An Easter treat

For a number of Easter holidays now, I have been asked to make lasagna. I’ve made it for Christmas too. Holidays are the only time of the year that I endeavor this. It is a time-consuming task and takes more than one day to complete. I have, however, made it for my neighbor, albeit a small casserole, after he has cleared my driveway with his snow blower as a thank you for his kind effort.
The recipe, included at the bottom of this blog entry, was handed down to me by my mother. She got it from an Hungarian neighbor, but Mom altered it some. I have since tweaked it myself. For instance, I find it a lot easier to brown ground pork than sausages, and the flavor is nearly the same.
For the past few Easter holidays, my mother and I have been spending the day and having dinner at her assisted living facility. In the past, we invited my aunt (Mom’s sister) and my cousin to dinner. But my aunt passed away just a few weeks ago and my mom and my cousin were not up for the usual. So Mom and I decided to join the rest of our family at my sister’s house, where there will be upwards of 25 people and lots and lots of food. My lasagna too.
So in the spirit of the holiday, I am sharing the recipe. Enjoy it and Happy Easter.


For sauce:

3 pounds of ground beef (85-90% lean)
2 pounds of ground pork
2 large cans of tomato juice
2 large cans of tomato sauce
2 cans of tomato paste
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
Black pepper

For casserole:
Medium size part-skim ricotta cheese
1-2 bags of shredded part-skim mozzarella
Grated cheese
2 boxes of Ronzoni lasagna noodles
Hefty EZ Foil All-Purpose Pan 13 1/2″ X 9 1/2″ X 3″

Put all the liquid ingredients (juice, sauce, paste) into large pot and start to simmer. Brown the ground beef; drain, put aside. Brown the pork; drain, put aside. Brown the garlic and onion in the remnants of the pan from the browning of the beef and pork. Do not over-brown because the garlic will get bitter. Dump the beef, pork, garlic and onions into the sauce. Add black pepper, oregano and basil to taste. Stir. Do not add salt because the cheeses will be salty enough once you put the lasagna casserole together.
Simmer the sauce for 6 to 8 hours.

Two sauce notes:
1. Make the sauce the day before you put the lasagna casserole together because it will taste better after it sits in the refrigerator overnight and then is reheated.
2. When you put the lasagna casserole together, make sure the sauce is hot; otherwise, the ricotta won’t blend.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Lasagna Casserole Layering:
Boil the noodles following the instructions on the box. The noodles should not be cooked all the way. Rinse them in cold water, let them dry. Careful: The noodles may be hot to work with.
Follow this pattern:
Cover the bottom of pan with sauce, place layer of noodles, more sauce, place teaspoonful dollops of ricotta (about three in a row) and mash with fork until blended, sprinkle layer with grated cheese, then mozzarella (lightly).
Next row: noodles, sauce, ricotta, grated cheese, mozzarella. Follow the preceding until you reach the top of pan. Add a good amount of mozzarella at top.

Bake the lasagna casserole for 30-35 minutes in 350-degree oven uncovered. Make sure the mozzarella on top is melted. Take out of the oven and let sit about 15-20 minutes before serving.

Final notes:
This recipe makes two casseroles of lasagna. Lasagna making is so labor-intensive that it is a good idea to make two casseroles at a time and freeze one of them.
You will be tempted to use the no-cook lasagna noodles because they are “easy.” Don’t. They do not have the same flavor or texture once you put the casserole together.

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