Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Shortcut Lasagna

A quicker prep version of meat lasagna, using ground beef, commercial pasta sauce and oven-ready lasagna noodles.
A quicker prep version of meat lasagna, using ground beef, commercial pasta sauce and oven-ready lasagna noodles.

Shortcut Lasagna

There is nothing that can touch a homemade lasagna. Nothing. And let me tell you, when it's made with a sauce made from homegrown, backyard summer tomatoes, it is out of this world. But, like a good classic ziti, it's a labor of love from beginning to end and takes hours. Is it worth it? You bet it is! But the time factor pretty much relegates it to being a day off or weekend kind of meal.

Enter the lasagnas earmarked as easy or weekday, or even simply oven-ready lasagna, because instead of boiled lasagna noodles it uses oven-ready noodles that go into the casserole uncooked, and instead of a homemade sauce, a commercial pasta sauce is substituted. Cooking time can't really be improved upon though - it still has to cook anywhere from 45 minutes to a full hour, depending on whether you go with it covered or not. Of course, that's hands-off time though, so once you assemble it, that's it and you can go about your business as it cooks.

Southern Style Hissy Fit Warning: There always seems to be some level of controversy when it comes to southern cooking. Cornbread. Butterbeans. Grits. Dressing versus stuffing and whether bread belongs in it at all. Rolled or dropped dumplings. Whether marshmallows still have a place on top of sweet potato casserole. And that's only the beginning! You'd think we'd all have better things to do than argue about food and try to tell other folks we think that our way of doing things in the kitchen is the only right way. Geez. Even lasagna isn't safe.

It seems there is controversy as to the use of cottage cheese versus ricotta. At a blogging conference, Ree Drummond aka The Pioneer Woman, told me a reader called her a redneck because she used cottage cheese! Can you believe that? Well, if she's a redneck than so am I, because here in the Deep South where I'm from, cottage cheese is used more often than ricotta. I don't know why that is, it just is. Just like all other cooking, we tend to do what our Mamas did and what we grew up with. My Mama used cottage cheese, never ricotta, and that's what I also use.

Truthfully, the first time I ever heard of ricotta in a lasagna, I pretty much had the same reaction that the ricotta crowd has to the cottage cheese crowd. I've since tried ricotta of course, mostly to see what the fuss was about, but I actually like cottage cheese in lasagna far better. To each his own, right?

When oven-ready lasagna noodles first showed up on the scene, I didn't care much for them. There was something off about the texture to me. They seem to have been improved upon a bit since, though I can still tell the difference from boiled noodles, which are far more tender to me. I noticed too that oven-ready noodles also seem to literally soak up so much of the sauce that it's a bit more dry than I like.

As to the ratios, I essentially went with the back of the box recipe, with a few of my own tweaks, and even though I use 6 cups of sauce in my Mama's Lasagna (found on page 174 of my cookbook, Deep South Dish Homestyle Southern Recipes), the box recipe called for much less liquid. Obviously I like my lasagna a bit more saucy, but there's a fine line between just right and too much, so I think it's safe to say I will keep working on that sauce ratio for future tries with these oven-ready noodles!

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Recipe: Shortcut Lasagna

©From the Kitchen of Deep South Dish
Prep time: 15 min
Cook time: 1 hour 10 min

Total time: 1 hour 25 min
Yield: About 9 to 12 servings

  • 1-1/2 pounds ground beef
  • 1/3 cup minced onion
  • 1 (24 ounce) can/jar traditional pasta sauce
  • 1 (8 ounce) tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper, or to taste
  • 3 cups shredded Italian blend cheese, divided
  • 1 (24 ounce) small curd cottage cheese or ricotta
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 (12 ounce) package oven-ready lasagna noodles
  • 1/2 cup beef stock/broth (or water), heated

Preheat oven to 425 degree F.

Cook beef in skillet until browned; drain if needed and return to skillet, add onion and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add pasta sauce, tomato sauce and Italian seasoning and bring to a boil; taste, adding salt and pepper only as needed. Set aside 1 cup of the shredded cheese. Combine cottage cheese or ricotta with the remaining shredded cheese and eggs in a separate bowl.

Spread a thin layer of meat sauce (about a cup) in bottom of 9 x 13 inch dish. Line pan with 4 noodles and half of the cheese mixture. Top with 1/3 of the remaining sauce. Repeat another layer of 4 noodles and 1/3 of the sauce (no cheese). Finish with 4 noodles, top with remaining sauce and all of the remaining cheese mix. Pour the hot broth or water all around the edges of the casserole dish.

Wrap tightly in double layer of foil. Bake 60 minutes, remove from oven, uncover, top with reserved shredded cheese and return to oven just to melt cheese. Loosely re-cover and let rest 10 minutes before slicing.

Tip: If the short edges of the lasagna noodles don't quite fit the pan, center the noodles as you layer it out, cut off two strips of several inches of foil, folded into a long tube and tuck it into the gaps. Remove after cooking.

Cook's Notes: I like 4% milkfat cottage cheese for my lasagna, but go with small curd if you can find it. The Italian cheese blend I use is a fine shred and has mozzarella, smoked provolone, parmesan, romano, fontina and asiago cheeses. If using only mozzarella, substitute 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese for part of it. May also use a combination of 1 pound ground beef with 1/2 pound Italian or breakfast sausage. Depending on the seasonings in the pasta sauce you use, be sure to taste and adjust the sauce once heated before adding salt or pepper. This is not an overly saucy lasagna. For a wetter version, increase the pasta sauce to 2 (24 ounce) cans and omit the tomato sauce.


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Posted by on December 4, 2018

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