Recipe: Updated Red Sauce & Lasagna

After making the Lee Chili of Doom based on a co-worker's recipe, I applied the same technique to red (spaghetti) sauce for a batch of lasagna.

Mwah! My best red sauce yet.

For the laziest lasagna method: Day 1: Make red sauce.
Day 2: Assemble, bake, and serve lasagna.

Red Sauce:
Makes about 8 lb. sauce; you'll need half the batch for lasagna. Freeze the rest.
  • 3 lb. mild italian sausage (do NOT use ground beef)
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb. baby portabellos, sliced and allowed to dry off
  • 5 14.5-ounce cans of chopped tomatoes and their juice (the kind with as few ingredients as possible--tomatoes, salt, citric acid) Note: all but one can may be "crushed" tomatoes.
  • 1 small can of tomato paste
  • 3-4 bay leaves
  • 1/2 c. pesto (or: 1 small bunch basil, chopped; another 2 cloves minced garlic, 1/2 cup, not packed, of fresh-grated hard cheese like parmesan or romano)
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Olive oil (or bacon grease)
You'll need 2 largish skillets and 1 stock pot, and about five hours (most of which is just sitting around, absorbing calories through your nose every time you lift the lid).

Remove the sausage from its casings, if applicable, and brown in the skillets, breaking into bite-sized chunks. Add the minced garlic and brown for a few more minutes. Scrape the sausage into the stock pot and return the skillets to sizzling temperature. Deglaze the pans with red wine vinegar, adding more as necessary to loosen the crunchy bits off the pan and create 1/4 c. or less of pan sauce. Dump the pan sauce into the stock pot.

Add a tablespoon of olive oil in the skillets and bring to a fairly high heat, hotter than you used for the sausage. Add 1/4 of the mushrooms to each pan. (You want the mushrooms to develop their own crunchy bits, not to sit in a bunch of mushroom juice, so take the extra time to do this.) Saute the mushrooms (the drier they are before you dump them in the pan, the happier you'll be) until they are shrunken, wrinkly, brown, and smell a bit like meat. Scrape them into the stock pot and repeat with the other half of the mushrooms. Deglaze the pans with the red wine vinegar, as above.

Add 4 cans of the tomatoes, the can of tomato sauce, the pesto, the bay leaves, and 2c. water to the stock pot. Cover and bring to a simmer. Keep at a simmer for about 4 hours, or until the whole thing has turned into a mouth-watering mush and there's a little oil on the top. Pull out the bay leaves, if possible. I wouldn't let the thing go overnight unless you were using a crock pot, and even then, leave it on low.

You can serve it now, or refrigerate overnight. I suggest refrigerating overnight. To serve, add the last can of tomatoes and bring back to a simmer. You don't need to do this for the lasagna.

Makes one 9 by 11 pan. Preheat to 350F.

1 container of frozen chopped spinach or 2 small bunches of spinach, rinsed and chopped
1 small container of whole-milk ricotta cheese (6 ounces, I think) (Don't get low-fat for any milk product you intend to cook, other than milk. The product will probably separate.)
1 c. freshly-grated parmesan or other hard cheese, like romano
1 lb. mozzarella, fresh if you can get it (grate it if it's firm cheese; slice it if it's fresh)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 batch of red sauce (about two quarts, I think)
1 9-ounce box of no-bake lasagna noodles (I use Barilla; they're flat, which is handy if you're not going to boil the noodles first)

Thaw or heat the spinach on the stovetop or in the microwave. Allow to cool as necessary, then squish the excess water from the spinach, in small handfuls. Mix the spinach, ricotta, egg, and 1/4 t. salt and set aside.

In a 9 by 11 pan--I recommend a clear pyrex pan--spread 1/3 of the red sauce in the bottom of the pan. Add a layer of noodles, about 1/3 of the box, breaking up noodles to fill the empty spaces as necessary. Add another 1/3 of the sauce. Add about half of the mozzarella in a layer. Add another layer of noodles. Spread the entire spinach mixture over the noodles. Add another layer of noodles. Add the rest of the red sauce on top, then cover with the rest of the mozzarella.

Brace yourself. Take a few deep breaths. Now pour about a cup of water down the side of the pan, between the noodles and the pan. This is where the clear pyrex pan becomes useful: if you can't see about a 1/4-inch of water at the bottom, you need to add more water, but not more than two cups of water, total.

To noodles, water is life. But you don't want to spend the time cooking the noodles and trying to keep them from oozing out of your tongs as you assemble the lasagna, and you don't want to make your red sauce so wet you can't use it for anything else. IT WILL TURN OUT OKAY. Use regular lasagna noodles if you just can't stand the thought of not having crunchy noodle bits in the final product.

Cover the pan with tinfoil and put in the oven for about 1 hour, or until bubbly. Uncover the lasagna and turn on the broiler. (You can add more parmesan on top at this point, if you like.) Broil the lasagna for about a minute, or until the cheese on top is brown.

Let the lasagna cool for a few minutes (like, five or ten) to firm up before serving, because otherwise you will want to cry when you see that first piece slide around like mush on your plate. Delicious mush, though.