grandmother would make pans upon pans of lasagna. Her recipe came from her father, whose parents had immigrated to America from Sicily in the early 20th century.
Every woman in my family has put her own spin on the recipe. My grandmother made hers with lots of cheese and meat sauce, served with large chunks of Italian sausage that we used to scoop up leftover sauce on our plates. My mother made hers much the same, using her leftover meaty spaghetti sauce as the base. I continue the tradition, making spaghetti one night of the week (with a meat and mushroom red sauce) then using the leftover sauce to make lasagna later in the week. Given that my family loves Italian food, it's always a treat to have both in the same week!
The following recipe is the base that has been passed down in my family. We're not really sure how far back the recipe originates, or how much it might have changed over the years. But we know that it's GOOD!
**Note: The recipe below does not contain any herbs or spices, because my family's spaghetti sauce is traditionally heavily spiced. You can add any Italian herbs as you like, or utilize your family's favorite spaghetti sauce.
- 4 quarts Leftover Spaghetti Sauce, Use your family's favorite spaghetti sauce, add meat and veggies to it as desired.
- Chopped mushrooms and green peppers, Use as much or little as you like
- 2-3 lbs Lasagna sheets, Fresh or dried, cooked al dente
- 32 oz Ricotta cheese
- 2 lbs Mozzarella (fresh), Whole or skim milk, cut into thin slices
- 5 oz Parmesan cheese, Shredded / Shaved
- 5 oz Romano cheese, Shredded / Shaved
- 5 oz Asiago cheese, Shredded / Shaved
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Get out an oven-safe, deep pan for the lasagna, set aside. (We usually use a 10x15 glass casserole dish.) Prepare cheese and lasagna sheets (to al dente if dried) as directed, set aside.
- Heat a sauce or deep sauté pot over medium heat.
- Once the pot is hot, add a few tablespoons of olive oil to the pot and ensure it spreads around.
- Add chopped mushrooms and green peppers to the pot; sauté until mushrooms are browned.
- Add the leftover spaghetti sauce to the pot. Cook until heated through and beginning to simmer.
- Once the sauce is heated through, remove from heat.
- Add ricotta cheese to the heated sauce and mix thoroughly.
- Spread a thin layer of the sauce on bottom of lasagna pan. Make sure bottom of the pan is fully coated with sauce.
- Add a layer of lasagna sheets on top of the sauce, ensuring that you overlap the sheets (This is key, otherwise it will fall apart!). Trim the edges of the sheets to fit the pan size if needed.
- Spread a layer of sauce over the lasagna sheets.
- Spread a layer of cheese, starting with the mozzarella slices and then shredded cheese to fill in the gaps. See pictures for detail.
- Add a layer of lasagna sheets again.
- Repeat the layers of sauce, cheese, and lasagna sheets until you use the last layer of pasta. Top the last layer of pasta with a slightly thicker layer of sauce and cheese than before.
- Bake the assembled lasagna, uncovered, on middle rack of oven for 1 hour or until bubbly and browned on top.
- Cut into pieces and serve with sausage and garlic bread, if desired. Enjoy!!
The above recipe is one of my favorites, and a go-to for weeknights and family get-togethers. Yet the lasagna dish has a long history and is one of the most celebrated Italian food staples.
"Lasagna" comes from the Greek word, "lasagnum," meaning dish or bowl. The term referred to baking dishes used by the ancient Greeks, which were likely also the first types of dishes used to make lasagna.
The food, however, was not actually invented until the Roman period. It originated in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Romans enjoyed a dish similar to lasagna: layers of pasta-like food with other fillings in-between. The fillings depended largely upon the region where you were making the dish. Southern regions of Italy used a traditional simple tomato sauce, whereas Northern Italians used a Bechamel sauce.
Lasagna then spread across Europe, eventually reaching Britain. It was the Brits who finally published the recipe in cookbooks. One of the first recorded recipes for lasagna is found in The Forme of Cury, a cook book used during the reign of Richard II. The cookbook refers to is as "Loseyn." This was a dish using a broth, flour, and water paste made into sheets and dried, then cooked with grated cheese and other fillings.
Today, there are several varieties of lasagna. While the one above is the more traditional meat sauce and cheese lasagna, the dish can be adapted to a range of tastes. Lasagna fillings can include seafood, various vegetables (eggplant, spinach, and squash are popular), and even corn and black beans in a salsa-like filling instead of the traditional spaghetti sauce!