Saturday, March 8, 2014

Quick and Easy Lasagna ~ Oven Ready Noodles

I was amazed at just how quick and easy this recipe is to prepare. My classic recipe takes several hours of work so I rarely make lasagna. But this recipe that uses the "oven ready" lasagna noodles came out very well and took me only 45 minutes to prepare prior to baking.

Julian s' Lasagna made with "Oven Ready" noodles
I was always suspicious of these noodles, which require no pre-boiling. But when my niece made lasagna which was ever-so-good, she told me that she had used this relatively new product. I had heard people talk of crunchy lasagna made with these, and all types of special methods that had been employed to make them soft, none of which sounded appealing. But Julie's lasagna was quite delicious so I asked her for a copy.  Before I could try it, my friend Judy asked for the recipe and reported good results as well.

Now I've made it several times and my slightly modified recipe is below. I used Creamette brand "OVEN READY" lasagna noodles, and have not tested any other brand. I'm sure you will have great results as well and won't spend half of your day in the kitchen getting it ready to bake.

Ingredients (8 servings)

1 8-ounce box uncooked "oven-ready" lasagna noodles
1 to 1 1/2 pounds ground meat (see below*)
1 large onion, chopped

1 can (28 oz.) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can (12) tomato paste
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
15 oz reduced-fat ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon dried (or fresh) minced parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3-4 cups, prepared Italian pasta sauce

*Any combination of ground beef, Italian sausage or pork may be used. I try to use half and half if possible. Purchase lean ground beef if available.

In a large deep skillet or dutch oven, brown the meat over medium-high heat. Drain excess fat leaving 1-2 tablespoons in the meat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for about 3-4 minutes, stirring regularly. Stir in tomatoes, tomato paste, water sugar, basil, oregano and pepper. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer 15-20 minutes.

In small bowl, combine the egg, ricotta cheese, parsley, and salt.

Ready for cheeses and meat sauce.
Using the prepared pasta sauce, coat the bottom of a 9" by 13" baking pan/dish. Add one layer oven-ready noodles (no pre-cooking required) on top of the sauce. Place them about 1/4" apart and do not overlap. Fill in larger gaps with broken noodle pieces to complete the layer. Spread half of the cheese mixture over the noodles, 1/3 of the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, and top with 1/3 of the meat mixture. Add another layer of noodles, the remaining cheese mixture, 1/3 of the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses and 1/3 of the meat mixture. Add the final layer of noodles, topping with the remaining meat mixture. Top with the remaining shredded cheeses. Reserve the remaining prepared Italian pasta sauce for topping during serving.

Cover and bake at 375 degrees for 50 minutes, removing foil during last 10 minutes of baking. Remove from oven and let cool for 15 minutes. Cut into 8 pieces and serve with extra pasta sauce.

Make Ahead Notes
Prepare as noted above but do not bake. Cover with plastic wrap, then foil. Refrigerate up to 48 hours or freeze up to two months. Remove plastic wrap; replace foil.  Bake refrigerated lasagna at 375F about 60 minutes, removing foil during last 10 minutes of baking. Bake frozen lasagna about 1 hour 30 minutes at 375F, removing foil during last 10 minutes of baking.

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