Making lasagna…

I have been asked how I make such good lasagna. I have to confess to actually not knowing the secret. It is not a secret. You just have to start with a lot of love and simple pure ingredients. You also have to be patient.

Now let me make my honest confession, it also requires you to commit 100% to making lasagna. If you are doing this you are committing to making lasagna! If you are going in, you are going in. I do not make just a little bit at a time. If I have to get my hands dirty and handle all of the ingredients I cannot eat, I am going in and making a lot. 
Let me just say that one of my favorite foods is lasagna. It always has been. So giving up pork and tomatoes has been a hard transition for me when it comes to lasagna. 
Anyway let us get started…
First make sure you have a really big bowl. I am not kidding. You are going to need it. Maybe you can make do with multiple smaller ones but after a few times, I finally just asked for a set of big mixing bowls for Christmas. I kept borrowing my mother’s. it was time. 
How big am I talking? Well 13 quarts might be big enough. You will need to be careful when mixing.

First, you need to brown three pounds of Italian sausage. You can take your pick on what flavor and variety. Just buy bulk Italian sausage to save yourself the trouble of having to get it out of the casings. Yes, I have had to do that before and it is lots of fun. I am using Mild Italian Ground Sausage in this case. 

I have been asked how I get my ground meats browned in such fine pieces. There is no secret, I promise. They complain that it cooks in large pieces before they get it broken apart, especially when working with large amounts. First, turn down the heat. It will not cook as fast. You will notice that I did not have an exceptionally large pan for three pounds of meat. This allows me to keep less meat in contact with the hot metal at one time while browning. Also remember to keep your spoon moving! Lastly, start with water in the pan and add some as it cooks off. You do not need a lot of water, but I probably started with about a cup of water for this amount of meat. I did not measure exactly. I probably added another half cup halfway through the browning process. What you end up with is nicely browned and small easy to distribute through a sauce pieces. 

You will still have to drain off the fat and water, but you have a lot of meat cooked in a short amount of time with very little frustration. Who can complain about that? I do not. 

Next you need eggs. Lots of eggs. Just ordinary, large eggs.

Beat the eggs. Beat them good. My children refer to this as “beating them into submission.” That is about right. They must yield to your desires. Just do not let go of the wire whisk to take a picture and let it fall down into the frothy eggs like I just did. It is all in the name of good lasagna sharing. Fortunately, I have another whisk to use. 
Mix in 48 ounces of small curd cottage cheese. Nothing fancy here. I have been asked why I use small curds over large curds. I just do. Actually, do you want that curd of cottage cheese starring back at you when you eat it? I do not. The smaller the curd, the less you have left when you cook it.

Just mix it in well. Cottage cheese is nice and creamy when it melts and it is a nice delicate flavor. I am not a huge fan of cottage cheese out of the container but this is divine! Trust me on this. 

This step is totally optional. Add 1.5 teaspoons of Penzeys Pasta Sprinkle. I really like the Pasta Sprinkle seasoning mix for a universal pasta and Italian seasoning blend. It is just a nice mix. I like it on pizza, especially Chicken Alfredo Pizza. It is amazing on Chicken Alfredo Pizza. If you have not tried it, you have not lived. People go for Italian Seasoning blends. I go for this.

Now for the fun part…

This much lasagna takes a lot of pasta sauce. Mix in eight jars of pasta sauce. Use the 24 ounce jars. If you use smaller jars, you will need to add a bit more. If you use larger jars, get as close as you can.

There is nothing special here, just ordinary store bought pasta sauce in the jar. Use whatever fancies you and whatever is on sale. Just remember that not all sauces are created equally and you will need to compensate for that. I will show you how in just a second. 

I am using a variety of flavors. I like to shake it up a little. Remember above that I said the spices, were optional? Here is why. You can shake it up with whatever pasta sauce you are using. The sauce is the bulk of the lasagna so it is going to reign on the palette so make it count. 
For this batch I am using two jars of each flavor to help balance it out. I am using two jars of the big name brand and six jars of the store brand. I used two jars of Ragú Chunky Garden Combination. This happens to be my children’s favorite sauce for pizzas. It has a lot of vegetables in it by the way, but we will not tell them that. The rest were all Kroger brand: two jars of Homestyle Marinara, two jars of Homestyle Roasted Red Pepper with Garlic, and two jars of Chunky Mushroom & Onion.

Use a large wire whisk to get it evenly mixed together. Be patient and be careful mixing so you do not make a mess all over the counter. Trust me on this.

Do not leave anything behind in the jar. Use all of your pasta sauce. You are going to need it. 

Just a note, your name brand pasta sauces tend to be runnier than your store brand pasta sauces. Your store brand pasta sauces tend to be darker in color. However, your marinara sauces tend to be runnier across the board, albeit thicker in the store brands. 
Keeping this in mind, you can use this to your advantage when emptying your jars.

I simply add some water to my jars (probably about half a cup) and replace the lid. I let them sit on the counter until I have everything mixed together. I then shake all the jars until the water mixes with all the remaining pasta sauce. 

Pour each of the jars with water in them into the bowl of sauce. Mix that all together. Yes, you have to mix all that watery pasta sauce in. Yes, the bowl is getting full. No, you are not done yet.

The water actually becomes beneficial with your thicker store brand pasta sauces. It helps keep your lasagna soft in the baking process and it helps cook those noodles thoroughly. It is a win win no matter how you look at it.

Remember waste none of that pasta sauce! It all goes in the bowl. Clean jars are a good thing when you are making lasagna.

Add 2.5 cups of shredded Parmesan cheese. This, by the way, is one of my husband’s least favorite ingredients. Do not tell him it is so prominent. It is what makes it so yummy. That and the cottage cheese. I splurge on this. There is the cheap and nasty stuff in the can on the shelf and then there is the absolutely divine stuff in the bags in the fridge. Go for the good stuff. It is worth it. I buy it in bulk at Sam’s Club in spite of my husband’s distaste for it.

Use your wire whisk and get it evenly distributed. 

Once you have it mixed together, you are ready to begin assembly of your lasagnas. The real fun starts now. You need to move everything to the table where you can set up and spread out. Trust me, you are going to spread out. It is all assembly line from here on out.
You are going to need a lot of mozzarella cheese. To start, something around 12-14 cups to get started. Yes, that is a lot of cheese. I just warned you that you were going to need a lot of cheese. Remember, it is better to have too much than too little. 

You can use which ever type of lasagna noodles you choose but I am lazy and I am quite partial to a particular brand and type. I only buy Barilla Oven Ready lasagna noodles. That is it. They are no boil. They are relatively flat and they are perfect in every way. You will see why in a few minutes. 
You need a lot of disposable foil pans, cake sized. I do mine 8″x8″ sized because that is perfect for our family and they stack nicely in the freezer. They are also perfect for the lasagna noodles of choice. Again, you will see in a minute. These are not fancy and you can pick them up in packs of 3 for $1 usually. Do not bother with the cheap plastic lids, they just crack, take up space, and ultimately get in the way. 
I start with nine 8×8 pans. I know I will always get nine pans. I sometimes get more, but I know I will always get nine. 
Using a ladle of considerable size, scoop some of the sauce into the bottom of each of the pans. Not a lot, but enough to cover the bottom. You do not want to see the pan. Working in layers, sprinkle your browned Italian sausage over the sauce lightly. Then sprinkle liberally with finely shredded mozzarella cheese. Top with two of the Barilla oven ready lasagna noodles. As you can see, these noodles and this pan size are a match made in heaven. Perfect! I do not have to break, I do not have to fight with them. I do not have overlap them. They just fit.
Repeat the process. Make sure you put enough sauce on the next layer to cover the lasagna noodles. You do not want to make them swim in sauce, but you want the edge of the noodles covered by the sauce. The sauce is what cooks the noodles.

The key to good lasagna is to have a sauce that is just runny enough and to have just enough of it in the pan to cook the noodles and to not have too much “liquid” left over so it runs all over the plate. You want the just right combination. Not too much, but just enough liquid. Your noodles will absorb some liquid, but these really will not absorb that much.

When putting on the next layer of lasagna noodles, rotate them so they are going 90˚ to the direction they were going previously. This helps provide good coverage and helps keep the layers together when cutting the lasagna. I do not know why, but it helps from everything sliding all over the place when it gets cut.

Repeat the process one more time, but this time leave out the layer of meat. The chances are you will not have enough meat, anyway. I usually do not. If you do, you can feel free to use meat here as well. I find that it cooks and dries out too much. Again, make sure your noodles are covered. You are going to put a bit more sauce on this layer because this is your top layer and ultimately the layer that is going to take the most direct heat exposure. The noodles need to have the best coverage to prevent crispy noodle syndrome.

Top liberally with cheese. I changed it up a little with my cheese on the top. I topped mine with Italian Five Cheese Blend mixed with Mozzarella.

You will notice my slightly smaller lasagna on the left. That was what I had left to work with after I did my nine 8×8 pans. That is a small rectangle pan I picked up at Walmart that is sized 5.3″x7.8″x1.75″. They are a great size for those smaller portion sized left overs or for small families. This actually works out to be a great sized lasagna for the boys for when my husband is traveling. It is not that they could not put down an entire 8×8 by themselves, it is just how many leftovers do I want in my fridge. Then again, they willingly eat the lasagna leftovers.

Unfortunately, I have an oven that is showing its age to work with. I have to be patient and kind to it. Baking a lot of lasagna in a short amount of time takes a lot of time so I still force my oven to do a lot more than it really can handle well. 

Bake in an oven preheated to 375˚ for about 40 minutes. Form an aluminum foil tent loosely over the pans as you put them in the oven. You can get them on the pans pretty tight but be aware that if you touch the cheese it will stick. I just tent it over each pan as best I can. This helps prevent browning too quickly. Obviously, it did not help entirely with these.

Remove the aluminum foil tents and cook for about 10 minutes longer to slightly brown the cheese. Clearly watch your pans around the edges of the ovens because those will brown quick. Mine browned a lot at the back edge of the oven in spite of the aluminum foil tents.

Italian Sausage Lasagna

3 lbs Ground Italian Sausage
6 large Eggs
48 oz small curd Cottage Cheese
1.5 tsp Penzeys Pasta Sprinkle seasoning (optional)
8 jars (24 oz each) Pasta Sauce
2.5 cups shredded Parmesan Cheese
14 cups finely shredded Mozzarella Cheese
3 boxes of Barilla Oven-Ready Lasagna Noodles

Preheat oven to 375˚F.

In large 13 quart mixing bowl beat eggs. Mix in cottage cheese and seasoning (if desired). Blend well. Add pasta sauce and mix well. Add Parmesan Cheese until well distributed throughout sauce.

Using a soup ladle scoop sauce into the bottom of 8″x8″ foil pans, enough to cover the bottom only. Sprinkle sauce layer with browned Italian Sausage. Sprinkle liberally with mozzarella cheese. Top with 2 lasagna noodles side by side. Repeat process again with layers of sauce, meat, and cheese. Top with 2 more lasagna noodles rotating them 90˚ in the pan. Repeat the process again with layers of sauce and cheese. Top liberally with mozzarella cheese.

Place in oven and cover loosely with aluminum foil – forming a foil tent over the lasagna. Bake for 40 minutes at 375˚ or until the cheese is fully melted. Remove the foil tent and bake for about 10 more minutes or until the cheese is lightly browned.

Cut into 6-9 pieces.

Freezes well.

You now have an Italian Sausage Lasagna that is divine to eat. It is amazing to the taste buds and it is worth the work involved. Like I said, if you are going to make lasagna, you might as well go all the way in. These freeze beautifully! I now have several to put in the freezer to eat on those crazy nights when children need to go every which way, I do not feel like cooking, or if I just need to make a meal for someone in need. You can do it too.

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