My Dad's Legendary Family Lasagna Recipe
Lasagna That's Easy to Make and Utterly Delicious
In our family, my father Joe is the lasagna patriarch. His hearty, meaty, cheesy lasagna recipe, passed down from my great aunt Bunny, has been served at countless gatherings of family and friends -- always to rave reviews.
If you're a fan of gooey lasagna, read: not dried out and starchy-tasting, you'll want to try it out for yourself. It's easy to make, and is a wonderful do-ahead recipe that's kid-friendly, but is fancy enough for company. Make it the night before a dinner party, then just bake it in the oven while you're entertaining your guests.
My family isn't Italian, so don't expect this lasagna to be truly authentic (it uses cottage cheese, which might be to the horror of some Italians out there), but it's a truly wonderful and somewhat unique recipe that everyone in my extended family has learned how to make because everyone who tastes it loves it.
Dad still makes the original recipe, but a new generation (A.K.A. my husband and I) have made our own small tweaks to the recipe to suit a slightly different palate. Either way, you, your dad or the rest of the family won't be disappointed with this lasagna. It definitely has a story in my family, and perhaps it will become a legend in your own family's celebrations.
photo credit: This photo of my father relaxing with his wine and lasagna was taken by my mom. Used by permission.
The Lasagna Legend Begins. . .
It all started on Christmas Eve with a bit of drama
I don't remember a time when my father didn't make his family lasagna recipe for special occasions. Apparently, one Christmastime in the late 70's, my parents were trying to think of a nice meal to have on Christmas Eve that they could put in the oven before the 5PM church service and have it be ready when we returned from church. We kids were a somewhat impatient, squirmy bunch and they wanted to have a special but very easy dinner. Enter the lasagna.
From then on, my childhood memories of Christmas Eve all involved arriving home from church to the rich, cheesy aroma of lasagna baking, and racing to the table to eat. My dad's method of setting the oven timer for the lasagna to bake during Christmas Eve church worked great until around 1987, when a new pastor preached a long sermon Christmas Eve and we got home late to the smoke detector going off and some fairly black and somewhat inedible lasagna. After that debacle, rather than sacrifice the lasagna, my dad started putting it in the oven AFTER church. We had to eat dinner around 2 hours later than normal, but by that time we kids were old enough to handle the wait because we knew how delicious the results would be.
One year my mom suggested that we try a different Christmas Eve meal. This idea was met with utter dismay and near mutiny. My siblings and I, nearly adults ourselves, agreed that we should stick to the traditional menu. That's what my parents have served ever since, especially when one or more of their children are in town.
The lasagna also frequently shows up as a requested birthday meal. Dad even requests it himself for birthday or Father's Day.
photo credit: My mom; used by permission. My family's Christmas Eve lasagna, circa December 1991.
The Legend Grows
The enjoyment of the family lasagna recipe spreads to teammates, friends and new family members. It even travels to Africa.
In the mid 1990s, my sister's college volleyball team played a big tournament not far from my parents' home, so my dad invited the whole team over for, you guessed it, lasagna. The players and coaches loved the lasagna so much that my parents made their invitation a much-anticipated yearly event.
And, little did we know that my sister would find true love at the lasagna table. One of the assistant coaches (the guy looking at the camera in the photo above) became her husband several years later. You can see my sister's blond ponytail across the table from him in the bottom right of the photo too. She'd always requested lasagna as her special birthday meal, and now she makes it for her husband too.
When I got married, my husband, fellow Squidoo lensmaster SquidooMBA had a barrier to fully enjoying my dad's original lasagna recipe. The reason? The lasagna included swiss cheese, a flavor profile that my husband can't stand. What was I to do?
Not wanting to give up lasagna, or settle for bland lasagna for that matter, I went to work tweaking the recipe so that he could enjoy it just as much as I did. After a number of tries, I found that a combination of Italian sausage, havarti or gouda cheese and a bit of herbed spreadable cheese gave the recipe a lovely creaminess and an extra burst of flavor. Problem solved. I had one happy hubby. He now requests the updated lasagna recipe for special occasions, and yes, we do make it for Christmas Eve too.
Last Christmas, the lasagna recipe went global, specifically to Ethiopia where my brother and his family live. Dad said it was a lot different preparing his signature dish there, since not all the same foods and utensils are readily available, but he brought along some of the non-perishable ingredients to make it as authentic as possible. I know my brother and his kids relished the taste of home.
I've made my updated recipe for numerous friends and dinner guests, and most all the time I get asked for the recipe. Now I'm sharing the lasagna love with you.
photo credits: my mom - used by permission, and one of my own photos.
Original Lasagna Recipe or Updated Version? - My dad's recipe is the one that's been handed down from my great Aunt Bunny and has swiss cheese for a unique zip.
Either way, the lasagna's a tribute to my dad. I wouldn't have my version of the lasagna, nor my appreciation for lasagna in general without my father, Joe.
Would you prefer my dad's original lasagna recipe, or the one that I've updated?
Want to make the original lasagna recipe that my father cooks? Use the following modifications, and proceed with the directions as in the updated version.
- Exchange the Italian sausage for 1lb ground round
- Exchange the havarti/gouda cheese for an equal amount of swiss cheese
- Omit the spreadable herb cheese
Prep Time: 45 min
Total Time: 2 1/2 hours, plus 8 - 24 hours of chill time.
Serves: 8-10, depending on serving size
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 3 cloves garlic - minced
- 1 lb mild italian sausage - chopped and casings removed
- salt and pepper to taste
- Approx. 10 lasagna noodles - enough to cover the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan 2 times.
- 8 oz can tomato paste
- 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 1 Tablespoon dried marjoram leaves
- 2 -3 packages deli sliced havarti and/or gouda cheese. You want enough cheese to make 2 layers covering the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan.
- 24 oz carton of cottage cheese
- 1/2 cup garlic and herb spreadable cheese (I usually use Rondele brand)
- 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese (don't be tempted to use the kind in the green can!)
- Melt the butter in a large skillet. Lightly brown the garlic in the butter, then add the ground beef with salt and pepper to taste. Brown, then drain off the excess fat. Add the can of tomato paste and the crushed tomatoes to the beef, then cover and simmer for 15-20 min. Stir in the marjoram, then simmer another 2-3 min. In a medium bowl, combine the cottage cheese and garlic and herb spreadable cheese.
- Meanwhile, cook the lasagna noodles according to the package directions. You can use no-cook noodles, but make sure you leave around 24 hours between assembling the lasagna and when you cook it.
- Assembly of the lasagna: Cover the bottom of a 9 x 13 glass pan with 5 of the noodles. Next, put a layer of 1/2 of the deli cheese followed by a layer of 1/2 of the cottage cheese mixture. Top the cheese layers with 1/2 of the beef & tomato sauce. Sprinkle with 1/2 of the parmesan cheese. Repeat the layers in the same order. Cover the pan and store 8-24 hours in the refrigerator.
- To bake: Remove the lasagna from the refrigerator 1 hour prior to cooking. Preheat the oven to 350. Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes, or until the lasagna is bubbling and starting to brown on the edges. Let lasagna rest 10 min. before cutting and serving. This lasagna is pretty gooey and cheesy, and it doesn't tend to keep its structure well. It's not necessarily the prettiest lasagna, but it sure is delicious.
- Cook's note: A layer of foil underneath the pan helps catch any drips or overflow. Keeps your oven cleaner.
Have lasagna, will travel
We got this set as a wedding gift, and it's an essential for bringing casseroles, lasagna, egg bakes and much more for potlucks and brunches. Heating the hot pack in the microwave is really easy, and it does a great job keeping the food hot in the carry case. I like how the handles of the carrier velcro together so that you can easily hold it in one hand. Helps keep your dish level and avoids the contents from sloshing all over the lid. Love this thing.