Monday, January 16, 2012
Simply Cheese Lasagna
Snow is falling! It’s time for sledding, hot cocoa with marshmallows, a roaring fire and all the pleasures that a white wonderland brings. Hiking countless times back up the hill with a sled works up quite an appetite, so it’s also time to think about hearty warm dishes.
Lasagna is one that is sure to please and quick to make. It can be prepared ahead of time and baked when needed, or you can keep a pan stashed in the freezer to pull out when the snow is swirling. I love lasagna and all its many varieties with roasted veggies, pesto or béchamel sauce. Sometimes, though, what hits the spot most is classic cheese lasagna.
Simple, quality ingredients - many of them pantry staples - combine to create a fresh tasting, deeply satisfying lasagna. The marinara sauce is an easy staple and can also top pizzas or be tossed with spaghetti. I’ve become a fan of the “no boil” lasagna noodles since I can keep them on hand for quick lasagna preparation if fresh noodles are not available. Add some fresh ricotta (you know my love affair with homemade ricotta!) and mozzarella and you have the ultimate comfort food, something guaranteed to delight eaters of all ages.
The warm lasagna emerging from the oven fills the house with an inviting scent, promising to fortify hungry bellies that come in from the cold. And when those bellies are full? Back outside to the sleds!
Simply Cheese Lasagna
Serves 8 (9x13 inch baking pan)
6 cloves garlic
2 – 28 ounce cans whole tomatoes (I use San Marzano)
1/4 cup fresh basil, coarsely chopped
2 pounds fresh ricotta cheese, store bought or homemade
2 large eggs
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
1 pound fresh mozzarella, diced
2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
9 ounces (1 box) “no boil” lasagna noodles (I use whole wheat) or fresh lasagna noodles
To make the marinara sauce, pulse the garlic in a food processor until roughly chopped. Add the canned tomatoes with their juices, a long pour of olive oil, the fresh basil, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper and whiz until mostly smooth. Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan, bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring a few times. Set aside until ready to use. Sauce can be prepared ahead of time and kept covered in the refrigerator.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, eggs, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
Spread 3/4 cup of marinara sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking pan. Place a layer of noodles over the sauce. Spread 1/2 of the ricotta mixture over the noodles and sprinkle with 1/3 of the mozzarella and Parmesan. Place a layer of noodles over the cheese layer. Spread 1 1/2 cups marinara over the noodles. Repeat the layering (noodles, second half of ricotta, 1/3 of the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses). Spread last layer of noodles over the top, spread the remaining marinara sauce over the noodles and sprinkle with the last 1/3 of the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.
Place the baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the cheese is golden and the sauce is bubbling, about 45 minutes. Cover with foil during the last 10-15 minutes if it is browning too quickly. Let stand for 20 minutes before serving.
** The lasagna can be prepared ahead of time and kept chilled. When ready to bake, let the lasagna sit out at room temperature while you preheat the oven. It can also be baked, cooled and frozen (be sure to wrap tightly in plastic wrap). If frozen, defrost and warm in the oven until heated through.