I've always made lasagna. It's one of those dishes that I could follow the directions for and serve to a group even in the early years of my marriage. I add some veggies, use store bought sauce and adopted the no-boil noodles. It always seemed fine, but in recent years I found myself wishing it was better. As a surprise one night, my husband and daughter created a great lasagna for me from The Pioneer Woman's recipe. Oddly, this one contains no "sauce". It inspired me to rethink my dish. Today I made an attempt to rework the lasagna I've been preparing for years.
In addition, I often felt my 9x13" metal baking pan was a bit too small for a loaded lasagna. I found a GREAT deal on a stoneware baker that was a little deeper. Switching pans really changed my cook time. In this pan I needed longer to cook the center of the lasagna. I occasionally found myself feeling that much of the pan was overcooked. Here's what worked for me today.
Noodles: Use whatever you like here. If you prefer the no boil, great. If you want to boil those long layers, go for it. Simply ensure you use enough sauce to moisten the no-boil kind thoroughly. Also, depending on your pan you will make a 3 or 4 layer lasagna. My old metal pan was 3 layers with 2 "stuffing" layers. In my stoneware I can get to 4 noodle layers with 3 stuffing layers. You probably know what you need. Please note that my directions reference 4 so if you only do 3, both stuffing layers will use 1/2 the ingredients rather than 1/3.
Sauce: My lasagnas were too wet. I use wet veggies and lots of sauce. Today I chose to pour my sauce into a strainer and let the really wet stuff drip out. It created a much thicker, chunkier sauce that wasn't going to contribute as much moisture to the dish. If you're using a really thin sauce, maybe just cut back a bit. I have a steady supply of Dell Amore sauce which is pretty delicious and resembles a homemade sauce I've used before.
1 package noodles
2 (25) oz jars sauce
1 cup mushrooms - sliced
3 cups spinach
12 oz Italian sausage (you choose hot or sweet)
1 15 oz container ricotta cheese
4 cups mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
Spray your baking dish with non stick spray. I'm not sure I actually need to do this, but the reality is I've decided it can't hurt.
In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta, 2 cups mozzarella, 1/2 cup parm and your egg. Mix thoroughly.
Spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of the pan. Some of my recipes say 1 cup, some say 2 cups. I never measure. I just know how much a thin layer is.
Pour the remainder of this jar of sauce into a mesh strainer. Let drip over sink or bowl.
Saute mushrooms and spinach in 1 Tbsp olive oil. This won't take long. Pour into colander when done to drain extra moisture from veggies. Give them a squeeze if they need it.
In the same skillet cook the sausage breaking it up into small pieces until cooked through.
If you are boiling those noodles, do it now. They should be cooked only until al dente.
Now return to your lasagna pan.
Layer the noodles over your thinly sauced pan. If you're not sure how many noodles this should take, read your box. The noodles expand while cooking so edge to edge coverage is not necessary.
Plop 1/3 of your ricotta onto the noodles and spread as well as you can. I use my clean hands. It just works best.
Spread 1/3 of your veggies evenly then 1/3 of the sausage over the ricotta.
Dollop 1/3 of the strained pasta sauce over this meat / veggie layer. I always use a spatula and spread things out evenly after the sauce is added.
Lightly sprinkle a little mozzarella on top of the sauce, and now we're back to the noodles.
Note that once you empty your strainer, you should pour half of your second jar of sauce into it to thicken it up.
Repeat the layers until you've laid the 4th (for me) pasta layer. On top of this I pour the last sauce (undrained) that remains in the jar. I want a little extra moisture for that top layer of pasta that doesn't have any juicy stuff above it. Cover this well with mozzarella.
After many years of covering my dish with foil only to remove it with half of the cheese attached, I learned to spray a piece of foil with no stick spray before wrapping it tightly over the top. I bake the whole mess in a 350° oven for 50-60 minutes. When it seems hot and bubbly all of the way through, I remove the foil to brown up the top. This takes another 5-10 min.
I am always so darn hungry by the time the lasagna emerges from the oven that I serve it and eat immediately. This does not make for a pretty presentation. Hot lasagna spreads. If you have the willpower, wait 5-10 minutes before slicing into the dish. Your restraint will be rewarded with a nice stack of noodle-y perfection.