My husband’s Grandma Nan wasn’t Italian but boy could she make a mean lasagna. In fact, I can’t order lasagna in a restaurant (well except Sir G’s or Sorrento’s) because nothing even comes close to this. The first time I had this lasagna was when we stopped by for lunch during deer season. Grandma Nan took two pieces of lasagna from the freezer and microwaved it for us, and I fell in love! If a piece of frozen lasagna can do that – imagine what it tastes like hot and fresh from the oven!
I recently made a big batch of lasagna to bring to one of my good friends who just had her first baby. I made a pan to enjoy while I was visiting and 2 small bread sized pans that she could put in her freezer and are the perfect size for her and her husband to bake up whenever they are looking for an easy dinner (I’m guessing there will be lots of opportunities for that as new parents).
So no matter how big your family is, make a big batch and then divide it up into various sized pans. A big 9×13 if you have a big crowd. Two 8x8s for a family of 4 (one for now and one for the freezer). Several bread pans for a family of 2. Or of course any combination of the above. The frozen pans (once thawed) bake up just as good as fresh baked – although they take a little longer. And go ahead and use foil pans – no clean-up!
Here’s what you need:
The pepperoni is the secret ingredient to this lasagna – you won’t be able to pick out that there is pepperoni in the sauce but you cannot believe the complexity of flavor it adds!
Start by finely dicing up the pepperoni. I try to get a dice that’s about the same size I’m going to be breaking the ground beef to when I brown it.
In a large pot or dutch oven begin browning the ground beef. Once it begins to break apart and is about halfway done throw in the pepperoni and continue browning – this allows some of the fat to render out of the pepperoni. Continue cooking and breaking up the ground beef until it’s completely cooked. Drain the fat.
Add tomato juice, tomato paste, basil, salt, and sugar to the pot. Bring to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.
While the sauce is simmering cook the lasagna noodles according to the package directions, drain, and rinse with cold water.
And make the cheese filling. Start by beating two eggs. Then stir in cottage cheese, parmesan cheese (yes, the stuff from the green can), parsley, and salt.
Set up your assembly station. I made a batch and a half from the recipe that’s at the bottom of this post (just take away one of the square pans for that amount). You need the sauce, noodles, cheese filling, and some mozzarella cheese.
Now it’s time to start layering. Start by spreading a small amount of sauce in the bottom of each pan.
Then lay on some noodles, you might need to overlap slightly depending on the pan you use. I like to cut the noodles with my kitchen shears to fit my pan. Save the small pieces to use in the layering later on.
Now add ½ of the cheese filling (divided among all the pans you are using).
And some mozzarella cheese (just under ½)
Now here is the only way I differ from Grandma Nan’s original recipe – I sneak in an extra layer of noodles. I think this has to do with my love of carbs which my sister and I share. You can skip the extra noodles if you like.
Spread on ½ of the remaining sauce.
And repeat to make a second layer.
After you add the remaining sauce on top sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella cheese.
If you are going to freeze one of the extra pans you made – cover tightly with aluminum foil and pop into the freezer. The lasagna should be pulled out the day before you want to bake it (if it’s still partially frozen that’s ok but it will take longer to bake).
Bake at 375 for 30 minutes. If you have thawed it and its been refrigerated before going into the oven it will probably take about 45-50 minutes. If the cheese starts to brown too early you can cover with foil.
Now here is the hard part. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes before slicing. This is a good time to make some garlic bread! As you can see I am a bit impatient and always dig in too early – it still tastes great but it’s hard to get pretty slices.
The leftovers are awesome to take to work. You can even put them in a square plastic container (such as Gladware) and freeze the cooked lasagna. Just pull out of the freezer and microwave when you’re craving a piece of lasagna – this is the way I enjoyed my first piece.
- 2 lbs ground beef
- 1 pkg pepperoni, finely diced
- 1 T basil
- 1-1/2 t salt
- 24 oz tomato juice
- 2 – 12 oz cans tomato paste
- 2 T sugar
- 10 oz package of lasagna noodles (about 14 noodles)
- Cheese Filling:
- 24 oz low-fat or skim cottage cheese
- ½ c grated parmesan cheese
- 2 T parsley flakes
- 2 beaten eggs
- 1 t salt
- 16 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
- In a large dutch oven, begin browning the ground beef. Once it begins to break up and is about halfway cooked add in the diced pepperoni. Continue cooking and breaking up the beef. Once the beef is cooked and the fat has rendered from the pepperoni, drain the fat. Add in the remaining sauce ingredients – basil, salt, tomato juice, tomato paste, and sugar. Simmer for about 30 minutes.
- While the sauce is simmering, cook the noodles according to package directions. Rinse with cold water.
- Make the cheese filling by stirring together the cottage cheese, parmesan, parsley, eggs, and salt.
- Place a small amount of sauce in the bottom of each pan. Add a layer of noodles (trimming with kitchen shears to fit the pan), ½ of the cheese filling, just shy of ½ the mozzarella, a layer of noodles (optional), and ½ of the meat sauce. Repeat the layers. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella cheese.
- Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes until hot and bubbling around the edges. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes before slicing.
- For any extra pans, cover tightly with aluminum foil and freeze. Thaw about 24 hours before baking and add 20-25 minutes to the cooking time.