I’ve struggled for years with trying to make a decent lasagna. Okay, not like I’d stay up nights fretting about it or I’d try recipe after recipe for weeks on end. More like, once every 6 months I’d try a recipe, and it would fail for one of the following reasons: 1) it was an unbelievable pain in the neck to make, or 2) my kids wanted no part of it, or 3) it was so heavy that it made me feel ill. To me, a lasagna should be plain ol’ comfort food: easy to make and kid pleasing. Something you can fall back on. The problem is that “comfort” and “child-friendly” end up meaning mostly a ginormous pan of cheese and pasta. Anyway, I finally achieved success: this lasagna was pretty easy to throw together and I snuck vegetables in that my children didn’t notice, and the result was a meal that–okay, yes–is almost healthful as long as you’re serving it with a green salad or broccoli instead of garlic bread. Of course, I’m accustomed to failing at lasagna, so I wasn’t taking notes as I made it, but here’s my best guess about what I did:
- 2 T. olive oil + more and/or Pam spray for the pan
- half an onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 ¼ lb. ground beef (I suppose turkey/tofu crumbles would work–usually I do half-and-half beef and turkey, but I happened not to do that for this lasagna)
- 24 oz. jar marinara
- 15 oz. can crushed tomatoes (totally loyal to Muir Glen)
- 1 large zucchini, grated small (a yellow squash works here, too–just pick whichever vegetable you and your family are least likely to eat intentionally, because you won’t notice it there)
- whatever seasonings you might want, like salt, pepper, basil, or garlic salt
- c. 10 oz. part-skim ricotta cheese (at the time I feared this would stink, so I didn’t want to be wasteful, but in the future I might do a an extra half recipe just to use up these containers, and then I’ll have a little pan to pop in the freezer or share with a friend who needs a meal)
- c. 10 oz. part-skim cottage cheese (Cabot, yo! Also, my sister has been known to substitute in silken tofu here, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to try that yet)
- a package of the new Barilla flat lasagne sheets
- about 1-2 cups fresh baby spinach, leaves torn
- maybe 12 oz. fresh mozzarella (? I really have no idea how much of this I used. I know it was an excessive amount, but it’s delicious, right?)
- about 2 T grated Parmesan
Okay, now that ingredients list looks freakishly long. But I swear it’s not too bad effort-wise, really.
Here’s what you do:
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Actually, I may have preheated it to 375 degrees because I’m impatient, but I’m sure either way you won’t ruin it.
- Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat, add the onion, and let it cook for a minute or two. Originally I said cook it until it looks like it’s tender enough that you’re kids won’t bite it and say, “Eww! What is that!?!” But, really, it’s going to keep cooking, so you don’t have to wait that long at this point.
- Add the beef (or turkey or faux beef) and garlic and cook while stirring until it’s cooked through.
- While that stuff’s cooking, grate the zucchini and mozzarella so it’s ready and combine the ricotta and cottage cheese in a bowl. Here’s where I sprinkled some garlic salt in with the bowl of cheese.
- Throw the marinara, crushed tomatoes, and grated zucchini into the pan with the meat and onions and let it heat through. Season, if you’d like.
- Coat a 9×13 pan with some olive oil or a spray of Pam
- Divide the meat mixture and cheese mixture into approximate thirds, then start layering into the pan: meat, cheese mixture, sprinkle ¼ of the mozzarella and then some Parmesan, as much spinach as you believe you can slide in there (spinach loving families can have a ton, for spinach hating families, do a single layer and plan to tell the family it’s basil), and finally a layer of pasta. Repeat twice. You should end up with ¼ of the mozzarella still waiting, patiently, to be part of this recipe.
- Cover it with aluminum foil and pop that bad boy in the oven. Unless someone in the family really loves the crisped-out pasta, try to submerge that stuff in sauce. Bake for, say, 40 minutes.
- Remove the foil, sprinkle the remaining cheese on top, and let it cook for another 10 minutes or so.
Now, I don’t have a photo of the completed lasagna. I was pretty much assuming that it would suck as much as my other semi-annual lasagnas, so I didn’t take a picture, and then I thought it was really good but I was, oh, I don’t know, probably driving to gymnastics or soccer or something, so I just didn’t take a picture. But just now I had a little attack of remorse, because picture-free posts aren’t very fun and I don’t want you all to become just outraged that I don’t care enough to take a picture for you, so I rummaged in the kitchen and found whatever ingredients I could still find so that you’d have a picture:
Anyway, this is where I ask for suggestions for easy meals, because I get So Sick of Every Single Easy Meal I ever make, and I need more ideas, but then I look at 5 ga-jillion recipes and nothing’s appealing enough to try, and then I get so desperate that I foolishly ask my family what they’d like, and their answers are always the same:
Cute W: one of those delicious meals that takes 75 minutes, minimum, to prepare
J: artichokes and that one meal that Cute W really can’t stand
M: a variation on fried meat, usually, coincidentally, something that takes a minimum of 75 minutes to prepare
And that is when I deeply regret ever asking any of them, and I gradually fulfill their meal wishes over the course of the next 3 weeks, because if I cooked them all within one week I would go crazy, but I still want to be a delightful, considerate, and loving spouse and mother. So, I’ll ask you for new ideas or links to your favorite easy recipe sources, but not to sound bitter here? Nobody ever gives me any easy dinner ideas in the comments. I don’t know if this is because none of you are cooks or if you’re comment-phobic or what, but I want you to know that I just ransacked my kitchen and created a lovely still life for you, so does that make you want to help me out with some new easy meal recipes? Or you could also just drop meals off at my house, mmmkay? Thank you!