For as long as I can recall, my parents were "lasagna people," if you will.
Whether for a special occasions, a holiday or just a random dinner out, they would often opt for lasagna. This wasn't the case for me; I prefer a homemade lasagna on a holiday or on an weekend evening and I don't think I've ever ordered lasagna out. it's such a tried-and-true option, though and perhaps the most cherished Italian and Italian-American staple after pizza and spaghetti and meatballs.
Lasagna is also a perfect "one pot meal," it's an easy dish to make and then wrap up with foil and give to a new neighbor or someone grieving and it doesn't "require" any side dishes (although a green salad, some crusty bread and some extra sauce and grated cheese on the side are certainly welcome).
It's also endlessly customizable. As long as you're layering in some capacity, nearly anything can be deemed a "lasagna" — butternut squash planks in place of lasagna noodles, vegan cheese instead of standard ricotta and mozzarella, vodka instead of marinara, ground pork or chicken instead of beef, additions of spinach or chard — the list goes on and on. Tweak as you see fit and depending on the size of your family, and you'll have lots of terrific leftovers, too! Expand your lasagna horizons and who knows where you'll end up. (It can also make a superb main course for Christmas dinner).
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Italy Magazine noted that lasagna has "[evolved] and [acquired] several variations before being codified in the classic version of Bolognese cuisine." The recipe itself apparently first originated in the 1880s before varying iterations were created, including one featuring a spinach-laced pasta dough.
The publication also stated a quote from Fra' Salimbene da Parma who supposedly described someone eating lasagna as such: "I've never seen anyone stuffing himself on lasagna with cheese so pleasurably and so fully as him."
So behave like this man and whip up some lasagna this winter — perhaps it'll also make you and your loved ones "so pleasurably and so fully" content with your meal.
Extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, peeled and finely diced
1/2 bulb fennel, finely diced
5 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 1/2 pounds ground chicken (white meat, ideally)*
1 lb spinach
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound lasagna noodles (I like traditional, but you can certainly use no-boil if you prefer)
Marinara or "red sauce" of your choosing (family recipe, store-bought, whatever floats your boat)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk, room temperature
Fresh nutmeg, grated on a microplane
1 lb high-quality ricotta
3 to 4 tablespoons heavy cream
2 large eggs
Handful of chopped parsley
2 cups mozzarella, shredded or torn, divided
8 ounce block Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated, divided
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large skillet over medium-low heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and fennel and cook until translucent, about 4 to 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic and toast for 30 seconds or until fragrant.
- Add the ground chicken and raise the heat to medium-high, stirring occasionally, until the protein starts to take on some color.
- Once the chicken is cooked through and caramelized, add the spinach and cook until wilted. Season with salt and pepper.
- If making traditional lasagna noodles, bring a (very large) pot of water to a boil, salt considerably and cook lasagna noodles until al dente. Drain and cold shock with cold water, letting pasta cool until you're able to handle it.
- In a large pot over medium-low heat, melt butter. Add flour and cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until it smells toasty and not "raw."
- Gradually, add milk while whisking, raising heat to medium and letting the mixture cook until it begins to thicken. Once the bechamel has thickened considerably, season with nutmeg and salt.
- In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the ricotta, heavy cream, eggs, parsley and half each of the mozzarella and Parm. Season well.
- In an 8x12 casserole dish or baking pan, begin the layering process. Start with a ladleful of tomato sauce, followed by a layer of noodles, then ricotta and the chicken-spinach mixture, followed by another layer of noodles (this one going in an alternating direction, opposed to the first layer of noodles) and then finishing with bechamel.
- Repeat the process until either 1) the dish is full or 2) all of the noodles are your ingredients are used up. When finished, top lasagna with remaining cheeses.
- Transfer to the oven and cook for about a half hour or 40 minutes, or until the lasagna is bubbly and the cheese is melted.
- Turn to broil and cook for another 5 minutes or until the cheese gets crispy and browned.
-While I use a ground chicken-and-spinach "filling" here, you can opt for leftover turkey Bolognese, traditional bolognese, crumbled sausage, broken up meatballs, sausage or braciole, or ground pork or vegan protein. Just don't over-season because this flavor shouldn't take over the whole dish.
-I'm a big proponent of a structurally sound lasagna — half the fun is the perfect slice, the ideal lines, the crisscrossed layers — one great tip I've seen for this is from none other than Anne Burrell (I'm clearly a big fan), who advises cooking the lasagna, then cooling and refrigerating it, then warming or broiling it until ready to serve. after the double cook, the lasagna itself should be a bit firmer and stand up to cutting, resulting in properly shaped and layered portions of lasagna slices instead of a "mushad" slice that dissolves into a puddle of noodles, sauce and cheese once it's plated. Another Anne Burrell lasagna tip I've always sworn by is layering each layer of noodles in a different direction to help further stabilize the lasagna itself.
-I like serving a piece on top of a bed of sauce, perhaps even some more sauce drizzled on top (and obviously extra cheese).
-Leftovers can get a bit dry, so definitely have some extra sauce (or sauces) at the ready to help mitigate that.