Making lasagna used to be an all day deal. With the sauces, the shredded cheese and the boiled noodles draped over every bowl in the kitchen, putting together a pan of lasagna was a labor of love. At one point we tried taking a short cut by substituting macaroni for the lasagna noodles, but it wasn’t the same. Lasagna needed lasagna pasta.
All that changed, or at least there was the promise of change, when no-cook noodles came onto the market. At first we were skeptical. Was it possible for hard, flat sheets to be transformed into soft, tender pasta without so much as a drop of water? As it turned out, it was. With a box of regular cooking noodles standing by, just in case, we took the plunge and layered crisp, uncooked noodles into the pan with meaty tomato sauce and cheese. We are happy to report that no-boil lasagna noodles work like a charm. Along with sliced bread and canned diced tomatoes, they are a culinary lifesaver.
Interestingly, cooks have been layering ingredients for centuries. Lasagna started as a flat cake that Romans cut into strips and combined with other foods. At some point, as a way of making a dish go further, pieces of fried dough were substituted for the cake. From there, it was just a step from dough to pasta.
Lasagna is the kind of dish that lends itself to tweaking, but we restrained ourselves. Our delicious lasagna has a robust meat sauce and a classic bechamel. Instead of mozzarella, we used sharp Cheddar, and of course, no-boil noodles.
Lasagna with Cheddar Cheese
1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 pound Italian sausage
1 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 (15-ounce) can crushed tomatoes in purée
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 cups 2% reduced-fat milk
12 sheets no-boil lasagna noodles
3 cups shredded aged Cheddar cheese
1. To prepare meat sauce, brown beef and sausage in a large skillet over medium-high heat about 10 minutes, breaking into small pieces. Spoon out most of the fat. Reduce heat to medium. Add onion and garlic; saute 5 minutes. Add wine; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until wine is nearly evaporated. Stir in tomato paste, chives, parsley and crushed red pepper. Stir in crushed tomatoes. Bring to a simmer; reduce heat. Simmer until sauce thickens, 10 to 15 minutes.
2. To prepare béchamel sauce, melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cook and stir for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk. Cook and stir with whisk until thick and bubbly, about 10 minutes. Cool 10 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 400F.
4. Spread 3/4 cup meat sauce in bottom of a 13-by-9-inch baking pan. Place 4 sheets of lasagna crosswise in pan over sauce, overlapping slightly. (The sheets will not reach all the way across the pan, but they will expand as they bake.) Top with one-third of the meat sauce (spreading evenly to cover noodles) and then one-third of the bechamel sauce. Top with one-third of the cheese. Repeat layers (starting with noodles) twice.
5. Bake, uncovered, 35 to 40 minutes, covering loosely with foil during the last 10 minutes if top browns too much. Let stand 15 minutes before cutting. Serves 10 to 12.
French-Style Lasagna: Substitute Comté (French Gruyère) cheese for the Cheddar cheese. Substitute 1 tablespoon crushed dried rosemary for the parsley. Use ground pork instead of the Italian sausage.
Italian-Style Lasagna: Substitute Parmigiano Reggiano for the Cheddar cheese. Substitute 2 teaspoons dried basil and 2 teaspoons dried oregano for the parsley.
Recipe by Wini Moranville.
Per serving: 260 calories, 24g fat, 24g prot., 31g carbs., 2g fiber, 710mg sodium.
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Photo credit: Mark Boughton Photography; styling by Teresa Blackburn