Lasagna – It’s About the Layers

I am not Italian. My parents are not Italian. Nobody in my family is even married to an Italian. My grandmother’s sister-in-law though was allegedly pretty friendly with Vic Cassano who owned a pizza joint and therefore, eighty years on, my family claims this lasagna as our own.

Mom’s recipe with my sister’s additions

Except the secret to this lasagna isn’t the gravy (the red sauce, for those other not really Italians who don’t know the lingo) or even the spices or the right kind of cheese. Vic, I’m told, was taught by his mother that the key to a good lasagna is all in the arrangement of layers. Even a so-so sauce and grocery store mozzarella and no-bake noodles, if layered correctly, will come together to produce a very respectable lasagna.

I’ve tested this theory a few times by trying other people’s lasagna recipes and following their layering instructions, and each time I wish the lasagna baked up and served as well as my family’s. Well, the Cassano family’s. Well, whoever the heck gave the recipe to Aunt Ruth eighty years ago.

Here is the most basic recipe you’ll ever read — or need — for lasagna. I swear that you can use any red / meat sauce you want here, and it will work out. I’ve slaved over homemade red sauces for this recipe, I’ve splurged and tossed a jar of Rao’s in with ground beef and nothing else, and I’ve split the baby and doctored up jarred sauce with onions and peppers and ground beef — and all three produce delicious lasagnas. My sister even skips the beef, simply sauteing chopped carrots and other veggies with a jar of whatever red sauce she has on hand, and that even tastes great (her children who have bloodhound-like noses for hidden carrots and disguised spinach might disagree).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat together with a fork:

  • One pint softened Ricotta
  • Two eggs
  • A healthy amount of pepper
  • A dash of dried oregano, if you have it on hand

In an 8×12 pan, layer the following using just enough of each that the previous layer is completely covered. If you’re using just jarred sauce, you’ll want two jars; if you’re doctoring up jarred sauce with a pound or more of meat and an onion and pepper, you can usually make one jar spread far enough.

  1. Sauce
  2. Noodles (No-Boil are fine, I like the Trader Joe’s ones)
  3. Sauce
  4. Shredded mozzarella cheese (again, bagged pre-shredded stuff is fine, or fresh if you have it on hand or are just feeling fancy)
  5. Noodles
  6. Ricotta mixture
  7. Noodles
  8. Sauce
  9. Mozzarella
  10. Parmesan cheese (seriously, the cheap finely grated stuff is fine here – it just adds a little extra texture to the top and helps it brown evenly)

Bake for 40-45 minutes. Let sit at least fifteen minutes before serving, so that it cuts cleanly.

When I’m cooking for a crowd, I’ll usually make my lasagnas a few days in advance. I bake them off right away, cover tightly in foil, and leave in fridge for up to 48 hours. If I’m really being an over-planner, bake, let cool slightly, cover tightly in foil and saran wrap, then freeze for however long you need. Defrost the morning before serving, otherwise it will take ages in the oven to heat through.

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Alicia Amling View All →

Recovering journalist who discovered a life outside of news leaves you time for things like getting angry, cooking and traveling. Plus, hopefully, writing. I’m a wife, dog mom and Washingtonian.

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