There are a number of variations to making lasagna. The best lasagna variation I’ve made so far used Pappardelle’s red pepper lasagna noodles and a basil ricotta cheese, both of which I got at a local farmer’s market. One thing that may make my lasagna a bit unusual is that I only use basil, no other herbs. This recipe has been developed from experimentation over the years. I wanted something with a flavor substantially different from my spaghetti sauce and my pizza sauce, so I do tend to go a bit overboard on the basil. Using basil flavored oil and basil ricotta cheese may be overkill for some people — and I don’t always or usually go to that extreme, but if you prefer to use a premixed blend of Italian herbs for your Italian tomato-based sauces, throwing in extra basil in the form of flavored oil or ricotta cheese, could be a way to tweak your seasonings. Ditto, if you’re a garlic fiend (or suspect one of your dinner guests may be a vampire) the bit of extra garlic in garlic oil might do the trick. I would urge caution, though, because you can overdo it with too many extra flavors or too much of one flavor. If you’re using a flavored pasta that you haven’t tasted before, cook it and give it a taste before throwing all the ingredients into the sauce, just to make sure the flavors will play well with others.

There are two different types of lasagna noodles: those that you boil before assembling the lasagna and those that you don’t cook beforehand. Most noodles, including the aforementioned Pappardelle’s flavored lasagna, you need to cook first. However Barilla makes “oven ready” lasagna noodles that don’t need to be cooked. This noodle is a flat strip, no wavy edges. You just lay the dry flat sheets down when you’re assembling the lasagna. (Barilla also make the classic “wavy edged lasagna” which does need to be boiled before assembling the lasagna. Check the package when you buy to make sure you’re getting the type you want.) I use Barilla’s no-cook over-ready lasagna noodles unless I’m using a flavored noodle that must be pre-cooked. As always, follow the instructions on the package regarding boiling the noodles or not. (This was written before the Barilla’s controversial statements in 2013 and should not be construed as an endorsement of their corporate policies and attitudes. I am trying to find an alternative no-preboil lasagna noodle to recommend, but so far have found only one I can’t recommend.)

Flavored olive oils (such as Boyajian’s basil, garlic, rosemary, chili etc.) can be used to saute the onions and garlic; if you’re “doubling up” by using an oil with some of the flavors in the sauce (ie: basil, garlic) you may want to adjust your seasonings.

1 pkg lasagna noodles
a small amount of olive oil (or flavored olive oil such as Boyajian’s )
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 med onion, chopped
1 (12 oz) pkg LightLife’s Smart Ground
black pepper, perhaps a pinch of salt
1-2 tsp dried basil, crushed
12 oz tomato paste
1 1/2 cups hot water
15-16 oz oz ricotta cheese
1/2 lb mozzarella cheese, grated (or sliced thinly)

Lasagna noodles: boil as directed (usually about 10min) or don’t cook if using Barilla’s oven-ready noodles (or some other noodle which doesn’t require pre-cooking). Check the instructions on the box to make sure which kind you have!

Heat oil in skillet, saute the onions and garlic. Add black pepper, basil, and Smart Ground. Stir until well blended and crumbly. Add tomato paste and water. Stir until it’s a homogenous sauce. Simmer on low heat about 5 minutes. (Really, this shouldn’t cook for a long time. Just simmer a bit.)

In a 9×13 baking pan, (spraying pan with PAM optional) spread a thin layer of sauce. This won’t be a layer that completely covers the whole bottom of the pan. You’ll see the bottom of the pan. Use very little sauce for this. The idea here is to smear some sauce on the bottom to keep the noodles from sticking. Then add a layer of noodles, all the ricotta on top of the noodles, then half the mozzarella cheese on top of the ricotta. (Ah, cheese!)

For the next layer, you can be more generous with the sauce. Layer half the remaining sauce, then a layer of noodles, then the remainder of sauce and the rest of the mozzerella on top.

Baking instructions for different brands of noodles: If using the Barilla pasta that doesn’t require pre-cooking, cover with foil, preheat oven 375, then bake 55-60 minutes. Remove the foil and bake another 5 minutes. Let stand at least 10 minute before serving.

If using pre-boiled noodles, bake at 350 for 35 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before cutting.

To make ahead If using oven-ready Barilla …After assembling the lasagna, cover with foil and refrigerate. Bake 60 minutes at 375, then another 5 without foil, let at least stand 10 minutes.

I have only done the make-ahead thing using the over-ready Barilla noodles, so I’m not sure if there is any difference with pre-boiled noodles. Cooking time (and possibly oven temp) will probably be slightly longer as with the variation above.

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