Lasagna — That’s Amore
A warm pasta meal is perfect for cold winter days.
By Elizabeth Czajkowski | Columnist
The mouth-watering aromas of garlic and homemade spaghetti sauce are familiar scents that fill our kitchen and permeate through the entire house. Every Christmas Eve, before the extended family of 50 people arrive at our home, my mom and I get to work in the morning cooking our Italian dishes including Grandma Ann’s meatballs in red sauce, Italian sausage and peppers and, of course, our traditional family lasagna — because you can’t do Italian without pasta.
We ladle warm tomato sauce into baking pans and begin layering the noodles on top. The ricotta mixture sticks to our fingers, and the smell of freshly chopped parsley adds a brightness to the air. As we follow the steps of Great Grandma Ann’s recipe, my mom tells stories of the short, energetic Sicilian woman, full of warmth and life. Mom inherited her heart and her passion for cooking. “The secret to cooking,” Mom explains, “is that you have to put your love into the food you’re making. You have to enjoy the process.” And we do.
As we layer cheeses, noodles and more tomato sauce, we goof around, cracking jokes and making each other smile. Our dog stays close at my feet with a happy tail and expectant eyes as bits of mozzarella and munchee cheese occasionally fall off the counter. We laugh as Blue happily waddles around the kitchen with — unbeknownst to her — pieces of cheese stuck on her back.
Soon, the lasagna emerges from the oven — a steaming hot pan of authentic Italian, carb-heavy, cheesy goodness. As family members arrive, they breathe in the delicious scent and fill their plates with the Italian-style love we’ve prepared for them.
Although lasagna features in our home prominently at Christmas, this dish is perfect for any cold day. While this recipe is easy to make, it does require a little more time than your typical 30-minute meal. It’s the perfect dish to make on a weekend or even on your day off from school this Tuesday. Best of all, you’ll have lots of leftovers to warm up throughout the week. And, yes, this recipe does not merely use one type of cheese, but four — just to bring some extra happiness to your lives!
Grandma Ann’s Italian Lasagna Recipe:
Prep time: 25 min
Cook time: 1 hour
Suggestions before starting:
You can use your favorite spaghetti sauce, with meat or meatless. I usually make this in a 15 x 11 baking pan, which uses the entire box of noodles. You can also use a 13 x 9 baking pan. If there are some noodles leftover, you can save, cut and serve them with sauce for another pasta meal.
1 box of Barilla lasagne
spaghetti sauce (I recommend having at least two 24 oz. bottles available, although you may not use the full amount.)
16 oz. container of ricotta cheese (I like Primo Taglio whole milk ricotta)
1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese
½ cup of grated parmesan cheese
1 egg, beaten
fresh parsley chopped, about a handful
black pepper, to taste
8 slices of munchee cheese (sliced from the deli counter)
8 slices of mozzarella cheese (sliced from the deli counter)
parmesan cheese, grated, to sprinkle on top
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Cook noodles according to package directions. (I add a splash of oil to the pot to help prevent the noodles from sticking.) Drain, cool, and pat dry to remove moisture.
In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, shredded mozzarella, ½ cup grated parmesan cheese, egg, chopped parsley, and black pepper, and mix well.
Spray a 13 x 9 (or 15 x 11) baking dish with cooking spray.
Pour some spaghetti sauce on the bottom of the pan – enough to lightly cover the bottom.
Layer 4 -5 sheets of the noodles, overlapping them slightly, covering the bottom of the pan.
Top with half of the ricotta mixture.
Top with the slices of munchee cheese
Cover this layer with additional spaghetti sauce – enough to cover it, without drowning it.
Layer 4 -5 sheets of the noodles, overlapping them slightly.
Top with remaining half of the ricotta mixture.
Top with the slices of mozzarella cheese
Cover with additional sauce.
Add a final layer of noodles.
Top with sauce, ensuring all parts of the noodles are covered with sauce.
Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese.
Cover with foil.
Bake for approximately 1 hour.
Serve with garlic bread sticks and Italian salad.
“And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.” ~ Ecclesiastes 3:13 NLT