Alan's mother's Lasagna

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Sophomore year, when I left the dorm to share a house with five other guys, my mother gave me dozens of index cards with handwritten recipes, sorted by category in a little green plastic box.  This lasagna recipe is the one my roommates wanted me to make every week. I'm sure she got it from a newspaper or magazine, and judging by how familiar it already was to me, it has to be more than 50 years old.  Meat, pasta, tomato sauce, cheese -- it satisfies all comers, as is.  I modernize it sometimes, as noted below, but I'm not sure that anyone but me notices or cares.  And it only gets better each time it's reheated.  Incredibly satisfying, seriously fattening, and at least a dozen servings.   

4 1 lb. jars of good quality Marinara sauce; stay away from ones with mushrooms or other extras.  In years when my self-confidence was shaky, I made my own sauce from scratch, and you can too, but I've served it with jarred sauce to serious foodies, and they never suspected.  Just make sure you bury the jars in the trash before the guests arrive.  

1 lb. box lasagna.
1 lb. container of ricotta cheese (stay away from low-fat).
2 12 oz. balls of mozzarella cheese (ditto).
2 eggs.
1 - 1½ lb. grated parmesan cheese. The original recipe called for that Kraft parmesan in the big green cylinder.  Wow -- it just dawned on me that the recipe was probably in a Kraft advertisement.  If that Kraft parmesan still exists, you can use it, and it'll work fine, though for the past few decades I've stepped up to the real thing.  More expensive, but the cost per serving is still less than the cheapest take-out.

3 lb. of ground beef.  Definitely consider upgrading to 1 lb. ground beef, 1 lb. ground veal, and 1 lb. ground pork. Adds a lot of complexity.

Salt, pepper.
Garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes, optional.
2 tbs. olive oil.
9 x 13 roasting or lasagna pan with good depth.

Heat and salt suitable amount of water for the pasta.
Heat olive oil in large skillet Add salt and pepper the meat and brown in a large skillet.  If you're not sure about the sauce you bought, or you want to up the spice quotient, add some minced garlic, oregano, and/or red pepper flakes.  Drain fat.  Add three jars of Marinara sauce, heat long enough to integrate and set aside.

Add lasagna noodles to boiling water.  You'll only use about 2/3 of the box, but saving a few pieces isn't worth the risk of ending up short. Cook until al dente, a minute or two less than recommended on box.  Drain in a colander and immediately rinse thoroughly with cold water.

While pasta is cooking, cut the mozzarella balls into ¼ in. slices and set aside; then mix ricotta cheese and eggs in bowl and set aside.

Assemble lasagna:

  1. Start with a small layer of the meat sauce; there will be three layers of meat sauce, but use less than a third for this base layer. 
  2. Add a layer of lasagna, by cutting pieces to fit across width of pan;
  3. Spread one-half of the ricotta mix evenly across the noodles; 
  4. Distribute one-half of the mozzarella slices evenly over the ricotta;
  5. Sprinkle one-half of the parmesan evenly over the mozzarella;
  6. Spread one-half of the remaining meat sauce over the cheese;
  7. Place another layer of noodles evenly over the meat sauce, this time cut to fit lengthwise, which will require patchwork;
  8. Repeat the layers of ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, and the remaining sauce.  If the remaining sauce isn't adequate to fully cover the top, use some of the sauce from the reserved fourth jar.

Bake at 350° F for about an hour, or, better yet, bake for 45 minutes in the afternoon, cover with foil and let rest at room temperature, and then re-heat for 20-30 minutes before serving, which results in a firmer lasagna.  When re-heating the next day (or two, or three), only re-heat as much as will be eaten. 


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