Dueling Lasagnas

Last weekend Christine returned for a fun visit! I knew we'd be eating out a lot so decided to set aside an evening for all of us to get together and eat. Since there would be 13 of us I wanted to find a recipe that could easily feed that many people and not be too difficult. Lasagna was an immediate front runner and ultimately we decided on it! I asked the rest of the guests to chip in with the sides - a tasty salad, bread, ice cream, and some wine. Everything came together so perfectly and the night couldn't have gone any smoother.

With the feast we were preparing we knew we needed two lasagnas! Originally I was just going to make vegetarian lasagna - mushrooms and other veggies in a tomato-based sauce. Well Patrick and Tim both requested some meat. Here begins the dueling lasagnas! I put Patrick in charge of the meat lasagna and I made the veggie one. There wasn't a good veggie substitute for the meat lasagna recipe in the The New Best Recipe so I winged it. It turned out really well. For the most part I followed the same recipe as the meat lasagna Patrick was preparing but substituted mushrooms and celery for the meat. I'll note this in the lasagna recipe. In this post I've included the two lasagnas, bread, and salad recipes. Be on the lookout for our dessert!

Hearty Meat Lasagna
Tomato-Meat Sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine
6 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed we pressed
1 lb meat loaf mix  
    For the veggie version, substituted 12 oz chopped mushrooms and 3 stalks chopped celery
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 - 28 oz can pureed tomatoes
1 - 28 oz can diced tomatoes used a can of peeled whole tomatoes and crushed them with our hands
Ricotta, Mozzarella, and Pasta Layers
15 oz whole-milk or part-skim ricotta cheese used part-skim
2 1/2 oz Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves used dried
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
12 no boil lasagna noodles
1 lb whole-milk mozzarella cheese, shredded

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375F.
2. For the sauce: Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottom Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering but not smoking, about 2 minutes; add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the ground meat (or mushrooms/celery), salt, and pepper; cook, breaking the meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon, until the meat loses its raw color but has not browned, about 4 minutes. (I turned the heat down a little while the veggies cooked since they wouldn't need as long as the meat and Patrick and I were cooking these simultaneously. The veggies do release more moisture and this sauce will have a little more liquid than the meat sauce but this was eventually absorbed in the casserole.) Add the cream and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid evaporates, and only the fat remains, about 4 minutes. Add the pureed and diced tomatoes and bring to a simmer; set the sauce aside. (The sauce can be cooled, covered, and refrigerated for 2 days; reheat before assembling the lasagna; we did this.)


Meat vs Veggie
3. For the layers: Mix the ricotta, 1 cup of the Parmesan, the basil, egg, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl with a fork until well combined and creamy; set aside.
 4. Smear the entire bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish with 1/4 cup of the sauce. Place 3 noodles in the baking dish to create the first layer. Drop 3 tablespoons of the ricotta mixture down the center of each noddle and level the domed mounds by pressing with the back side of a measuring spoon (fork works just fine). Sprinkle the layer evenly with 1 cup of the shredded mozzarella cheese. Spoon 1 1/2 cups of the sauce evenly over the cheese. Repeat the layering of noodles, ricotta, mozzarella, and sauce two more times. Place the remaining 3 noodles on top of the sauce, spread the remaining sauce over the noddles, sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella, then with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan. Lightly spray a large sheet of foil with nonstick cooking spray and cover the lasagna.

Layering assembly station
5. Bake 15 minutes, then remove the foil. Return the lasagna to the oven and continue to bake until the cheese is spotty brown and the sauce is bubbling, about 25 minutes longer. (It took much longer than this for us.) Cool the lasagna about 10 minutes; cut into pieces and serve.

For the sides:
Garlic bread (special thanks to Jess)
  Sliced rustic bread smeared with fancy French butter and sprinkled with Italian seasonings and garlic powder.
Tasty Greek salad (special thanks to Richard)
Veggies: romaine lettuce hearts, cucumber, red onion, heirloom cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, feta cheese
Croutons: toasted stale bread with crushed garlic, vegetable supreme seasoning, salt and pepper, olive oil
Lemon Vinaigrette: juice of 1 lemon, olive oil, scoop of spicy mustard, dried oregano, basil, parsley, minced garlic, salt and pepper


Our feast!

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