Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Lasagna 101 and No Cook Pasta.

I don't cook my lasagna sheets before hand when making lasagna; there, I've said it.  No, I do not and I have various reasons for it; not just out of convenience.  Now there are folks out there who will cry "Blasphemy!" and there will be others who will sigh in relief that they're not the only ones.  Then there are those who have never made lasagna; they thought it was too difficult, especially the part about manipulating long sheets of pasta without creating chaos.  This blog post is geared mostly towards those people.

My reasons for not cooking the pasta sheets before hand: convenience of course; the pasta cooks more evenly inside the baking dish; it absorbs the flavors of the tomatoes, herbs and garlic from the sauce it is simmering in; by leaving gaps and layers between the sheets gives them ample room to not stick together and become gummy (the sheets will expand during the baking process also).  Your question might be, "Do I need to buy lasagna sheets that specially say "no cook" on the box?"  The answer is no!  You can use those pretty, curly ended sheets; they are cooking in a liquid medium anyway, but in a manner that ensures they will not be over or undercooked.  I purchase both types only because the smaller "no cook" sheets fit perfectly in 9" x 5" x 3" aluminum loaf pans which I can freeze for a later meal (2-3 servings); or give away.  I can use either/or in the 9" x 12" x 3" aluminum baking pans.  Why the aluminum pans and not glass casserole dishes?  Simple answer is, "No clean up!"  Oh sure, they have that new liner paper out for the glass dishes, but it takes up room and I'd rather have more sauce than paper.

Embedded in the following words are links to the recipes for those items, so simply click on them: Sauce from Fresh Tomatoes, Sauce from Canned Tomatoes, including Meat Sauce, Vegetarian Pasta Sauce, Lasagna.  You're probably going to notice that older recipe for Lasagna may not exactly match what I describe in today's post.  None of my recipes are 100% gospel; no matter how well the dish comes out, I'm always looking to improve and update my own recipes.  Lets start creating an awesome lasagna.

Now I'm warning you now that this will be a fairly long blog posting; making a great lasagna takes time.  It's not as simple as Gordon Ramsay (Kitchen Nightmares) or Robert Irvine (Restaurant: Impossible) make it seem on their shows; the sauce is already prepared, the noodles already cooked and the cheese is either cool or at room temperature.  That's why it can be layered together quickly, placed under a broiler and done in about 10 minutes; it's more of a warming process than a cooking one.

You need to have a great sauce for Italian dishes and that means Homemade!  Whether it is from fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes, meat sauce or even a vegetarian sauce; it's made with your own hands and that means made with love!  You will need a minimum of 14 cups, perhaps 16 especially if you want to serve a bowl on the side; and at room temperature.

.A mixture of cheeses truly enhances a dish like lasagna: 10 cups of Ricotta ( I use half whole milk, half part skim; but you can use all whole or all part skim too); 2 cups small curd Cottage Cheese (this is an American addition which adds needed liquid, but a little tang to the mixture), 1 bag (8 ounces) each of shredded Mozzarella and shredded Provolone, 1 cup shredded Romano cheese.  The cheeses should be cool, but not cold; mix them all together in a large bowl, except for half the Mozzarella and half the Provolone. Takes those halves, mix together and set aside.

Lasagna noodles, the "no cook" are usually smaller and wider than regular sheets, and have a "wavy" structure; these are recommended for loaf pans.  The regular sheets (need to cook, but we're not going to) are longer, thinner, flatter, have a curly ending along the sides.  The number needed depends on which type of pans being used: 30 curly ended for 2- 9" x 12"; 20 no cooks for 4- 9" x 5" loaf pans; or for what I made, 15 curly for 1- 9" x 12" and 10 no cooks for 2- 9" x 5" loaf pans.

                                                                                                           Preheat the oven to 375F; lightly spray the pan interiors with nonstick cooking spray (we don't want to leave any yummy sauce sticking to the pan).  Spread one cup of sauce over the bottom.

Place one sheet over the sauce and press down slightly.  See that space at the ends of the sheet; this is going to allow the liquids in the sauce to simmer up the sides, be absorbed by the sheets and cook them to tender perfection.  The sauce will thicken up with the absorption of the excess liquid.

                                                                                                                 From the cheese mixture in the large bowl, spread a thickness of between 1/4" and 1/2" over the pasta sheet only.

Spread a half cup of sauce over the cheese as evenly as possible.  Now we begin to repeat the layering process with a pasta sheet over the sauce; press down slightly; spread cheese, sauce, sheet, cheese, sauce, sheet, (however a slight change) sauce, sheet.  We will end up with three layers of cheese filling total; and a top layer of sauce only between the sheets.
Now that final pasta sheet you laid down; spread sauce evenly over it, but do not fill in the sides of the pan.  Remember, the liquids from the sauce need that space to move around in; not enough free space and you'll have an overflow onto your oven floor.

 Using the large pan, 3 sheets will go side by side, but have room for the liquid to move through and cook.  The layering process is essentially the same as the small pans.

Bake the lasagnas for one hour; spread the remaining Mozzarella and Provolone mixture over the tops of each and return to the oven for 20 minutes.

  Aren't they beautiful!?!
Now the single serving pictured above is after letting the lasagna rest only 15 minutes; the longer you wait, the firmer the servings will become.  While I may have patience in creating this most outstanding meal, I have none with waiting to eat it!  The longer you wait though, the cooler it is becoming also; so your big decision is do you want it pretty, but cold; or hot, messy and absolutely out of this world delicious?
Mary Cokenour


  1. G'day! LOVE lasagna, TRUE!
    Really enjoy your multiple photos too!
    Cheers! Joanne
    What's On The List

    1. Thank you; please feel free to feature it on your food blog with a link.