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Friday, July 09, 2004

Recipe File: Meat Lasagna

Homemade lasagna is always a favorite at potlucks or a nice dinner at home. Although it has many ingredients, the recipe is pretty hard to mess up (although I did mess up while making this one). Here's my recipe for a simple meat lasagna.

There's quite a few ingredients, so I took two pictures: sauce ingredients and layer ingredients.

To speed things up, I use a food processor to finely chop six cloves of garlic and then a medium onion. In addition, I use a 28 oz. can of pureed tomatoes and a 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes. For the meat, I use 1/2 pound ground beef and 1/2 pound italian sausage with the casings removed. I used ground beef from the round for the illustrations because it happened to be on sale. Ground chuck is also excellent. A 1/4 cup of heavy cream is also needed for the sauce.

For the layers, I use 15 oz. container of whole milk ricotta cheese, 16 oz. mozzarella, 1-1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, 1 large egg, and on 8 oz. package of oven ready (no-boil) lasagna pasta. I grated the mozzarella in the food processor and used a microplane zester to grate the Parmesan cheese. Avoid using the pregrated cheeses because they are often additives that keep the cheese from clumping and make them last longer, but alter the taste. The egg should be lightly beated with a fork. We'll come back to these ingredients in a few minutes.

First, heat a large pan or pot (a dutch oven works well) over medium flame. I used a six quart saute pan for this article. Pour 1 tablespoon oil into the heated pan. After it begins to shimmer, put the finely chopped onions into the pan. Cook for about two minutes, stirring occasionally. We want the onions to soften but not brown.

Add garlic at this point and cook for another two minutes - stirring occassionally. Try not to brown the garlic.

Once the garlic is fragrant, add the ground meat and increase heat to medium-high. Break up any large clumps of meat while stirring. I use a wooden spoon and just jab at any large pieces. Add salt and pepper to taste (I like about 1/2 teaspoon of each). Cook until the meat loses it's pink color, but not start to brown (about three to four minutes). Now stir in 1/4 cup heavy cream to help hold the meats together a bit. Allow the mixture to simmer and thicken until most of the water in the cream has evaporated.

Now, add a can of pureed tomatoes and a can of diced tomatoes (drained). Stir the mixture until evenly distributed and bring to a simmer. After bubbles begin to form, lower the heat to low and cook for a few more minutes. The sauce is now done and we can set this aside to work on the layers.

For the layers, put the ricotta cheese, a cup of parmesan (reserving 1/4 cup for use later), the chopped basil, beaten egg, and some salt and pepper (about 1/2 teaspoon each works well) into a medium bowl for mixing.

Mix the ricotta and flavorings together with a fork, spoon or spatula until it's relatively smooth.

Now, we're ready to build the lasagna. Most of the time, people build the lasagna in the 13 x 9 in. baking pan, but I saw an episode of America's Test Kitchen where they prepared the layers outside of the pan. This turns out to be an easy and fast way of putting the layers together (also works if you have a helper in the kitchen - one person can prepare the layers while the other builds the lasagna). This method starts by laying out all twelve pieces of the lasagna pasta. Then spoon the ricotta mix unto each pasta piece - about two tablespoons each. Distribute any excess evenly and flatten the ricotta onto each pasta piece.

Assembling the lasagna is easy, but pay attention to what you are doing and how many layers there will be (I didn't and ran out of meat sauce because I was too liberal with it on the bottom layers). Prepare a 13x9 in. baking pan by applying a thin layer of meat sauce to the bottom, using just enough sauce to coat.

Then place three lasagna pasta (with the ricotta facing up) into the pan. Then cover the pasta with a fourth of the shredded mozzarella cheese.

Spoon enough meat sauce to cover the mozzarella and place another layer of lasgna pasta. Repeat with mozzarella, meat sauce, lasagna, mozzarella, and meat sauce. Be careful how much meat sauce you use because I lost track of how many layers I was building and used all the meat sauce - not leaving any to top the final layer.

The top layer of pasta goes on the meat sauce, upside down. Cover this layer with the remaining sauce. This is when I realized I didn't have anymore sauce. By not covering this final pasta layer, I was guaranteed a very hard, dry covering that would probably need to be peeled off before eating the lasagna. I'll take pictures of a correctly made lasagna, the next time I make one and repost here.

Cover the top layer of red sauce with the remaining mozzarella cheese and then sprinkle the final 1/4 cup of parmesan on top. This lasagna can now be cooled, wrapped and stored in the refrigerator for a couple days or frozen for a month.

Before baking, cover the top with aluminum foil. To help prevent cheese from sticking to the aluminum foil, brush or spray some oil onto the foil. Place the lasanga onto the middle rack in a preheated 375°F oven for 15 minutes. I like to place the pan in a baking sheet in case any bubble over occurs. After fifteen minutes have passed, remove the foil and continue baking for 25 more minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the lasagna to cool for a few minutes before cutting and serving.

Meat Lasagna (six large servings)
1 Tbs. olive oilcookaddaddstir inbring to simmerassemble375°F for 15 min. covered375°F for 25 min. uncovered
1 medium onion, chopped fine
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. italian sausage, casings removed
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 cup heavy cream
28 oz. puree tomatoes
28 oz. diced tomatoes, drained
15 oz. ricotta cheesemixspread ontop
1-1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup chopped basil leaves
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
12 oven ready lasagna pasta
16 oz. mozzarella cheese

Layer diagram
4 oz. mozzarella cheese and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
meat sauce
lasagna pasta
ricotta mixture
meat sauce
4 oz. mozzarella cheese
ricotta mixture
lasagna pasta
meat sauce
4 oz. mozzarella cheese
ricotta mixture
lasagna pasta
meat sauce
4 oz. mozzarella cheese
ricotta mixture
lasagna pasta
thin meat sauce layer
Copyright Michael Chu 2004

posted by Michael Chu @ 7/09/2004 01:02:51 AM   32 comments
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At 2:05 AM, Anonymous said...

stop eating the cattle, f#*ker.

At 2:26 AM, Anonymous said...

More Meat for the People!

At 5:18 AM, Anonymous said...

As to poster #1 above, what about a vegetarian lasagna dish? Cool site. Thanks.

At 8:49 AM, Anonymous said...

Hey, don't use up all the veggies! Do you have ANY idea how much vegitation I need to feed my meat pets before I devour their succulent flesh?

At 10:07 AM, Anonymous said...

I miss the sliced carrots in the meat, and foremost the Bechamel Sauce! It makes me think that the author is American, because lasagna in America has very little to do with the lasagna in Italy and Sweden it seems. I appreciate that there were no mushrooms, however.

Lasagna is my favorite dish, but here in USA I almost always get disapointed, my question is when ordering "Does it have bechalme sause? AND NOT MUSHROOMS!". Normally, they never heard the word bechalme, and they put mushrooms in it, then it's not lasagna (for me).


At 11:34 AM, Anonymous said...

For some reason this sort of dish is WAAAY better when twice-cooked.

Simply prepare and cook as per the recipie (perhaps reduce the cooking time a little). Then leave to cool. Refrigerate or freeze if neccessary. Then, before serving, cook it again. Microwave, even.


At 12:05 PM, Anonymous said...

if you're a vegetarian, don't put meat in it, dumbass

At 4:26 PM, Michael Chu said...

To my knowledge there are a couple types of lasagna. In Northern Italy a dish called Lasagna Bolognese is popular with Bolognese meat sauce and bechamel (instead of ricotta). Unfortunately, I don't know how to make this dish in a reasonable amount of time.

At 9:25 PM, Anonymous said...

Check out the latest "Cooks Illustrated" magazine for a Lasagna Bolognese (sp) that's "quick". My read is that it's a couple of hours, rather than all day. But bechamel sauce, et al is time comsuming.


At 7:50 AM, Anonymous said...

A common point of confusion is that lasagna isn't a particular dish, but a form of pasta rather like rigatoni or tortellini. Given some sauce X (pesto, ragu, or spinach with prosciutto and onions), you mix it with bechamel at 3 parts X to 2 parts bechamel (+/- a quarter or so depending on thickness of X and personal preference). Put down a bit of butter and bechamel on the bottom of your pan, put in a layer of noodles, then a layer of the X/bechamel mixture, more noodles, more mixture, etc., trying for at least six layers. Try to finish with a thin layer of mixture to avoid the hard crust mentioned in this recipe.

My best guess as to how the form of lasagna prevalent in America came about is that someone who knew a little bit about Italian food ate a lasagna, tried to recreate it, but had to make some guesses: a tomato sauce with meatballs crushed up, and the used of ricotta based filling for tortellini, ravioli, and other more conventional stuffed pastas combined to give this creature.

At 9:06 AM, VietBob said...

Has anyone created lasagna using an alfredo sauce instead of tomato? Lasagna Stroganoff? I love good lasagna but really don't like tomatoes all that much... If someone has done this, please share! If I get motivated some time when the right ingredients are around, I'll post it.

At 3:20 PM, Michael Chu said...

I had a condo-warming party (like a housewarming party but with association fees and an upstairs neighbor) on Sunday and I made my lasagna. It came out perfect, but I forgot to take a picture to replace the one on this page. We'll have to wait for next time...

At 11:06 AM, Anonymous said...

There is a dish popular among the church-luncheon set that uses lasagna pasta, a standard white sauce, mozzarella, and diced chicken. Add spices to the sauce to taste (garlic, salt, pepper, parsley, thyme, etc.). Layer the ingredients like regular lasagna. It's pretty good, if a bit bland.

My mother is from Chihuahua, Mexico, and in that region they make enchiladas in layers like a lasagna. Use your regular favorite sauce (green chilis are the preferred ones), white cheese, chicken or beef, onions -- almost anything can be part of the filling. Layer the (corn) tortillas with the sauce and filling mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes for a 9 x 13" pan. Your guests will love it.

At 10:51 AM, F said...

I'm writeing from Florence Italy, ada your blog is delicious for me. BUT: nobody in Italy uses ricotta in a lasagna!!!
Would you like to receive an ORIGINAL recipe for coocking Lasagna?
But in Italian, I'm sorry: you can notice how bad my english is...

At 12:50 PM, Michael Chu said...


Your recipe is welcome (in any language). Please post it in the recipe forum at


At 10:34 AM, F said...

Michael, I did as you asked. I posted the original recipe of Lasagnas in some (more o less difficult) different variants.
I posted also the recipe to prepare at home the bechalme sause: you NEED it for your original italian Lasagna (even if the bechalme sause was originally a french sauce: but in the last centurys italian and french cultures has strongly mixed themselves each other in the questions of cooking.
But everything I posted is in italian. Sorry, but if yu have problems you can try to ask to me.


At 5:08 AM, TI-Philippines Webmaster said...

Lasagna without bechamel or bechamella is no lasagna at all, except maybe a US/american version of a fake lasagna. Bechamel is just milk, butter and flour, mixed very slowly on a pna in low heat....till it gets some density - easy

Also a dash of nutmeg or italian white trouffle is needed for a superb taste

At 9:46 PM, Anonymous said...

American Lasagna? Yes. Fake lasagna? Well, when that much cheese, meat, pasta, and more cheese hits my stomach, it sure doesn't feel fake.

At 1:26 PM, Anonymous said...

what about updating recepies to measures in the international units system?

At 1:30 PM, Anonymous said...

Never been the lasagna lover, and for that matter a lover of anything swimming in tomato sauce. When my boyfriend started making cheese at home, however, I found myself with mountains of it everywhere. Incidentally, I came across this posting and happened to have all the ingredients. I used a little less sauce in my meat and cooked it for about 10 minutes longer. It turned out, fantastic, completely out of this world, can't wait to do it again. Thanks.

At 7:42 AM, Anonymous said...

Anyone try this with ground turkey?

At 12:24 AM, Anonymous said...

bechamel is really quite easy if you do it regularly. it is usefull for all sorts of things: macaroni and cheese, curry sauce, a la king sauce, and of course lasagne. it takes a half-hour to get it right but its a low-attention preparation as long as you stir regularly to prevent a skin from forming. so you could make it while working on the meat sauce. just stubstitute bechamel for cream, nix the ricotta, and combine parmesan with regular layers and this recipie works fine as a bechamel lasagne. bechamel is 2 tbsp flour and 2 tbsp butter on medium heat until fragrant but not brown, add 1.5 cups milk slowly to avoid clumps, add 1/2 onion with a bay leaf stuck into it with 2 cloves, cook on medium-low (never boil) for 20-30 minutes until thick and remove onion. should be thick, creamy, and a little sweet.

At 7:24 AM, Oded Sharon said...

I don't really like ricotta cheese, so I used cottage cheese instead, same quantities. It came out wonderful.

At 10:06 AM, sonia said...

Whoa... Much effort put into the table codings (HTML) especially! Cool!

At 5:20 PM, Anonymous said...

bechemawho?...Italian AMERICAN lasagna,like Italian american pizza is far superior to anything those raw pig eating butt pinchers are eating

At 12:28 AM, Anonymous said...

I'm Australian, and Lasagne (note spelling) over here is a basic (bolognese) meat sauce layered between a series of lasagne sheets, with bechamel sauce on the top layer with only a very small amount of parmesan cheese sprinkled on the bechamel.
Bechamel is a basic white sauce with a bit of nutmeg in it: melt a small amount of butter in a saucepan over low heat, add cornflour, stir into a paste with a wooden spoon, add cold milk, stir continuously until it starts to thicken, remove from heat, add a sprinkle of nutmeg and some black pepper if desired.
If you served me the greasy lasagne from your recipe, I'd be horrified at the horrendous fat content. It would make me ill.
Lasagne does NOT have to be fatty. Ask your butcher to mince some very lean beef for the meat sauce. DON'T EVER use sausages (very fatty). You can even use low-fat milk in the bechamel. And the only cheese in the dish is the small amount of parmesan on top.

At 6:47 PM, ThesOupFeinD!! said...

leave your brain when you leave. I have this great idea for this new soup! It's GREAT!!

At 1:28 AM, Anonymous said...

This is basically an extension of the Great Pizza Controversy that us americans have with british people. British people are closer to Italy so they like Italian style pizza, which as a person who has been to Italy a few times, I can say is totally different than american pizza.

My guess is this- both American Pizza and Lasagne are probably parallel evolutions to the Italian variety.

What happened was Italians came to the USA and tried to recreate their own food using local ingredients, maybe partly because they used what was at hand and partly because they liked some native ingredients more. In addition, some of the Italian versions are probably more recent inventions.

Neither is "right" or "proper", they just have different historical contexts.

At 9:34 AM, Anonymous said...

i was wondering michael, if you made half serving of this recipe, should you bake it half the time too?

At 2:24 PM, Michael Chu said...

re: half serving

You probably cannot halve the cooking time. Most likely you can shorten the cooking time to about 10-12 min. covered followed by 20 min. uncovered.

At 7:28 AM, Anonymous said...

Why are we so concerned about how "real lasagna" is supposed to look or taste. I like this one. I dont care if it is made with a certain sauce. If it's good eat it!! Dont cook it if you dont like it.

At 2:22 PM, linda said...

thank you for your recipe for the lasagna , i never made it before , i am very happy to find . linda


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