Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mom's Lasagna

My mom is famous for her lasagna. We requested it for nearly every birthday dinner as we were growing up. She makes it for families in her church who are bereaved or who have just had a baby. And it's the first meal she ever prepared for my husband when I brought him home to meet my parents. Even now, when we head there for a visit, it's often on the menu.

And even though I asked for her recipe and try to stick to it as much as possible, I have to say, she makes it better. Still, I try. And now you can, too! Not only that, but you can prepare it in the crockpot if you've a mind to. Look for instructions at the bottom of this post.

Here's what you need:

9 lasagna noodles
1 lb ground beef, browned and drained
5-6 cups spaghetti sauce (she uses Ragu)
2 TBSP dried oregano
1 TBSP each dried basil and Italian seasoning
1 (15 oz.) container Ricotta cheese
1 (24 oz) cottage cheese
4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

First, cook the lasagna noodles according to the package directions. I use whole wheat noodles, but any are fine. If you're planning to freeze it, only cook for half the recommended time. Also, I sometimes cook a few extra noodles, just in case.

In a large pan, combine the cooked ground beef with the spaghetti sauce. Add the seasonings and allow to simmer for 30 minutes or so to let the flavors blend.

In another bowl, mix the ricotta and cottage cheeses. Season with a little salt and pepper, if desired.

Now get ready to assemble your lasagna. I decided to make two at a time, one for dinner and one for the freezer.

Start by covering the bottom of the pan with a little sauce. This way the noodles don't stick to the bottom.

Place three noodles in the pan, trying to cover the whole thing. This is why I often cook a couple extra noodles, to cut them to fit in any leftover spaces. Then layer 1/3 of the meat sauce over the noodles.

Layer 1/3 of the cottage cheese mixture, then 1/3 of the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Repeat layers two more times.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30- 40 minutes. The top should be bubbly and the cheese starting to brown.

Allow to rest for 15 minutes before cutting.

To freeze, skip the baking step. Cover the pan tightly with foil and freeze for up to three months. When ready to eat, thaw in the fridge for at least 24 hours. Bake as directed above.

If you want to prepare this in the crockpot, do all the prep work EXCEPT cooking the noodles. Believe it or not, you want raw, dry noodles because if they cook too long in the crockpot, you'll end up with mush. Not good. The moisture from the sauce will cook them, so don't worry about crunchy lasagna either.

Assemble as directed above - a little sauce in the bottom, then a layer of uncooked noodles. Break them gently to fit the shape of your crockpot. Then layer the meat and cheeses. Repeat until your crockpot is full.

Cover and cook on low for 3-4 hours. Much longer than four hours will result in mush, too. I love doing this on Sundays because it's ready when we get home from church right after noon.

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