When I was considerably younger – gosh, like half of my current age. (Gee, that was a while ago!) I worked at Nike International, Ltd. Not too terribly long into my employ there I met the nicest, funniest, most gracious lady by the name of Ardy. She was not only nice, funny, and gracious, but she – oh, so importantly – shared my faith, and an appreciation and love of good food.
Early on into our relationship Ardy learned I knew how to crochet. She proposed a swap… she had a lovely antique dining table that she’d like to have covered with a crocheted table cloth, and I had a Bible that was in tatters… she thought I could perhaps crochet her a table cloth, and that perhaps she could have my very favorite Bible rebound in leather.
I quickly agreed to her proposed course of action and glibly told her it’d take me a few weeks to make her tablecloth.
Over the course of the :ahem: year-long making of said (even if I do say so myself) lovely tablecloth I would stop by her lovely home to have the table try the tablecloth on for size.
We, of course, would have to make dinner.
Ardy was one of those people who just encouraged my heart by being. She had this amazing fullness of all of the good things that get stuffed into who you are when you’re a child of God and just kinda ooze out of every pore because you’ve started to become more and more like Jesus. Having the very precious honor and privilege to share a meal with she and her husband in their lovely home was nothing less than a balm to my soul.
We talked food a lot, Ardy and I. One day she said, “Oh – I make the world’s best lasagna!” To which I said, “I don’t know how, because I make the world’s best lasagna!” We laughed, and then she proposed that one our next table-fitting, we combine forces to take over the lasagna-making world. I, of course, agreed!
When I learned to make lasagna years and years ago by a mostly only Italian-speaking older lady who did a lot of pointing and gesturing and speaking rapid Italian at me in the hopes that I might somehow learn a thing or two, it was always made with a mixture of lean ground beef and sweet Italian sausage for the meat portion. Honestly – it was fabulous – and you can find the recipe for it here. But Ardy made a lasagna with a sliced spicy Italian sausage – and honestly, that was the really only significant difference, the meat sauce factor – and it was fabulous.
I thought it only fair to share the fabulousness with you.
First, you start with cooking a pound of lasagna noodles:
I use my deepest stock pot – I think it’s a 7 quart size, and put about 3 Tablespoons of sea salt in there, get it going to a boil, and then drop in the noodles one at a time. Once they’re all in, let it cook for 10 minutes.
While the noodles are cooking, slice up the sausage. I found these at Costco – they’re an organic hot link, beef and pork, and honestly, not burn your lips off spicy, but they’ve got a lovely little level of heat in there.
I slice them fairly thinly.
Once they’re all sliced up, transfer them to a large sauce pan, and sauté them. The goal here – in all honesty – is to just brown them up a bit, and sweat off some of the fat.
Once the sausage is warmed through and browned up a bit, drain the fat off and return it to the pan.
Now you’re going to add in 2 29-ounce cans of tomato sauce, and 1 6-ounce can of tomato paste. I also add a couple of Tablespoons of dried parsley, about 1 Tablespoon of garlic powder, 1 teaspoon of coarse ground black pepper, a couple of Tablespoons of dried basil, and about a teaspoon and a half of dried oregano.
Remember that the sausage is pretty flavorful, so you don’t need a ton of doctoring here.
Go ahead and stir it up completely, slap a lid on, and keep it at a simmer while you move on to the other components.
About now the lasagna noodles are cooked. Go ahead and dump out most of the hot water, and then run cold water over the pot of noodles:
Once it’s all cooled, lay the noodles out on a sheet pan or a sheet of aluminum foil so that they’ll dry out a bit. Just set them aside.
Now, time to shred the mozzarella. Yes, you could pull out the food processor and do this in moments. BUT – one, the food processor weighs a ton and is a lot to clean up, and the truth of the matter is that it’s only going to take a few minutes longer to do so with a box grater. This is two pounds of mozzarella.
Now, time to put together the cheese sauce.
This is two pounds of Ricotta cheese, one pound of cottage cheese, six lovely fresh eggs laid just today, about a cup of shredded parmesan cheese, a couple of Tablespoons of Garlic Salt, a couple of Tablespoons of dried parsley, and about one Tablespoon of dried basil. Pull out your hand mixer and mix this baby up until it’s all nicely incorporated. Here’s what it’ll look like:
A quick word about cottage cheese. It seems like it’s a love it or hate it kind of ingredient. If you say – I hate cottage cheese so I’d leave the cottage cheese out – that’s fine – live it up. The truth of the matter is that I absolutely DETEST cottage cheese. A good portion of the fact for that being that I’m allergic to a lot of dairy stuff and cottage cheese is one of those things that once consumed makes me wish someone would shoot me and put me out of my misery. The beauty with this is that once it’s cooked, there’s really no discernable cottage cheese – and somehow the cooking of it kills off the bad enzyme that kills my gut, and makes it a very happy thing to consume! So…. if you’re convinced cottage cheese is evil, you just might find that in this application it’s not quite so bad.
Okay – so time to assemble! Using half of each ingredient, start layering.
First, a layer of noodles. I make sure that they overlap a bit:
Next, cheese sauce:
Now, meat sauce:
And now a layer of mozzarella:
I should mention that on the second layer of lasagna noodles I change the primary direction of the noodles. First layer they went width-wise. This layer they’re length-wise. I use left over noodles to patchwork any gaps.
Also – I should also mention that this is a saucier lasagna than some others. You just need to know that going in. It’s sloppy and messy – but well, oh so very worth dealing with!
Here’s what it looks like ready to go into the oven:
Probably important to point out that this is a HUGE batch of lasagna. I typically make a big batch like this once every month or so. We’ll eat on it for lunches and snacks over the course of a week – and believe me, there are never any leftovers that don’t get consumed in that period of time.
If I’m feeling extra thrifty, I’ll purchase several disposable aluminum pans and portion this out to make two or three smaller lasagnas – one to eat for now, the balance to put in the freezer for later.
So – it goes in a 375 F oven for about an hour. I want it to temp out between 150 and 160 F.
Once it’s done, remove it from the oven and let it sit.
Like for at least half an hour.
Seriously – it needs the rest – and you’ll be a happier camper for the wait.
And that’s pretty much all it takes. We love this dish – it’s so yummy. And yes, it’s not a 30 minute meal – but it’s worth every minute invested in creating it!
What did I tell you? Messy! BUT – totally yummy!