I try to make as many of the foods that my family eats as I can. Breads, bagels, yogurt, crackers, snacks, cheeses, dinners, desserts… The first time that I made a lasagna from scratch – really from scratch, making all of the ingredients (lasagna noodles, mozzarella, ricotta, marinara) – I felt like I had arrived. I was so proud! A week or so after that, I wanted to make pizza but didn’t have time to make the mozzarella and actually felt like I was letting my family down when I went to buy two bags of shredded mozzarella at the grocery store. But guess what, guys? We still happily ate the pizza, and it was tasty. It was a good reminder that what is most important is gathering around the table with your family for quality time with some quality food, even if everything isn’t all-natural, honest-to-goodness-made-from-scratch every time. Because, let’s face it: Life happens.
It left me with a question: When does it actually make a difference to make everything, even all of your ingredients? For our next Showdown, Katie and I decided to make two lasagnas with the same recipe but prepared in two ways – one with ingredients that were all homemade (homemade lasagna noodles, homemade ricotta cheese, homemade mozzarella cheese, homemade marinara), and one with ingredients that were all store-bought. We gathered our families together (because what says “family gathering” more than pans of lasagna?) to compare the two.
It was hard for many people to choose which lasagna they preferred. The lasagna with the homemade ingredients was far richer and creamier, but for some people it was almost too much. The lasagna with the store-bought ingredients had more defined layers, but had a thinner consistency. Everyone agreed that both lasagnas were good and flavorful. That left us with a split vote.
What to do? We decided to make yet another lasagna at a later date that would take everyone’s feedback into consideration – a “best of both worlds” lasagna! The creaminess of the homemade ricotta seemed to be preferred by everyone, but it was also a consensus that the richness was a bit overpowering. We decided to keep the homemade ricotta, but decrease it from 1 pound to 1/2 pound. We also went with store-bought mozzarella, since it melted in a more cohesive layer. Besides, if you’re going to make just one cheese – ricotta is much easier!
We also decided to make the lasagna noodles, but roll them slightly thicker than we had the first time. There was a consensus that the taste of the homemade noodles was better, but that they didn’t have the same “constructive” presence that the store-bought noodles did when forming visible layers.
The result? AWESOME. I’m serious. It was the greatest lasagna! We had eaten half a pan of each lasagna the first time, so Katie and I felt pretty good about making one pan of the “consensus” lasagna. Wrong. We all wished that there was more! Below is the recipe for the lasagna we used, with links for how to make some of the ingredients from home. While I would argue that you would find the best results if you make the ricotta, marinara, and lasagna noodles yourself, you will still have a great lasagna to share with those you love if you buy all of the ingredients at the store. The point is always to gather with loved ones. When you gather, you eat – it’s what people do! And if the Fam has to eat, make it good!
What you need:
- 1 lb. Italian bulk or roll sausage
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 t. minced garlic
- 10 oz. frozen spinach, thawed and drained
- 1 lb. ricotta cheese (or 1/2 lb. homemade ricotta)
- 1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 T. chopped fresh or 1/2 T. dried oregano
- 1 T. dried parsley
- 4 1/2-5 c. marinara sauce (store-bought or homemade: this one or that one)
- 1 lb. shredded mozzarella (store-bought or homemade)
- 9 lasagna noodles (store-bought or homemade)
- 10-12″ skillet
- cutting board and knives
- clean kitchen towel
- medium mixing bowl
- box grater (if your mozzarella is not already shredded)
- 9″x13″ casserole dish
- 1 c. liquid measuring cup (makes pouring marinara easier, whether homemade or store-bought)
- measuring cups and spoons
Time: 45 minutes to an hour to assemble.
Freezeable: Yes! Lasagna is such a staple freezer meal. Cover the unbaked lasagna with foil and freeze up to 2 months. If you are using homemade lasagna noodles, cover the lasagna with foil and bake for 30 minutes, then let it come to room temperature. Add the last layer of mozzarella and refrigerate at least 6 hours. Then wrap tightly in aluminum foil and freeze. To prepare the lasagna straight from the freezer, bake covered for 45 minutes, then uncover and bake 35-45 minutes. Check the center and bake longer if necessary. You can also defrost it and follow the standard baking times.
Multiplying the recipe: You can double the mixtures for each layer, but each batch needs its own pan.
In a skillet, cook sausage, onion, and garlic until sausage is no longer pink. Drain. Add drained spinach, mixing to incorporate. Combine ricotta, parmesan, oregano, and parsley in a medium bowl. Add sausage mixture to the cheese mixture.
To assemble the lasagna, spread a generous cup of marinara sauce on the bottom of a 9″x13″ dish. Lay one layer of lasagna noodles across. (If using homemade noodles, try to put straight cut edges along the sides of the pan and wavy edges toward the interior.) Distribute 1/3 of the meat/cheese mixture on top of the noodles. Next add 1/4 of the shredded mozzarella. Repeat this process two more times for a total of three layers: sauce, noodles, meat/cheese, mozzarella. On top of the third layer, add one more generous cup of marinara sauce. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 40-45 minutes. Remove the foil and sprinkle the last of the mozzarella cheese over the top. Bake for another 20 minutes or until brown and bubbly.