Lasagna is one of those things that everyone has a favorite, and everyone’s mama makes the best one. I’m no exception- and like most good cooking (rather than baking) recipes, there really isn’t a recipe. I doubt I’ve ever pulled the same lasagna from the oven twice. Sometimes I add eggplant and spinach, sometimes extra meat or sausage, sometimes I go completely vegetarian (my favorite) with lots of different cheeses. This is my basic recipe, which you can then spring from in a hundred ways… Be warned though- this is a good one.

Here’s the goods:

Meat Lasagna with Alfredo

  • two packages flat lasagna noodles, no need to boil
  • 4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 container perlini fresh mozzarella
  • 8 ounces whole milk ricotta
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup shredded parmesan, divided
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 pound mild Italian sausage
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 4 ounces diced pancetta
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • fresh garlic
  • crushed red chili flakes
  • 1 jar of marinara sauce of your choice or homemade
  • fresh basil
  • salt and pepper

Homemade lasagna is a labor of love. It’s a lot of work. Kind of like my cinnamon rolls. But also like my cinnamon rolls, it’s worth it. Every once in a while. So gird yourself up, and get cooking. First, you have to make both your sauces- for this, it’s not quite a bollanaise (which cooks forever and requires more labor than I’m usually willing to give), and I skip the béchamel in favor of alfredo- its easier and I like it better.

For your meat sauce, in a large saute pan over medium heat, begin to render your pancetta. (pancetta is uncured pork belly- basically bacon without the smoke- and will be your fat for sauteing)

Dice up half your large onion:

and add to the pan once the fat has rendered from the pancetta. When the onion is translucent and soft, add the ground pork and ground beef, and saute:

Really get it browned- but not burned- see the little brown bits in the bottom of the pan? You want this:

If there is extra fat in the bottom of the pan once the meat is throughly browned and you have crispy bits, drain it off, and then add your marinara sauce- homemade or otherwise. For this recipe, I used RAO’s, my personal favorite, and added a splash of cream. The cream gives it the body of a bollanaise, with not demanding the all day cooking.

Pour this sauce into a bowl and set aside, and get ready to make your alfredo. Alfredo is simple, easy and delicious, and only has four ingredients: Cream, parmesan, butter and garlic. How can you go wrong??

Squish a couple of garlic cloves (witness the winter-garlic green tinge- alas) and run them through with your knife or with a press. I personally like a press- don’t understand why some people disparage them. They work great. In the same pan you made the meat sauce in, heat some butter and add the garlic:

Then, when the garlic is toasty and soft, but NOT brown, add the whole rest of the container of cream. Yup. Just do it.

Let the cream come up to temperature, and then, while stirring, add grated parmesan (please, never, ever ever ever the stuff in the green can. please?) Let it simmer for a bit to meld all the flavors and thicken- it should coat your spatula when ready:

With both sauces done, now get your ricotta mixture ready:

Stir two eggs into the 8 ounces of ricotta until its well combined, then add some torn up or chiffonade basil

Now gather everything you’ve made and get ready to assemble. I told you it was a lot of work and a labor of love! Only very special people get lasagna in my house…

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Take your 9×13 baking dish and give it a good splash of olive oil and place a thin layer of the meat sauce in the bottom before you lay down your first layer of pasta. Top the first layer of pasta with meat sauce, cheese and dollops of ricotta:

Next layer, add a tier of pasta on top of the first layer and top with alfredo, perlini, mozzarella and basil leaves:

Alternate layers until you use up everything- ending with a meat sauce layer. The top layer should be scattered with extra parmesan and any other cheese left over- but no basil leaves- they will burn and blacken. Here we are ready to go in the oven- no foil or covering is necessary– but do place on a cookie sheet, because bubble-over is likely. Bake for one hour.

One hour. That’s all. Nothing more, nothing less. Then magic happens- and you pull out this beauty:

Now, whatever you do- no matter what- DO NOT CUT INTO IT YET!! This is a mistake too many people make with a fine lasagna. It’s like a steak- you have to let it rest! For at least 20 minutes- better 30- just leave it be on top of the stove. If you cut it while it’s molten hot, the cheese and sauce will just goop out all over the place, and ruin the experience. It’s better to wait- trust me. Use that time to make some screamin’ garlic toast or something…

Then, cut that beauty open– and voila:

Enjoy. And you’re welcome.

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