I learned from an Italian neighbor years ago that you shouldn't pre-cook the noodles. They will absorb the flavors and liquid creating a lasagna that will be less "soupy" and it will hold together fantastically when it is cut. The photo above is taken 5 minutes after I removed it from the oven! Seriously! There are many different versions of lasagna out there. I have several friends that are from Italy and quite a few more that are first generation Italian-Americans. They ALL make lasagna differently. I have to say that I have enjoyed the variations from ingredients to sauces....but this is the one I like best. It is my own recipe that I have tweaked from several recipes. Of course you can change this up to add or delete your favorite ingredients. I used jar sauce today. Yes, I know all of my Italian friends just cringe when I say "store bought sauce"....but seriously....I really like Hunts brand in the can. I don't buy it because it is cheap...I buy it because I really like the flavor and of course it is convenient. My mom always made homemade sauce when I was younger...and canned it for future uses. I don't bother because the Hunts brand is already affordable, tasty and I don't have the mess and time involved in preparation. Plus....canning jars are not cheap these days! However....for this recipe you can either buy your favorite store bought sauce or make your own from scratch. It is a personal preference.
I also want to point out that I use BOTH cottage cheese AND ricotta cheese in this recipe. Again....my Italian friends will cringe! Let me explain WHY I do this. My mom used to use just cottage cheese in her lasagna when I was growing up. Mainly because we lived in a small town and choices were very limited. I never even heard of ricotta cheese until I got married. The first time I had lasagna with ricotta cheese....I wasn't sure if I liked it. It was too rich and had a slightly sweet flavor. It was a little too much for me. The next time my mom made her version of lasagna with just the cottage cheese....well it was too bland in comparison. I mix both the cottage cheese and the ricotta cheese together. I like the balance it provides. It has the rich sweet flavor of ricotta with the heartier more subtle flavor of cottage cheese. I also don't add eggs to my lasagna. I know a lot of my friends do....when I ask why....well the answer is always the same: "because my mom/dad did". Well...I don't add them. No one has proved to me that it makes it stick better or flavors the lasagna so I just don't add any. Until I am proven wrong...I don't add any eggs.
My kids wanted me to post my recipe on here for lasagna since it is one they really enjoy and they wanted the convenience of having access to the recipe via the internet so they can cook it anywhere, share it or gather ingredients by reading it from their smart phones. I was hesitant because....well...I am not of Italian decent and I don't claim that my recipe is "authentic" or even fabulous. I just know that my family likes and it they wanted it posted. I am sharing it in case you want to try it or tweak a basic recipe to your liking. If you don't have a gluten allergy then you can just use regular lasagna noodles. (I found the gluten free ones I used today at Walmart for about $2.19/box). However, I am noticing a lot of other name brand pasta companies are beginning to make gluten free noodles and they are also becoming affordable. Be sure to look when you go shopping because you might be surprised. I was pleasantly surprised recently finding both Barilla pasta & Ronzoni pasta have some gluten free noodle choices available now!)
(I generally make my lasagna for a crowd in a heavy duty rectangular roasting pan that has quite a few layers and is enough ingredients that would make two 9x13 pans). The recipe below is just for one 9x13 pan of lasagna)
- 1 box of lasagna noodles (I used gluten free noodles but if you don't have a gluten free allergy then you can just use regular lasagna noodles. No need to pre-cook noodles!)
- 1 (16 oz.) container of Ricotta cheese (I used fat free today but you can use regular)
- 1 (16 oz.) container of Cottage Cheese (I used 1% fat small curd today because I find that the fat free is runnier and I like it less runny but you can use any style cottage cheese you like).
- 1 can (15 oz) chopped tomatoes (I used the Italian style with basil and garlic added)
- 1 1/2 cans of Hunts Zesty and Spicy spaghetti sauce (I save the other half of the can in case people want to add additional sauce on top when serving it. Some people like their lasagna a little more saucy and like to dip their bread in it)
- 1-2 pounds of lean ground hamburger (I used about 1.5 pounds today because that is what I had left in my refrigerator and I wanted to use it up. Depends on how meaty you like your sauce. If you prefer vegetarian then you can substitute either the soy crumbles or leave the meat out)
- 1 pound of ground sausage (you don't have to use this but I think it adds a little zesty flavor to the lasagna and we really like the combination. But if you don't eat pork or don't have any handy then just leave it out!)
- 3-4 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese (or Italian blend cheese)
The ONLY thing you need to pre-cook in this recipe is the meat. Drain the grease well. You don't want grease floating around in your lasagna later. Combine the sauce and tomatoes (including tomato juice) with the meat and set aside. You don't need to heat up the sauce...it will heat up in the oven. Save yourself the step! Combine the Ricotta cheese & Cottage cheese together. I don't add any salt because the sauce and sausage are usually salty enough but taste it to be sure. I lightly spray my 9x13 (or roasting pan if doubling the recipe for a huge crowd!) with non-stick cooking spray. It just makes the lasagna come out much easier. Layer the UNCOOKED single layer of the lasagna noodles in the bottom of the pan. You may have to break some of the noodles to get them to fit. That is okay. The lasagna will be forgiving if you have some broken pieces in there! I generally spoon a layer of the meat sauce onto the noodles. You need to put just enough to cover the noodles so that when the sauce heats up it will cook the noodles when baking! Top the meat sauce with a layer of the Ricotta/Cottage cheese mixture and about 1 cup of the shredded cheese. Repeat layers ending with a layer of noodles on top with a little bit of sauce and shredded cheese. You should not end up with the Ricotta/Cottage cheese mixture above the top layer of noodles. The only thing on the last layer on top should be noodles, remaining sauce and some shredded cheese. If you are finding that you are skimpy on sauce for the top layer...just add the remaining 1/2 can. Cover with foil (I spray mine with non-stick cooking spray to prevent cheese from sticking to it). At this point you can either refrigerate or freeze for a later date. I generally make mine the day before and put in the refrigerator to bake the next day or I make it early in the morning and bake it close to dinner time. I personally think that by letting it sit for a few hours allows the sauce to soften the noodles a little bit but you really don't need to do that if you want to bake it right away. Bake in 350 degree oven (with pan covered in foil) for about 70 minutes or until a knife can be easily inserted into the noodles and they are soft. Remove foil and bake additional 10-15 minutes until cheese is bubbly on top and slightly golden. Let stand at least 5 minutes prior to slicing. Serve with additional sauce on top if desired.
I will add some better photos next time I make it. I wasn't originally planning on featuring this recipe on the blog so I took photos after it was made and the photos aren't the best.
Gluten Free Casually