Semi-Homemade Lasagna

perfect piece of lasagna

In my house, Italian food is on the menu at least weekly.  Not always in the form of carb-overloaded pasta, but sometimes, yes ma’am it is!  Lasagna was a staple in my house growing up.  Everyone liked it (which is really saying something, considering my 24 year-old sister’s favorite food is still chicken fingers), and mom could get it on the table pretty fast.  It was also great for company, expected or unexpected, because it makes a whole 9×13 pan.

Everyone has their own way of making lasagna, and I won’t criticize, unless you’re still buying that big red box in the freezer aisle.  This is one dish there is no need to buy prepackaged.  Save yourself and your family the preservatives and salt overload and give this recipe a try.  I call it “Semi-Homemade Lasagna” because we’re not actually going to make the sauce base or the pasta from scratch (we’ll save that for another time).  We will use Prego, combined with seasoned ground beef, for our meat sauce, and cook up some good ole boxed, dried pasta.  (A note about Prego:  It is solely my opinion, but I do believe Prego is the holy grail of the jarred pasta sauce world.  It doesn’t have an after taste, is well seasoned, and isn’t too acidic.  I use it for pasta sauce and pizza sauce alike when I need the sauce already done and waiting on me.)

I used to think using the boxed pasta was cheating; that I was defiling the name of authentic Italian food by using it.  But when I saw Giada (on more than one occasion) use a box of dried pasta, my burden was lifted!  I felt free to use the boxed pasta once more!  Now just for the record, homemade pasta is super simple to make and is so freaking yummy, but most weeknights, I’m kidding myself if I think I have time to roll out and cut my own pasta.  The secret to working with the dried stuff is to heavily salt your boiling water right before adding the pasta.  If you add the salt before the water’s boiling, it will settle to the bottom and cause tiny pits in your cookware.  You also don’t want to cook the pasta as long as it says on the box.  Usually 1-2 minutes under that printed time is perfect for “al dente” (means “with bite”) pasta, which is what you want.  No one wants mushy noodles that fall apart and can’t hold onto the sauce they were destined for.  In lasagna especially, the noodles are your “building blocks” or “bricks,” so to speak.  You need them to be able to hold all the layers together and not fall apart under the weight.

As far as your ground beef goes, I always buy the leanest option I can find, which is generally 97/3 (97% meat, 3% fat).  You are only paying for fat that will cook out of your food if you use anything below 90/10.  A lot of times when I use this extra lean mean, I find that by the time it is done browning, there is almost no fat to drain off, saving me that step.  Since the leaner the meat, the more expensive it seems to be, I try to stock up and freeze it by the pound when it goes on sale.   The exception to the fat rule is for things like grilled burgers, where you need the fat to hold your meat together and create an extra juicy Cheeseburger in Paradise.

We usually serve lasagna with garlic bread and a crisp, light side salad to balance all the carbs.  My 1 year-old is a HUGE fan of broccoli, so I find myself serving that with almost all Italian meals now.  Parmesan Garlic Broccoli (recipe coming soon) is perfect for an Italian meal.  As for the contents of lasagna, if you prefer sausage over beef, or in addition to beef, feel free.  My aunt likes to add chopped onion and bell peppers to the sauce, which is also good.  You can make this a vegetarian dish by either just leaving out the beef, or by sauteing some garlic, bell peppers, and onions (or whatever veggies you like) in a little olive oil to soften them up, then add the Prego to the pan to heat the sauce through.  Whichever way you decide to go with it, I promise you won’t be disappointed.  Bon Appetit!

cheesy bite

Semi-Homemade Lasagna

6 pieces lasagna
1-67 ounce jar Prego Original Pasta Sauce
1 pound ground beef (If you like a really meaty sauce, you may want 2 pounds)
Mozzarella cheese (I use up to 1 lb)
Ricotta cheese (to taste)
Parmesan cheese (to taste)
Salt
Parsley
Oregano
Butter (for the pan)

Step 1: Preheat oven to 375°.  Butter the bottom and edges of a 9×13 casserole dish.

buttering pan

Step 2: Fill a stock pot with water and bring to a boil.  When boiling, generously salt the water and add the pasta.  Cook until al dente, or about 1-2 minutes less than what the box says.  Drain pasta in a colander.

Step 3:  While you’re cooking the pasta, brown your meat in a large saute pan (a frying pan with tall sides).  When it’s almost done, drain any excess fat off the meat, but leaving the meat in the pan.  Sprinkle a little parsley, salt, and oregano and toss the meat to distribute your herbs.  (Fresh herbs are better here, but dried are fine).  When the beef is fully cooked, add the Prego.  I use almost the whole jar here, if not the whole jar.  Just start adding and stop when the sauce is the right consistency for you.

sauce

Step 4:  Now we’re going to assemble the lasagna.  In your buttered dish, lay 3 noodles side by side to cover the bottom.

lasagna noodles in pan

Top with half your sauce mixture.  Now dot the top of sauce with Ricotta.  The night I made this and took photos, my sister was over.  She is not a big fan of Ricotta so I didn’t use as much I normally do.  That being said, the amount pictured here is a nice, medium amount that should be fine for anyone’s tastes.

dotted ricotta cheese

Now cover that layer with shredded mozzarella; I use about 1/2 of a 1 pound bag.  Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the mozzarella.  I prefer to use shredded, but Target was out, so grated it was!

lasagna last layer

Step 5: Repeat.  Pasta, sauce, dot the Ricotta, Mozzarella, and Parmesan.  Now pop your masterpiece into your preheated oven for 30-45 minutes, or until evenly browned and bubbly.  You may need to rotate your casserole dish halfway through if your oven isn’t heating evenly (you don’t want 1/2 to be burnt and 1/2 not even brown).

into the oven

It should look like this…

out of oven

Step 6:  After removing from oven,  allow the lasagna to rest for 5-10 minutes so the sauce starts to congeal (come together).  You can certainly cut it right after removing it from the oven, but the sauce will run when you do so.  It won’t taste any different; it just doesn’t cut into pretty pieces.

perfect piece of lasagna

Step 7:  Enjoy your Italian masterpiece, fresh from your oven, not a big red box.  And no will know it’s only “Semi” homemade!

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