Monday, February 20, 2012

Quick and Easy Lasagna

I've always loved lasagna, especially when company comes over.  It was my mom's "go to company meal" when I was a kid.  As I left her nest and started inviting friends and family to my own home, I started serving lasagna because it reminded me of the comfort and hospitality of my childhood.

When we lived in Wisconsin back in our early days of marriage before kids, we met a wonderful set of friends who had invited us over for dinner after work.  When we arrived, there was a pan of lasagna on the table ready to be devoured.   It was delicious.  It set up on the plate without running all over the way mine usually did.  When I asked the hosts their secret, they shared that they don't cook the noodles first.  They just put them in the lasagna uncooked, and they were not the "no boil" kind.  Just the regular, plain old lasagna noodles.  They had discovered this secret first by accident because when they tried to figure out how to make lasagna together they didn't know you were supposed to cook the noodles first. 

Now you know I love any recipe that tastes like you've spent lots of time making it when you really have not.   So since our days in Wisconsin eating our first pan of lasagna with Paul and Laurie with the uncooked noodles, I fix my lasagna the same way.  When people eat my lasagna, they always say, "How do you get your lasagna to stay all together on the plate and not run all over everywhere?"  I've had skeptics who don't believe me when I say that you start with uncooked noodles, but once they try it, they never go back to the "old" way. 

I have made this lasagna for each of my girls' first birthday dinners because it was one of their favorite foods of their first year of eating table foods.  It easily impresses a crowd and can be made ahead in under 30 minutes and with ingredients that I often find on sale.  I use jarred sauce (usually Prego or Kroger brand) that I have enhanced a bit, but feel free to use whatever sauce your family likes, store bought or homemade.  I also use low fat small curd cottage cheese instead of the traditional ricotta because I don't like ricotta cheese.  I can usually find the cottage cheese on sale for $1.25 and try to pick up bags of mozzarella cheese for under $2.  As we enjoyed a pan of my quick and easy lasagna last night at dinner, the 3 year old gobbled hers up and said, "More yum-sagna please!"  I think that speaks for itself.

I didn't take pictures through the assembly process because we had company over the weekend and I was just cooking as normal, not as if I was making food for a blog post.  If I make it again soon, I'll post some more pictures.  I realized as I was writing for the post that pictures would have been helpful!

Here's the recipe:

Quick and Easy Lasagna
3/4 lb ground beef
2 Tbsp chopped onion
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce
9 lasagna noodles (I've used the whole wheat or white)
2 cups small curd cottage cheese
1 egg
1/2 - 3/4 tsp garlic salt (the mixture should smell like garlic)
1-2 tsp parsley flakes (you should see flecks of green throughout mixture)
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
2 Tbsp parmesan cheese

1.  Brown and drain the ground beef.  (I use a medium pan so I can just add the sauce on top of the meat after it's browned)
2.  Add the onions, garlic, salt, and pepper and cook until onions turn opaque (about 1-2 min)
3.  Add the jar of sauce to the pan.  Add about 3 Tbsp water to jar to rinse it out and then add that to the pan.
4.  Bring sauce to a boil.  Cover and let simmer 10-15 minutes.
5.  In a medium bowl, mix the cottage cheese, egg, garlic salt, and parsley. 

Now it's time to layer the lasagna.  I use a 9x9 pan because that makes just enough for our family and the amount of sauce.  You can play around with the amount of sauce and meat to make more.  If you double everything, it will make two disposable lasagna size pans (they are a little smaller but deeper than the regular 9x13 pan).  This is perfect for a large crowd or make one and give one away.

1.  Spray a 9x9 pan with cooking spray.
2.  Spoon a little bit of sauce in the bottom of the pan.  I try to get more sauce than meat for this bottom layer.
3.  Place 3 uncooked noodles on top of the sauce.  (You will have to break off a little bit of the ends unless you are using a bigger pan.)
4.  Scoop about 1/3 of sauce on top of the noodles and spread it around with the back of your spoon.
5.  Scoop about half of the cottage cheese mixture on top of the sauce layer.
6.  Sprinkle 2/3 cup or so of mozzarella cheese on top of the cottage cheese layer.
7.  Place 3 more uncooked noodles on top.
8.  Spoon 1/2 of the sauce left on top of the noodles and spread it around with the back of your spoon.
9.  Spread the rest of the cottage cheese on top of the sauce.
10.  Sprinkle about 2/3 cup of mozzarella cheese over the top of the cottage cheese layer.
11.  Place 3 more uncooked noodles on top.
12.  Pour the remaining sauce on top, carefully covering all the noodle.
13.  Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.  You can also add a sprinkle of parmesan
14.  Loosely cover the lasagna with foil.
15.  Refrigerate to bake later or bake immediately.

Bake lasagna at 350 for one hour or until bubbly.  Remove cover for last 15-20 minutes.  Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.  (If you make it ahead and then bake it, you will have to increase the bake time about 20-30 minutes)

Serve a big cut of lasagna with a tossed salad and hot garlic bread. 

Quick and Easy Lasagna
The noodles are tender, the sauce is rich and thick,
and it comes out of the pan without running all over the plate.

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