There are many theories about the origins of lasagna. Some say it evolved from an ancient Greek dish. Another is that it came from the name of the dish it was cooked in. And a third, quite unbelievable, posits that lasagna actually originated in 14th-century England.
But we all know who really invented lasagna. Stouffer’s. It was invented in the early 1960s for people who didn’t know how to cook. It was invented for my mother. Specifically. My mother was wildly enthusiastic about anything that came in a box. She once came home, cheeks flushed, with her newest discovery – Kraft spaghetti and tomato sauce in a box. You simply mixed the packet of tomato powder with water and – voila – spaghetti sauce.
So she was practically delirious when Stouffer’s arrived on the scene. The lasagna was especially alluring. So cosmopolitan. So foreign in northern Illinois, the land of meatloaf. So, so…easy. It was many years before I figured out that actual lasagna, the really good stuff, did not come in an aluminum tray inside a red box.
I have perfected my version of lasagna now. It involves no-boil lasagna noodles which taste far better than the irritating ones you have to boil and then rent extra kitchen space just to lay them all out before you assemble the dish. It involves a deeply rich, sauce that tastes more of meat than tomato. And it involves whole milk ricotta. WHOLE MILK. I do not understand part-skim ricotta. Why would anyone want that? Oh, and mountains of mozzarella. If there was a higher geological form than a mountain, I would use that term here.
One recipe sauce
One 15-ounce container whole milk ricotta cheese
1 egg, beaten
4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
One package no-boil lasagna noodles
2 lbs. ground chuck
1/3 cup diced carrots
1/3 cup diced onion
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes, preferably Cento brand
½ cup dry red wine
2 tablespoons Italian herbs
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
Salt and Pepper
Brown ground chuck until bits of it have taken on a deep brown color and most of the fat has been absorbed back in to the meat. Remove from pan. Add carrots and onions and add a little vegetable oil if the pan is too dry. Saute until tender. Add garlic and sauté about 30 seconds. Add back the ground beef, the crushed tomatoes, the wine, the Italian herbs and the paprika. Salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer for 15 minutes.
Mix together the egg and the ricotta cheese.
Assemble the lasagna: Put a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of a 9-by-9 square pan. Top with a layer of the noodles making sure all the noodles come in contact with the sauce. Spread a third of the ricotta mixture on the noodles and top with another layer of sauce. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Repeat for two more layers, ending with a final layer of the sauce and a generous sprinkling of mozzarella cheese.
Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes.
Note: You will have more sauce than you need for this recipe. Freeze the rest and use for spaghetti or another pan of lasagna.