A couple of days ago, I made up a luscious, comforting, delicious (peoples, I’m proud of my lasagna!) casserole of my basic lasagna for our supper…and we love, love, LOVE this versatile dish.
Lasagna is typically considered an Italian dish, but according to Wikipedia, it may actually be Greek in origin (which, if you think about it, kinda makes sense — Greeks have lots of delicious pasta dishes, too):
Lasagna (plural: Lasagne) is a very wide, flat pasta ( sometimes with wavy edges ). It is typically served in alternating layers with cheese, a sauce, and often other ingredients such as ground beef, sausage or spinach. Typical of the cuisine of Italy, many regional variations exist. In some areas, especially in the southern regions of Italy, the sauce is likely to be a simple tomato sauce or a ragù, whereas in other areas, particularly in Northern Italy, a Béchamel sauce is used. Lasagna has become a popular dish in other parts of the world, traveling from Europe to the Americas.
There are two theories on the origin of lasagna, both denoting an ancient Greek dish. The main theory is that lasagna comes from Greek λάγανον (laganon), a flat sheet of pasta dough cut into strips. The word λαγάνα (lagana) is still used in Greek to mean a flat thin type of unleavened bread.
The other theory is that the word lasagna comes from the Greek λάσανα (lasana) or λάσανον (lasanon) meaning “trivet or stand for a pot,” “chamber pot.” The Romans borrowed the word as “lasanum”, meaning “cooking pot” in Latin. The Italians used the word to refer to the dish in which lasagna is made. Later the name of the food took on the name of the serving dish.
I learned to make lasagna from my Mom. It was always a special treat for us to have — I would often request it for my birthday supper. I have several variations on it, depending upon what I have on hand and what kind of flavors and mood we’re in.
Leftovers will keep for a few days in the ‘fridge; you can also freeze leftovers for enjoyment later. You can make this up to a day in advance, refrigerate, and bake; or you can make it up, cover well, and freeze for later use.
Lasagna with Zucchini and Meat Sauce (Makes about 9 to 12 servings, depending upon appetites — the zucchini is a light, nutritionally sound way to extend the number of servings, so depending upon how much zucchini you add, my lasagna that normally makes 8-9 servings can serve more, yet still satisfy)
- 1 pound lean (93/7 or greater) ground beef or ground turkey (or use half lean ground beef or turkey and half reduced-fat ground pork or turkey sausage)
- Olive or canola oil
- Red wine (white would likely work, as well)
- 1/2 to 1 medium to large onion, finely chopped/diced
- Minced garlic to taste
- 3/4 to 1 pound zucchini, sliced (I like to know it’s there, so I sliced each zucchini in half and then sliced 1/4″ or so slices)
- 1 can (14 -15 ounces) diced tomatoes
- 2 cans (8 ounces) tomato sauce (add more if desired)
- 1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste (use a 12 ounce can, if desired)
- Approximately 2 cups (15 ounce container) reduced-fat ricotta or cottage cheese
- 1 egg
- 8 to 10 ounces (about 2 cups) grated part-skim mozzarella cheese (do yourself a favor and grate your own!)
- Grated Parmesan and/or three-cheese Italian blend to taste (optional)
- Worcestershire sauce
- Seasonings to taste: bay leaf(ves), basil, Italian seasoning, oregano, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, parsley and rosemary (optional))
- 9 lasagna noodles, cooked al dente
- Brown ground meat in a large non-stick skillet in a splash of olive or canola oil.
- Add in diced onion and sauté for just a bit. Add in minced garlic and sauté. Add in some healthy splashes of wine (I prefer red; I used some Shiraz, because that’s what I had on hand and open) to “deglaze” the pan, and simmer the onion/garlic mixture for just a bit.
- Pour in tinned tomatoes (UNDRAINED), tomato sauce, and tomato paste. (I usually use the smaller 6 ounce can, but sometimes will use the 12 ounce can and just add in some more wine/water/desired liquid to adjust the sauce to the consistency I want at the time.) Stir together.
- Add seasonings to taste: a splash of Worcestershire sauce, basil, Italian seasoning, oregano, garlic powder, and parsley. I also like a sprinkle of red pepper flakes to give it a hint of “fra diavolo” flavor. Add in a bay leaf or two. I’m lucky enough to have fresh rosemary growing in my herb garden, so I like to lay a snipping or two of rosemary twigs on the sauce to simmer (as with bay leaves, I remove them before we eat). I much prefer fresh rosemary to dried, but you can use dried if you prefer, or you can just leave the rosemary out. Add in zucchini (which will help add some of its own liquid to the sauce.) Reduce heat to simmer.
- While the sauce simmers, cook lasagna noodles al dente. (Remember, they’ll be baking in the lasagna, too.) Rinse in cold water and drain.
- Lightly beat an egg into the ricotta (or cottage) cheese. Season to taste with parsley and coarse ground black pepper and, if desired, basil, Italian seasoning, oregano, and garlic.
- Lightly spray a 13″X9″ (3 quart) baking pan (preferably glass) with cooking spray or oil lightly.
- Spread a small amount (about 1/2 to 3/4 cup) sauce along the bottom of the pan.
- Gently dry 3 lasagna noodles and lay them side-by-side in the pan. Spread about 1/2 of the ricotta (or cottage) cheese mixture along the noodles. Spread a bit less than 1/3 of the meat/zucchini sauce on top of the cheese. Sprinkle lightly with some grated Parmesan or Italian cheese blend, if desired. Sprinkle with a bit of the shredded mozzarella.
- Gently dry 3 more lasagna noodles and repeat layers, which will use up the remaining ricotta (or cottage) cheese mixture, but NOT use the remaining meat/zucchini sauce and mozzarella cheese.
- Gently dry the last 3 lasagna noodles and place side-by-side in pan. Top with remaining meat sauce, making sure all noodles are covered. Sprinkle with some grated Parmesan and/or Italian cheese blend, if desired. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella cheese.
- Cover and bake at 350F until cooked through and bubbly; about 45 to 60 minutes. (Uncover during last 15 minutes of baking, if desired.) Let rest 15 minutes before serving. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers.
To make ahead: Assemble lasagna. Keep covered, in refrigerator, for 24 hours, or in freezer for a couple of months. Bake refrigerated lasagna, covered, for 45 minutes or so, then uncover for another 15 to 30 minutes, until done. Bake frozen lasagna, covered, for 45 minutes or so, then uncover and bake for another 40 to 60 minutes, until done.