Lasagna was a big seller at Lista’s. On the menu it was called “Lasagna Bolognese.” Maybe because it contained meat sauce, or maybe because it sounded better than just plain lasagna. Either way it wasn’t for the small appetite… each serving was a full pound of noodles, meat, cheese, and sauce.
And making lasagna at Lista’s was an exacting procedure. First, you had to cook the noodles, then make the meat sauce, make the cheese sauce, and slice the mozzarella which came in 5 pound blocks and had to be sliced on one of those deli slicers with the rotating blade. (We only used low moisture, whole milk mozzarella, and it was deliciously smooth, stretchy, and just salty enough to make its presence known.)
Next, in a huge 18 x 24 inch roasting pan, with a certain precision, you assembled the lasagna… sauce on the bottom, two layers of noodles (one layer the long way and one layer the short way) to give it structural integrity, then sliced mozzarella, then meat sauce, noodles, noodles, mozzarella, cheese sauce, noodles, noodles, mozzarella, meat sauce, noodles, noodles, and finally more sauce and a sprinkle of Pecorino Romano on top. Everything done in a very strategic way to make sure the finish product was solid enough to stand up on the plate when served. Finally, the lasagna was baked in the oven for up to two hours until it was fully cooked and piping hot through and through.
Apparently because we were a family business I could legally work when I was 13 years old. So I started getting paid for washing pots and pans and doing some prep work in the back kitchen. (I wasn’t allowed to cook in the front “service” kitchen until I was 16.) It was around age 13 that I made lasagna on my own for the first time. After preparing all the ingredients and following the assembly procedure to a T — I looked at my finished work and thought, “perfect” and carried the nearly 40 lb. monster to the old Garland oven to bake for two hours. Finally, I extracted the beautiful lasagna from the oven and had to let it cool down before cutting it into portions. I was carrying it to the walk-in cooler when it happened… Wham! I dropped it!! There was no salvaging the piping hot mess of ingredients that lay across the threshold of the cooler. Dad came running. “What happened? Are you hurt? Did you get burned?” Nope. Just heart broken and a little afraid of what Dad was going to do. He just looked at my handiwork, told me to clean up the mess, and sent me home early. Dad never said anything about it again but I know that lasagna lesson cost him dearly.
Since that day I have made many pans of lasagna with much more success. These days lasagna only gets made once in a while in my family, and usually for a special occasion like my kids’ birthdays or a holiday. It’s definitely a bit of extra work but well worth it!
Lista’s Lasagna “Bolognese”
Prep time: 45-60 minutes
Cook time: 60-90 minutes
Serves: 8-12 servings
Tip: To make this lasagna in the Lista’s fashion with three layers it works best to make it in one of those aluminum foil catering pans (at least 12″ x 10″ x 2.5″ deep) with a rimmed baking pan underneath for added support.
1 (16 oz) package Dry Lasagna Noodles – cooked per label directions
1 lb Sliced Mozzarella Cheese (choose a low moisture whole milk cheese)
1 1/2 lbs Ground Beef
1 medium Onion – finely diced
1 cup Italian Seasoned Bread Crumbs
3 cups Lista’s Sauce or 1 (26 oz) jar store bought
1 lb Ricotta Cheese
1 cup Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese (plus more for topping)
3 Eggs – beaten
1 TBSP Chopped Parsley
6 cups Lista’s Sauce or 2 (26 oz) jars store bought
Cooking Spray & aluminum foil
Directions & Assembly:
1. Cook full box of noodles per package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water.
2. Make the Meat sauce: Crumble the ground beef in a medium sauce pan, add diced onion and cook over med-high heat until cooked through – breaking up with a spoon as it cooks. Drain excess grease. Add the bread crumbs and 3 cups (1 jar) sauce. Stir to combine and set aside.
3. Make the Cheese sauce: In a large bowl thoroughly combine the ricotta cheese, Romano cheese, beaten eggs, and chopped parsley. Set aside.
4. Prepare the baking pan with cooking spray then follow these assembly steps:
– Cover bottom of pan with 1 1/2 cups plain sauce (about half a jar)
– Place a layer of 4-6 noodles over sauce using partial noodles as needed to completely cover the bottom of pan. Cover the noodles with sliced mozzarella.
– Spread half the meat sauce over the mozzarella and top with a layer of 4 noodles.
– Spread all the ricotta cheese sauce over the noodles and top with a layer of 4 noodles and mozzarella.
– Spread remaining meat sauce over the mozzarella and top with remaining 4-6 noodles.
– Use your fingers to tuck the noodles into the sides of the pan and cover with another 1 cup of sauce and sprinkle with Romano cheese.
5. Place the lasagna pan on a rimmed baking sheet covered with foil (to catch drips) and place in the center of preheated oven. Bake for 1 hour or more until an instant read thermometer inserted in the middle reads 180º F. Remove from oven (Don’t drop it!) and allow to rest for about 20 minutes before serving.
6. While lasagna is baking, heat remaining sauce on the stove top over medium heat.
7. To serve, cut lasagna into 8-12 portions, set on plates, and cover with additional sauce and top with additional Pecorino Romano.
As I said, this recipe is a bit of extra work but the resulting lasagna is a hearty, meaty, cheesy meal that is worthy of any special occasion and sure to please your family or friends. Serve it with a fresh, crisp green salad and maybe some warm garlic bread.
Note: I have also made this lasagna using “no cook” noodles and using Gluten Free noodles and the results are just okay. No Cook pasta, in my opinion, can come out a little ‘gummy’ and I don’t prefer that — but it does make preparation easier. Gluten Free cooks know that the texture of GF pasta will be very different from regular pasta, and the next day it gets a bit ‘mushy’ but tastes good none the less. You can store extra lasagna portions in those reusable plastic containers in the refrigerator up to 5 days. Lasagna portions freeze well wrapped in plastic wrap and foil for up to a month (thaw and reheat in microwave).
Until next time remember… “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”