Dare I say, there is nothing more intimidating than cooking a beloved family recipe. Everyone already knows how it is “supposed” to taste. Everyone already has an emotional connection to the meal. It is scary stuff! If you want to add another layer of intimidation, choose your Husband’s grandmother’s recipe; which you never had the opportunity of enjoying prepared by the lovely woman herself. I know, it takes a leap of faith to attempt this madness.
The first time I prepared Grandma’s Lasagna recipe, I did what I do with all recipes; I changed it. I do not remember everything I did, but I know sausage and mushrooms were involved. Not my smartest move. My husband was so disappointed, because while it was good it was not “Grandma’s lasagna”. That day I learned not to mess with the family classics.
Fast forward a few years, we’ve moved. We lived in construction chaos for a whole year as we DIY’d ourselves to the home of our dreams. During the process, Grandma’s lasagna recipe was misplaced. It will probably appear in some obscure place 10 years from now, but right now it is MIA. Lucky for me, I have a really good memory for things like recipes, even if I can’t remember what I had for breakfast 3 days ago. So I decided to take a chance and try to make the lasagna from memory.
The first step to this magical meal is the tomato meat sauce. It is a very simple meat sauce, the recipe makes a large amount, and it freezes really well. Start out with a 5.5 qt pot or larger over medium heat. Add cooking oil, chopped onion, and chopped garlic to the pan. Saute onions and garlic, stirring frequently, until onions are soft and translucent. Add the ground meat to the pan and continue cooking until meat is thoroughly cooked. Next, add crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, and tomato sauce to the pot. This step includes all liquids. Stir to combine and raise the heat to medium high. Add tomato paste and water, stirring frequently as the sauce comes to a low boil. Once boiling, turn the heat down to low and add Italian seasoning. Let the sauce simmer for 30 minutes stirring occasionally.
There is one more prep item before assembly of the lasagna begins. The middle layer consists of a creamy cheese layer. You have two options: 1.) ricotta and Parmesan or 2.) small curd cottage cheese and Parmesan. Regardless of your preference, I recommend combining the two cheeses in your food processor or using a hand mixer. This method gives the mixture a creamy, rich consistency.
Now it is time to assemble our delicious masterpiece. I have two different methods. If I am making dinner for a larger crowd, I use a roasting pan which is approximately 12x16x3 inches in size. If I am cooking for the just the kiddos, hubby, and myself, I make two pans 9x12x2.5 inches in size. I bake one pan and freeze the other for another day. Shaun tells me his grandmother always made one pan of lasagna and had a pot of extra sauce on the stove for anyone who wanted it. I like to use all the sauce, so I make two. The sauce freezes very well, so figure out the size that works for your family and freeze any leftovers.
Now to the assembly instructions, start with a layer of sauce. Next, layer uncooked lasagna noodles onto the sauce. The number of noodles will depend on the size of the pan. Add a layer of shredded mozzarella on top of the noodles and then repeat. In the middle layer, spread the ricotta/cottage cheese mixture instead of the mozzarella. When the layers reach the top of the pan, the final layer consists of sauce, noodles, sauce, mozzarella, and Parmesan in that order. If making two pans, repeat the process for the second pan.
Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for 60-75 minutes. The lasagna is done when the noodles are soft and the sauce and cheese are bubbling. I recommend letting the lasagna rest for 10 minutes before serving. I find it easier to cut and serve after it rests.
My family loves cheese and sauce, so I use a lot of both. Adjust the amounts to meet the tastes of your crew. Lasagna pairs well with a nice salad and some garlic bread. I have one silly girl in my family who does not like noodles, in any form, so she usually eats salad and garlic bread dipped in sauce on lasagna night. To each her own, there are plenty of things she does like to eat. Happy Cooking!
Tomato Meat Sauce:
- 2 tbsp cooking oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 tbsp garlic, chopped
- 2 28oz cans crushed tomatoes
- 1 14.5oz can diced tomatoes including liquid
- 2 15oz cans tomato sauce
- 2 6oz cans tomato paste
- 15 oz water use tomato sauce can for measuring
- 1-2 lbs ground meat use beef, turkey, venison or chicken
- ¼ cup Italian seasoning
- 24 oz small curd cottage cheese or ricotta cheese
- 1 ½ cups parmesan cheese
- 2.5 lbs mozerella cheese
- 2 12oz boxes uncooked lasagna noodles
- Prepared Sauce from above
Tomato Meat Sauce
- Place a 5.5 qt or larger pot on stove over medium heat.
- Add oil, onion, and garlic to the pot. Sauté until onions begin to soften and become translucent.
- Add ground meat to pot. Heat until cooked thoroughly, stirring frequently.
- Add crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, and tomato sauce to the pot. Stir and raise heat to medium high.
- Add tomato paste and water to pot. Stir to combine. Continue stirring frequently as sauce comes to a low boil.
- Reduce heat to low. Add Italian seasoning and stir to combine.
- Simmer on low for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Set out 1 large pan (approximately 12x16x3in)or 2 small pans (9x12x2.5in)
- Using food processor, mixer, or by hand, combine small curd cottage cheese/ricotta and 1 cup of parmesan cheese. Put to side.
- Assembly instructions for 9x12x2.5in pans: Cover bottom of the pan in a layer of sauce. Lay 3-4 uncooked lasagna noodles on top of the layer of sauce. Cover noodles with layer of mozzarella cheese. Repeat this process for second layer. For third layer, cover noodles with cottage cheese/ricotta mixture. Repeat process used for first layer. For final layer, add sauce, then noodles, then another layer of sauce, then mozzarella cheese, and finally remaining Parmesan. Repeat process for second pan.
- Assembly instructions for 12x16x3in pan: Cover bottom of the pan in a layer of sauce. Lay 6-8 uncooked lasagna noodles on top of the layer of sauce. Cover noodles with a layer of mozzarella cheese. Cover with another layer of sauce and lay another 6-8 uncooked noodles on layer of sauce. Cover uncooked noodles with cottage cheese/ricotta mixture. Add another layer of sauce and lay 6-8 uncooked noodles on layer of sauce. Cover with mozzarella cheese. Add another layer of sauce and uncooked noodles. Cover uncooked noodles with sauce, then mozzarella cheese and the remaining parmesan cheese.
- Cover pan(s) with aluminum foil.
- Bake for 60-75 minutes, until noodles are soft and sauce and cheese is hot and bubbly.
- Let sit 10 minutes before serving.