Our family is about to enter a new phase of soccer madness. Bun Bun made it onto an All Star team and, along with her sisters, is also playing soccer for her school. Between the three of them, there’ll be about ten soccer commitments a week. If we want to be fed, I have to make some dinners ahead of time, freeze them and then thaw and bake when needed. I haven’t found too many great casserole recipes but I’m working on it. Today, I decided to indulge my family with a tasty lasagna. It requires work, sure, but within an hour I was able to put together two tins of the stuff – one for tonight and one for down the road. It’ll easily feed our family of five with leftovers for a weekend lunch (and then a nap after.)
The traditional Italian lasagna includes, I think, spinach, nutmeg and béchamel sauce. This is not that lasagna. Cook some of the noodles, make a ricotta/mozzarella/parmesan mixture, and you can do just about anything you want and call it lasagna, as far as I’m concerned. Make one layer a meat sauce, another just cheese, still another a vegetable mixture. Go crazy, or just make this one I came up with and enjoy the different flavors of pesto, sun-dried tomatoes and Italian sausage. I’ll serve this one with sourdough and Caesar salad and the kids will eat it up. We’ll all have garlic breath in the morning that could curl hair.
I was lying before. This took longer than an hour because I make my own red sauce and pesto. I think my family is worth it. If you don’t love your children or your guests as much as I love mine, by all means buy pre-made marinara and pesto. It’ll make the whole job faster and easier, just not quite as tasty.
Jo’s Lasagna (for two 9×13 pans)
package of lasagna noodles (you’ll need 18 cooked for the two pans)
5-6 uncooked Italian sausage links (I use the Chicken Sicilian Sausage from Trader Joe’s)
marinara sauce (about six cups)
3/4 cup pesto (Butoni makes a good one as does Trader Joe’s, or blend garlic, basil, pine nuts, olive oil and parmesan together and make your own)
1 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil
3 cups ricotta cheese
4 cups shredded mozzarella
3 cups shredded or grated parmesan
salt and pepper to taste
If you’re making your own red sauce, do that first. Otherwise, add some salt and olive oil to a pot of water and boil the lasagna noodles. Drain and separate by hanging them individually over the sides of the colander so they won’t stick together.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the ricotta, 3 cups mozzarella, 2 cups parmesan and eggs. Add salt and pepper. Divide this ricotta mixture evenly in two bowls. To one bowl, mix in the pesto. To the other bowl, mix in the sun-dried tomatoes.
Remove the casing from the sausage and brown in a heavy sauce pan. Add three cups of red sauce.
Cover the bottom of the lasagna tin or pan with a layer of the remaining red sauce. On top of this, place three lasagna noodles out side by side. Using half the pesto/ricotta mixture (remember you’re making two of these – one for now, one to freeze), spread on top of the noodles. Sprinkle with mozzarella and parmesan. Layer with red sauce. Next layer is three lasagna noodles. Then spread out half of the sun-dried tomato/ricotta mixture, then half of the sausage/red sauce. Sprinkle with mozzarella and parmesan. Layer three more lasagna noodles, then red sauce and finally, sprinkle with mozzarella. Cover in foil and cook in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 60 minutes and then uncover for an additional 20 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.
Using the remaining ingredients, make the second pan of lasagna. Cover tightly and freeze. Thaw in the fridge before heating. It will need at least 90 minutes to cook if not at room temperature.
Look for additional make-ahead meals in the coming weeks. More soups would be good.