No matter how you spell it, lasagne is great food for entertaining and with the SuperBowl coming up, you may want to consider this version as an option for the buffet table!
In its original Italian version (which may actually be adapted from a Greek dish) from Emilia Romagna (if Wikipedia is to be believed and on this one I am not really sure), lasagne is pasta layered with ragu, bechamel (creamy white sauce) and parmigiano reggiano. Lasagne has since been adapted and changed and reworked in so many ways that it has as many permutations as there are cooks who make it.
I have to say, I do not love bechamel. It’s okay when someone else makes it, but I would rather not. So, I do what so many do: layer mozzarella and ricotta and grated parmigiano and I am at peace with this shortcut that results in a creamy gooiness, no doubt horrifying to the Emiliani, but they are far away living their Italian lives and are not doing my dishes for me here in New York. And with apologies to the late, great Marcella Hazan, I am not ready to be making my own lasagne noodles, even though she maintains it is heresy to do otherwise.
My dad and I combined to make this for a recent family visit from my film student cousin, Lorraine, whose mom and grandmother came from Puerto Rico to visit her. In the Dead of Winter (?!). Rosa, Lorraine’s grandmother, is around 90 and this was her first trip outside of Puerto Rico. And of course it had to be during the coldest snap the country has seen in decades…Ah, grandmotherly love…
Anyhoo, I made the sauce a couple of days before based more on picadillo or Puerto Rican seasoned ground beef than anything Italian. My dad boiled the pasta and assembled on the day. And we all ate it up! Think of this for The Big Game or any other entertaining moments. Instructions for making the whole thing ahead are noted at the bottom.
Lasagne with less fuss, more Latin flavor
Meat sauce (can be made ahead)
1 Tbs good olive oil
½ Cup onion, chopped fine
1 Tbs garlic, chopped
2 Tbs Italian cooking pepper (cubanelle; pimiento para cocinar)
2 Tbs sofrito (homemade or store-bought)
1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. ground pork
½ lb ground veal
(or 2.5 lbs ground meat, in whichever mix you prefer, keeping pork to 1 lb. as a general rule)
1 Tbs Adobo powder
1 Tbs oregano
1 Tbs capers, drained
15 green pimiento-stuffed olives, sliced
28 oz can diced or pureed tomatoes
For the construction
1 lb lasagne noodles, prepared according to package directions, drizzled with oil to prevent sticking, and set aside
1 lb. part-skim mozzarella cheese, grated or cut into 1/8”-1/4” slices
½ lb ricotta cheese
Optional: grated parmigiano reggiano
Heat the olive oil in a large pot at high until fragrant. Add the onion, stir to coat and lower heat to medium. Cook onion, stirring occasionally for 3-5 minutes until translucent and turning golden. Add garlic, cooking pepper, and sofrito and cook for an additional minute.
Add meat and raise the heat back up to high. Cook meat, stirring frequently and breaking up the clumps with a wooden spoon. When the meat begins to get brown and crumbly, add the Adobo powder and keep cooking until the meat is fully cooked. At this point, you can remove some of the fat with a spoon, if there is a lot. I rarely do, but I am not worrying about fat intake when I make this dish!
Stir in oregano, capers, olives and tomato. Stir to combine, bring to a boil then lower heat to a simmer and cook for as long as you have time for; an hour is great. You want the fat to be separating from the sauce at the sides of the pot. Refrigerate (or freeze) if making ahead. Otherwise you are ready to begin the construction.
Preheat the oven to 350°F and set a rack in the middle. Set yourself up a comfortable assembly line of sauce, noodles, ricotta, and mozzarella and optional parmigiano with a three quart/9”x13”x3” casserole in the center. Start with a bit of sauce on the bottom to prevent sticking. Put down a layer of lasagna noodles; top with a generous layer of sauce. Dot ricotta on top, then overlay with mozzarella and sprinkle with optional parmigiano. Repeat until you fill the casserole, ending with the cheese layer.
Cover the casserole with aluminum foil and place in oven. Cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until sauce is bubbling in the bottom of the casserole (that’s why I prefer to use glass). Remove the foil and cook for an additional 5 minutes to get a bit of golden-ness on the top. Take the lasagna out of the oven and let rest for at least five minutes before cutting and serving.
(To make this way ahead and freeze it, I recommend an aluminum baking tray (glass can shatter if it is cold and you put it in a hot oven). Assemble the whole thing, but don’t bake it. Cool, then cover tightly with plastic wrap and foil. To cook, thaw as much as possible given your time frame. Heat oven to 350, remove plastic wrap and keep covered with foil. Bake for 1 – 1.5 hours, until heated through. Remove foil and brown the top for at least 5 minutes.)