An Easy Lasagna Recipe

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:

Ingredients:

  • 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:

Nice, right?

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!

 

 

13 Comments

  1. Pattie

    I’ll bite because I am desperate for others’ suggestions too!

    Not fancy, but does the job: stir fry the pre-cooked semi-healthy sausage from the meat section with onions and bell pepper (and whatever else). You can throw in a chopped tomato to bind. Serve over couscous.

  2. Most of my meals come straight from my much beloved and completely trashed Martha Stewart Good Food Fast cookbook. I really should ask Santa for a new one. Like no other cookbook or source, I’ve tried probably 40 recipes from there and my kids eat them all. I usually try one new one a week == tonight was the sloppy joe’s (which, I’ll admit, weren’t as tasty as I expected). I paired it with the uber-easy and ridiculously tasty carrot soup. Seriously, check out this cookbook — they’re easy recipes with mostly common ingredients.

  3. Cheri

    Pinterest is my new favorite place to find recipes but tonight’s meal was easy, fast and yummy! It was a rolled up chicken cordon blue type with couscous and peas. That sounds hard, doesn’t it? It totally wasn’t at all because between buying that really thin chicken breast and topping the roll with a half piece of swiss cheese, it completely stayed together. It called for broiling it for 8 minutes and the couscous was done in 6. Seriously fast and yummy! Here’s the link:
    http://www.marthastewart.com/316874/chicken-ham-and-cheese-roll-ups

  4. Kimberly

    Frozen chicken in crockpot with jar of salsa. You can also add pineapple chunks, corn or black beans. At end if want, can also add cream cheese to make creamy (not if use pineapple). Can serve over rice or in tortillas. Very easy and yummy!

  5. Bekki

    Easy Chicken Taco Chili

    1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast
    1 1.2-oz packet taco seasoning mix
    2 15-oz cans chunky Mexican style tomatoes
    1 15-oz can red kidney beans
    1 15-oz can whole kernel corn

    Place everything in a slow cooker and cook on low heat 6-8 hours or high heat 3-4 hours. About an hour before serving, remove chicken and shred. Return shredded chicken to crock pot for remainder of cooking time. (Alternatively, use ground beef or ground turkey – no shredding required.) Serve over cornbread.

  6. @Bekki, thanks! We do a similar recipe, and I just can’t get enough slow cooker recipes. I love smelling them and feeling like I’ve accomplished dinner already during the day.

  7. Erin T

    From a beloved Alice Waters cookbook, Chez Panisse Vegetables, a roasted pumpkin and garlic soup that is one of my favorites and incredibly easy. Split the pumpkin in half, brush cut part with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, but a spring of thyme and three garlic cloves in the cavity. Roast cut side down (at 375, maybe?) until roasted through (30 minutes or so, I think?). Scoop out pumpkin and put in a pot with the garlic and thyme. Add a quart of broth, stir, bring to a simmer, and blend. While the pumpkin is roasting, I try and make a salad to round out the meal. The recipe also calls for homemade black pepper croutons, which make the whole meal, to me. I go easy on the black pepper and the joy of the croutons makes my kids eat the soup.

    Phew. Sorry this is so long. I’m writing from memory on this one.

  8. Michelle

    Okay, so this sounds long and complex, but I swear it isn’t. We make it a lot in the winter, and I surprised myself by *really* liking the kale (which if you know me, is kind of shocking)

    Sausage & Cannellini Bean Gratin

    3T Olive Oil
    +/- 1 lb italian sausage (I use ground turkey sausage)
    1 small fennell bulb
    1 small onion
    5 cloves minced garlic (or a couple spoonfuls of the jarred stuff)
    2T chopped sage (can be skipped if hard to find – I rarely remember to pick it up)
    1 large bunch of kale (stems removed, chopped or ripped into small pieces) – or any other green you like (I sometimes double this ’cause the kale is my favorite part of this recipe!)
    1/2c chicken broth
    2 cans Cannellini beans (drained)
    salt/pepper to taste
    1/2c bread crumbs
    1/3c parmesan cheese

    preheat oven to 350

    lightly grease an 8×10 baking or gratin dish with oil

    in a large skillet, crumble sausage and brown.
    remove sausage from skilled and add fennel and onion and cook until translucent
    add garlic and sage and cook apx 1 min more
    add kale a handful at a time and cook until wilted
    stir in broth, sausage, beans and salt/pepper

    Spoon mixture into baking dish and top with breadcrumbs and grated cheese

    Bake apx 30 mins until golden brown and bubbly.

    (for a gluten free recipe, skip bread crumbs and use parmesan cheese alone)

  9. Michelle

    We also do a pasta and veggie based meal fairly often.
    Egg noodles, broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, onion. Topped with parmesan cheese. Egg noodles cooked separately, veggies sort of stir fried, mixed in with the noodles, sometimes with a little butter or olive oil. Yum!

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