It's comfort food season, and there's no better comfort food, for a party or just dinner (and leftovers!) than my delicioso Rustic Lasagna al Forno.
This lasagna can be made up to two days ahead, or you can make the sauce ahead and then assemble the lasagna when you’re ready. It gets better overnight! The sauce is a great meat sauce for any kind of hearty pasta—rigatoni, linguine, spaghetti, bucatini, for example—and can be made in large batches and frozen. It’s important to get the best quality ricotta and parmesan cheese—try a greenmarket or local purveyor of fine cheeses, for example. Also, the canned whole peeled tomatoes, when broken up into pieces, make the sauce more rustic.
This recipe will fill a 9X12 or 13 pan (I prefer a glass or foil baking dish) and will serve 8-10 people. Serve with garlic bread and a simple salad, and don’t forget the Chianti!
FOR THE RUSTIC MEAT SAUCE:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 ½ lbs organic ground beef (or can substitute organic ground turkey for all or part)
1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 28 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
¼ cup roasted sweet red peppers (get the kind in a jar), chopped
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dried oregano
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (optional if you like a little spice)
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large, deep skillet or stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the ground meat, season with salt and pepper, and brown. Transfer the ground meat to a plate lined with paper towels, and discard the extra fat in the pan, leaving just enough to coat the bottom of the pan.
Add the chopped onion to the pan and sweat till translucent (two or three minutes). Add the ground meat back to the pan with the onions. Add both cans of tomatoes, using a spoon or your hand to crush the whole peeled tomatoes as you add them to the sauce. Add the red peppers, garlic, and oregano. Cover the pot and let the sauce simmer over medium low flame for about 15-20 minutes, adding just a pinch of salt, until the flavors start to come together. Add the balsamic, sugar and hot red pepper flakes (if using), and stir in the parmesan cheese. Taste again for salt and add to your preference. Set the sauce aside.
FOR THE LASAGNA:
4 cups fresh ricotta cheese
2 egg yolks
1 recipe Rustic Meat Sauce (above)
9 ounces (or one small box) of lasagna noodles (I prefer the oven-ready/no-boil variety if you’re not making fresh pasta)
1 pound shredded mozzarella cheese
1 ½ cups grated parmesan cheese
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the fresh ricotta cheese and egg yolks. Set aside.
Spoon a small amount of meat sauce onto the bottom of your baking dish, to keep the noodles from sticking. Add a layer of lasagna noodles to your pan—it’s ok if they overlap slightly. Spoon 1/3 of the meat sauce on top of the noodles. Dollop 1/3 of the ricotta mixture on top of the sauce, distributing dollops evenly across pan. Sprinkle 1/3 of the shredded mozzarella over the sauce and ricotta layers, then finish this first layer with 1/3 of the parmesan cheese.
Starting with another layer of lasagna noodles, repeat all steps twice, till you have a total of three layers of pasta, sauce, and cheese (not counting the small amount of sauce on the bottom of the pan). Cover the lasagna loosely with foil (the ricotta may rise a bit during baking), and place the pan on a cookie sheet in the center of your oven. Cook for approximately 50 minutes covered, then uncover and cook for another 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese on top is golden brown.
Remove from the oven, re-cover with foil, and let the lasagna rest for at least 15 minutes before serving. Buon appetito!
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