This isn’t quite a recipe, just some directions, for putting together lasagna. Basically, you have sauce, into which you might add ground beef or sausage. I always use sausage if I put any in at all. And you have your creamy cheese and your other cheese, and your noodles. But you need to know what to use, so those parts are in bold color. Options are italicized.
I hope this doesn't just seem too hard to understand. I wanted to go through the process as though you're here. And I think if you read it over, then go back to what you need, it will be easy to do.
SAUCE AND SAUCE ACCESSORIES:
Obviously you can use a good jar sauce, or you can make a full-on simmering sauce from top to bottom. Usually I take a middle path. For meat sauce, I use a pound of sausage without the casing/casing removed, cook it on medium in a little olive oil with some onions and peppers if I have those, then I add three or four garlic cloves (depending on size,) which I like to thinly slice, but you can mince, and 2 ounces of tomato paste,* stir it around for a minute, splash in a half cup of wine if I have that, or chicken or beef broth or water if I don’t, and then two large cans of tomatoes, squished by hand. This is enough to do a 9x13 pan. Obviously, you can just do half. Try to get tomatoes grown in Italy if you can. There is a difference.
In these photos, note that I first softened the onions and peppers in olive oil , then let them cook more while browning and attacking the sausage. When the sausage was nearly done, I stirred it together, then made room for the tomato paste.
if you are adding 1/2 cup water instead of wine or broth, put it in the can, swish around, then add.
*The tomato paste makes it all richer. Toasting it before adding liquid makes it nicer.
After you squish in the tomatoes, add a little oregano; crumble a couple of teaspoons with your fingers, or a couple of teaspoons of mixed Italian seasonings, and salt and pepper as you like. You could put in mushrooms once that’s all accomplished; 1/2-1 cup chopped, but not too finely. This makes a plain sauce good for baked pasta. Add a couple of pinches of dried red pepper if you like.
If you are using ground beef instead of sausage, you need to cook it first, seasoning it well with two teaspoons dried seasonings and s and p, drain and remove it, then cook the peppers, onions and garlic (add that after the other two have cooked til softening,) in the same pan with just a little olive oil, then add the meat back in and proceed.
If you are using jar sauce and you don’t want extra peppers and onions, cook your meat, season if it’s ground beef rather than sausage, add in your mushrooms if you wish, splash in a little wine, then add the sauce and simmer it while you do the rest. If you do want extra peppers and onions, follow the first set of instructions, and add the sauce when you’d add the canned tomatoes.
If you want directions for longer-cooking sauce, okay, but otherwise, I will address that on meatballs day.
I think you need three-four cups of sauce for an 8x8 pan, about six-eight for a 9x13. If you included meat, you’ll want more, if not, you’ll want less. We like it to be pretty darned saucy here at our house.
While that is simmering on low (you might need to put on a lid,) cook your lasagna noodles if they are the cooking kind, for two minutes less than done. Make sure the water is pretty salty. And while that is happening, mix your ricotta. Now, no one asks for as much of this as I like, unless they are correct. So for an 8x8 pan, use a 15 ounce container, to which you add an egg, or for 9x13, 30-32 ounces to which you add two eggs, and then add 3/4 or 1.5 cup of parmesan or romano cheese or both if you want.* Sprinkle in a little salt and pepper. Some people also add a tiny bit of nutmeg, like 1/4 teaspoon. It’s nice to do, but don’t add more than that. Add a half cup of fresh chopped parsley, or a couple of tablespoons of dried parsley. You can also do a combination of basil and parsley. Add half as much for 8x8 pan. I'll be honest here; I mix this by hand. I just like to. You can use a spatula, though, and then divide the mixture in the bowl into two or three equal parts, depending on your layers. See below.
If you are going to be using spinach, there are two ways to add it. First, loosely chop a pound (or half) as you like, cook it for a couple minutes in salted boiling water, drain it really well, squeezing out the moisture, then add some pepper and a dash of nutmeg (instead of putting that in the ricotta.) Then you’ll either layer it with the other ingredients, or you can mix it into the ricotta, but I wouldn’t. Just layer it.
Then you want shredded mozzarella, and many Italian-American ladies will use provolone, either instead of or in addition to the mozzarella. I made it yesterday with one pound shredded mozzarella**, and a half pound sliced provolone. For the top you want another half cup of the parmesan or romano. I think it’s four ounces per cup.
*I like romano (pecorino) for this better. Somehow I usually end up using some combination. I buy wedges and grate it myself, but for this trial, I bought it pre-shredded. It was on sale.
**If I see whole milk mozzarella at the store, I will buy that instead of shredded, and shred it myself. Sadly, that’s not easy to get around here. If you are not using provolone, use 1.5 lbs of mozzarella for a 9x13 pan.
How many layers of noodles do we want? Three is easiest. You have a little sauce in the bottom, noodles, stuff, noodles, stuff, noodles, topping. If you are using spinach, stick with that, I think. But you can do four otherwise, which I like to do.
Don’t, for the love of Raphael, rinse your noodles, even though they’ll stick a little.
Put a little sauce on the bottom of the pan, just enough to cover it. Fit a layer of noodles in, overlapping them a little. Spread, if making three layers, 1/2 of ricotta mixture, then 1/3 of the mozzarella with 1/2 of the provolone, then 1/3 of the remaining sauce. If you are adding spinach, put 1/2 of it between the cheese layers. Repeat the process. Put a final layer of noodles on top, the remaining sauce, the remaining mozzarella, a little more parmesan, and then you can add a little crushed oregano over it to look nice. Put it on a flat cookie sheet or pizza pan, or put one beneath it in the oven to catch drippings.
If you are doing four layers of noodles, you’ll divide the ricotta and provolone in thirds, and the mozzarella and sauce in fourths. In the above picture, you can see I used three noodles on my bottom layer, but my pan can handle four. You can decide that for yourself.
In my oven, it cooks for 40 minutes at 375º, covered in foil. Then it takes another 15 minutes to brown. That’s for the 9x13. For an 8x8 pan, figure more like 35 minutes and 10 minutes. Then it must rest for at least half an hour; an hour is better, before cutting.
You’ll have some noodles left if you cooked the whole box. I always do because they can be eaten a day or two later with other food; you can roll things in them or chop them and cook them with leftover food and put eggs on top.