For Craig’s birthday this year, I didn’t take him to a fancy dinner as I’ve done in years past (see here, here and here). This year his birthday had two components: (1) a dinner at home with his favorite foods; and (2) a weekend trip to Palm Springs. You’ll hear about Palm Springs later this week, but this post concerns that dinner at home. When I asked what he wanted for his entree, Craig, a little like Garfield, had one word in his speech balloon: “Lasagna.”
Apparently, growing up, Craig would always have lasagna on his birthday. So it’s a nice tradition to carry forth into his old man years (if you want to tease Craig, call him old).
Now you’d think for his birthday I’d make that Lasagne alla Bolognese al Forno which I classified as “The Ultimate Lasagna” when I made it a few months ago. That lasagna requires boiling spinach, working it into a pasta dough and rolling it out while simultaneously making a ragu AND a bechamel.
I like Craig, but not that much.
No, for his birthday I deferred to that queen of the flavor-packed, relatively-easy-to-do recipe, Miss Ina Garten. Her lasagna has it all: a quick stovetop meat sauce (with sausage and tomato paste, which makes it nice and thick)…
A layer of ricotta worked together with egg, Parmesan and chopped parsley…
And a pound of fresh mozzarella cheese that you slice and layer on to the lasagna like pedestals of solid, milky goodness:
The noodles you don’t have to boil…you just soak them in hot water for 20 minutes. You layer them up with that mozzarella, the sauce and the ricotta:
And the whole thing gets topped with a big sprinkling of Parmesan cheese (I cheated and used store-ground fresh Parmesan which is not the same thing as using pre-ground Parmesan in a can; the store-ground stuff is still fresh Parmesan and saves you a step):
Let’s see it from the side:
I did that in the early afternoon, wrapped it in foil and placed it in our refrigerator. Many hours later, when guests had arrived, I took the lasagna out and let it come to room temperature for a bit. Then I popped it into the hot oven and baked it for 30 minutes; out it came looking like this:
That’s a pretty handsome lasagna, if I do say so myself. And the birthday boy was very pleased:
So if you know someone with a birthday who requests lasagna for their big meal, make ’em this recipe. They won’t be disappointed.
Recipe: Birthday Lasagna
Summary: A relatively easy, flavor-packed lasagna adapted from Ina Garten.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 chopped yellow onion
- 3 minced cloves of garlic
- 1 1/2 pounds sweet Italian pork sausage removed from the casing (Ina uses turkey sausage but this is a birthday lasagna and who prefers turkey to pork on their birthday?)
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes in tomato puree
- 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves (I skipped these and it was fine)
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 pound lasagna noodles (I used more like 3/4ths the box)
- 15 ounces ricotta cheese
- 3 to 4 ounces creamy goat cheese, crumbled
- 1 cup grated Parmesan, plus 1/4 cup for sprinkling
- 1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten (I just used a large egg and it worked fine)
- 1 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
- If you want to make the lasagna right away, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. If you want to save it for later, preheat the oven when you’re ready to bake.
- Start by making the sauce: heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and cook over medium-low heat until translucent. Add the garlic and cook just until the garlic is fragrant, about one minute. Add the sausage and break it up with your wooden spoon as it cooks until there are no big chunks of it–and cook until the sausage is no longer pink, about 8 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, the basil (if you’re using it), 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Simmer uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes until thickened; taste and adjust for salt and pepper.
- Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with the hottest tap water. Add the noodles and allow them to sit in the water for 20 minutes. Drain.
- In another bowl, combine the ricotta, goat cheese, 1 cup of Parmesan, the egg, the remaining 2 tablespoons of parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Set aside.
- Ladle 1/3rd of the sauce into a 9 X 12 (or 13)-inch baking dish, spreading the sauce around. Add a layer of pasta, half the mozzarella, half the ricotta (spread it around with an offset spatula) and 1/3rd of the sauce. Add the rest of the pasta, mozzarella, ricotta, and finally, sauce. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of Parmesan (or more, to cover the surface) and bake for 30 minutes until the sauce is bubbling.
This isn’t a case where you need to buy the highest-end ricotta or goat cheese; because of the big flavors going on here (especially the sweetness from the tomato paste) feel free to use supermarket brands–you probably won’t notice the difference. And serve it up with my favorite Caesar salad; it’s a great pairing.
Preparation time: 20 minute(s)
Cooking time: 30 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 8