Lasagna really is the mother of all baked pasta.
If you didn’t know what a ‘baked pasta’ was (ok, maybe it’s just me that was clueless for a while), all someone would have to say is ‘lasagna,’ and you’d get the picture.
But, while other baked pastas (like our Baked Ziti with Meatballs) tend to let their ingredients be tossed together willy-nilly, lasagna likes to have a bit of structure.
The structure comes from a layering of the three key elements: the sauce, the cheese (sometimes a cheese sauce), and the noodles. As long as you have these three parts layered together, you have yourself a lasagna. (Some people would argue that you don’t necessarily need cheese for it to be a lasagna. And, they’re quite right, you can make a cheese-less lasagna, and I’m sure it would be pretty tasty. But, cheese is a pretty necessary element in traditional lasagna.)
The cheese layer is often made up of ricotta cheese mixed with a beaten egg. This is a similar mixture to what you would find in stuffed shells, cannelloni, or other stuffed pasta dishes. The egg works as a binder for the cheese as it cooks, helping the lasagna to hold its shape and keeping the cheese from separating. In addition, it makes the cheese layers creamier and smoother than they would be without it.
When it comes to lasagna, I hate boiling the noodles even more than with other baked pasta dishes. It’s not just the extra pot here. Par-boiled lasagna sheets can be fragile and always tear and rip before I can get them arranged properly.
So, we don’t boil. But, as with the baked ziti, when baking dry pasta, the moisture of the sauce is key and the same three keys to controlling moisture apply here too: covering while baking, uncovering to finish, and resting.
This particular recipe creates a bit of a drier lasagna. It holds its shape well and doesn’t ooze sauce all over. While we do like a saucy and moist lasagna, this one is a nice change in texture (Hello crispy edges!) and the deep flavor of the tomatoes really shines through.
Speaking of tomatoes, for this lasagna, we used crushed tomatoes and pasta sent to us by Red Gold Tomatoes as a part of their celebration of the comforts of lasagna this winter.
To encourage home cooks to make their own gourmet lasagna, family owned Red Gold is hosting a lasagna-inspired giveaway twice a week. By entering, you could win a Le Creuset Lasagna Pan and a Simple Gourmet Lasagna Kit, among other goodies. Visit their Facebook Page to learn how to enter.
- 1 tsp butter
- ½ onion, diced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 4 oz button mushrooms, diced
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp rosemary
- 1 tsp thyme
- 1 tsp sage
- ½ tsp red pepper flakes
- ¼ c medium bodied red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot)
- 1 (28oz) can crushed tomatoes
- 7.5 oz ricotta cheese
- 5 oz frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
- ¼ c (2 oz) fresh Parmesan or Asiago cheese, grated
- 1 egg, beaten slightly
- ½ lb lasagna noodles, dry
- ½ c mozzarella cheese, shredded
- In a large skillet, heat ½ tsp butter. Add onions and garlic and sauté over medium heat until they begin to caramelize, 8-10 minutes.
- Add the remaining ½ tsp butter to the skillet along with the diced mushrooms and salt. Sauté until the mushrooms begin to sweat and soften, 2-3 minutes.
- Add rosemary, thyme, sage, and red pepper flakes. Mix to incorporate.
- Pour the wine into the skillet and scrape up any bits of onion that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add the tomatoes and mix well. Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally for 3-5 minutes.
- Remove the sauce from the heat and set aside.
- In a small bowl mix ricotta, chopped spinach, Parmesan cheese, and beaten egg. Set aside.
- Preheat your oven to 350F.
- Spread 1 cup of sauce in the bottom of a 9x5 loaf pan (or 8x8 baking dish). Layer ⅓ of the noodles over the sauce and top the noodles with ½ of the cheese mixture. Continue with 1 cup of sauce, ⅓ of the noodles, and the last ½ of the cheese mixture. Finish the layers off with 1 cup of sauce and the last ⅓ of the noodles. Top the noodles with the last 1 cup of sauce.
- Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 1- 1 ½ hours, until a knife inserted into the center of the dish slides in smoothly. Remove the foil and top the lasagna with the mozzarella cheese.
- Return the dish to the oven and bake, uncovered, until the cheese is melted and golden, 10-15 min.
- Remove the lasagna from the oven. Let it stand on the counter, tented loosely with aluminum foil, for 10 minutes before serving.
- Serve with a side salad.
DISCLOSURE: We were provided with a sample of Red Gold Tomatoes featured this post, however we were not compensated for our time. As always, all opinions are our own.