Before revealing the big secret to this comforting Lasagna recipe, I want to send a huge, glossy “thank you!” dotted with a pink heart to Italy, for coming up with Pizza and many Pasta-based dishes in general. The sauce, the cheese, and the meat combine so perfectly, and there can never be too much of any of them.
Oh, wait! It seems that I sent my love to the wrong country!
Is Lasagna… an Italian recipe?
Just like me, people from around the world have been mistaking Lasagna to be an Italian dish, as it’s made of pasta, which came from Italy.
As it happens,, its origin traces back to China. The chewy strands of noodles we all know and love happen to be an ancestor to pasta’s. In 1271, Marco Polo returned from his trip to China and introduced the concept of noodles to Italy. Over time, since pasta could be dried and stored for months without spoiling, it soon became popular thanks to its affordability and efficiency.
That being said, China isn’t the only country we should be grateful to. It was the Italians who perfected pasta-based dishes by adding in their signature sauce: tomato sauce mixed with Mediterranean herbs. It is believed to be in the 19th century that pasta became wide-spread to many countries in the form of exported goods, including America.
So, once again, a big “thank you” to China, for coming up with the idea, to Marco Polo, for bringing the idea to Italy, and to Italy, who have spent years perfecting the formula and give it such a unique identity.
Are Recipes for Lasagna, Spaghetti and Marinara Sauce the same?
Pasta, contrary to popular belief, has more than just 1 sauce made of tomato. We have cream-based sauce, cheese sauce, garlic sauce, pesto sauce… in total, there are up to around 30 sauces. Spaghetti is one of the basic forms of pasta, and that’s why the term “spaghetti sauce” sounds inherently wrong. The idea just limits the diverse nature of the sauce.
Lasagna, on the other hand, somehow stands out thanks only to tomato sauce. I’ve seen people getting creative and coming up with varieties of lasagna, including vegans, but they invariably stick with tomato sauce.
Marinara sauce was in my head, a concoction of complexity that looks similar to tomato sauce but with smells and tastes which are more complex than its appearance. Little did I know that it was the simplest, most basic sauce with few ingredients: olive oil, ripe tomatoes, garlic, chilis, oregano, and basil. Tomato sauce, on the other hand, has been continuously renovated, and as such has countless variations contributed by chefs and housewives from around the globe.
Regarding the texture, marinara is a quick sauce made by sautéeing garlic and chunks of tomatoes until softened. You could only expect the sauce to have chewable chunks of tomatoes. With tomato sauce, it depends on how complex the ingredients are that determines its texture, either with bits of minced meat or blended finely, and cooking method, ranging from 20 minutes to over an hour.
Which brings us back to the one question you might be thinking: “Which suits lasagna best?”. They all work! I, however, love my food like I love my man, sophisticated and full of flavor. (so homemade tomato sauce it is!)
Which cheese suits Lasagna best?
There are many kinds of cheese, and their existence is not to confuse you.
Fresh cheese: They are made simply by draining the milk curds and heating in hot water to define. As the name suggests, fresh cheese should be used as soon as they are made and presented on the dish. Ranging from firm to soft and oozy, fresh cheese should be eaten as it is, with leaves of fresh herbs and a bit of salt to maintain its original essence.
Examples: Feta, Queso Fresco, Mozzarella, Cottage,…
Soft-ripened cheese: As soon as curds of cheese are formed, they are molded and exposed to molds to age from the outside in. They are cured for about 4 weeks, up to 2 months. Just like fresh cheese, soft-ripened cheeses are normally eaten as snacks or desserts.
Examples: Brie, Camembert, Fromager d’Affinois, St. Marcellin…
Semi-soft cheese: Made by compressing the curds slightly to form and rinsing them with a salt water and bacteria solution to develop molds on the rind. They take months to cure and, therefore, have a stronger scent than fresh cheese. Most are able to melt easily and some could be used in making fondue.
Examples: Muenster, Port-Salute, Fontina (fondue material),…
Semi-hard cheese: Instead of being rinsed with bacteria salt water just like how semi-soft cheese is made, they are instead left to ferment and harden for months or even years, which explains the firm texture. Semi-hard cheeses also melt and are regularly used in making melty toppings.
Examples: Cheddar, Gouda, Emmental (Swiss cheese), Manchego, Monterey Jack…
Hard cheese: Being compressed for up to hours or weeks and stored for years, they have the least water content and the densest texture and, therefore, are normally grated over dishes.
Examples: Parmesan (authentic version: Parmigiano-Reggiano), Asiago D’allevo, Grana Padano…
Blue cheese: While looking and smelling intimidating with the molds, blue cheese is totally safe to eat. While most molds appear on food release toxins and are indigestible, these blue Penicillium molds don’t produce these toxins and surprisingly, are healthy as well. Be careful of their smell and strong taste though. It could either leave you staggered or longing for more (just like I was).
The bottom line is that, among the varieties of cheese that melt, I prefer semi-hard ones. Instead of creating that stringy effect when you dunk your spoon in and lift out a piece, semi-soft cheese just melts all over the place, which doesn’t look so appetizing.
Lasagna Pasta: Dry or Fresh?
I always make mine fresh so they always come out tender and just at the right chewiness. But since you’ve read this section, I assume a quick and delicious lasagna dish is all you asked for right? Ain’t nobody got time for making fresh pasta!
So, my answer is do remember to dilute your tomato sauce with a splash of water. Dry pasta needs more water in order to be tender.
How to make Lasagna Recipe
- 1 lb. lean ground beef
- 1 egg beaten
- 15 oz. Ricotta Cheese
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 2 1/2 cups Mozzarella Cheese divided
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan Cheese divided
- 24 oz. pasta sauce
- 1 cup water
- 12 lasagna noodles uncooked
- Heat the oven to 350°F.
- Brown the meat in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Meanwhile, combine the eggs, ricotta, parsley, 1-1/4 cups of Mozzarella and 1/4 cup of Parmesan.
- Drain the meat. Put it back into the skillet and stir in the pasta sauce. Add 1 cup of water to the empty sauce jar; cover with lid and shake well. Add to the meat mixture and stir until everything comes together.
- Spread 1 cup of meat sauce onto the bottom of a 13×9-inch baking dish sprayed with cooking spray and start layering: 3 lasagna noodles, 1/3 of the ricotta mixture, 1 cup of meat sauce. Repeat layering twice. Top with remaining noodles, meat sauce and cheeses. Cover with foil sprayed with cooking spray.
- Bake 1 hour or until heated through, removing foil after 45 min. Let stand 15 min. before cutting to serve.