I feel like I need to go into rehab by admitting this…but for years, my favorite lasagna has been the meat lasagna from Stouffer’s. Oh, I feel so much better now that I got that off my chest. Walking down the freezer aisle at the grocery, that red box always screamed my name.
It’s an easy meal. All you have to do is pop it in the oven and the family is happy. While my tummy, too, was happy, I wasn’t pleased with the fact that I hadn’t yet mastered lasagna enough to prepare it on my own. I was taking the easy way out…until now.
Lasagna is made up of a few basic components: the noodles, which are flat and wavy on the edges; the sauce, which can be with or without meat; the cheese on top; and most importantly, the ricotta cheese inside.
I had no idea the impact that ricotta cheese makes on this dish. When following past lasagna recipes, I always bought the tub of ricotta at the grocery. Sometimes, I even tried using cottage cheese (it was a low-fat recipe). For some reason, I just wasn’t impressed. Recently, I learned that you could make your own ricotta cheese at home. Oh it’s the little things that get me so excited. I scoured websites to learn the basic technique. It was so simple. My recipe can be found here.
While the cheese was forming, it was time to make the sauce.
Just like the ricotta, in past recipes, I turned to the grocery shelves for jarred sauce, but not this time. Tomatoes are coming into season, and I just picked fresh onions, so this sauce was going to be homemade.
Homemade tomato sauce is so easy. Sauté some onion and garlic; throw in some fresh tomatoes and let the tomatoes break down. Season with fresh basil, salt, pepper a little sugar and finish it off with some nice red wine. I went with a 2009 Bordeaux.
In 30 minutes, you’ll have really fresh, authentic sauce.
Since I was skipping meat in this lasagna, I grabbed my favorite meaty vegetable, crimini mushrooms. I sautéed them in some butter, added some spinach and more red wine and let that reduce until the spinach was wilted.
The next dilemma was the noodle. You could make them from scratch, too, but I cheated. The first time I made this recipe, I boiled some whole-wheat lasagna noodles and they were fabulous.
The second time I made it, I used the noodles that you can put in the pan without boiling. I didn’t care for them as much. I’ll use the whole-wheat next time. They add another flavor element that makes up for the lack of meat.
All that was left to do was to layer this bad boy.
While this recipe may sound like a lot of work, it doesn’t take any more time than the Stouffer’s lasagna. The Stouffer’s lasagna cooks from a frozen state, and takes about 70 minutes.
This vegetarian lasagna takes about 30 minutes to make the sauce, cheese and mushroom filling and another 35 minutes in the oven.
And unlike the red box that stalks me in the grocery, I know that this meal is healthy for my family, and by gosh, it’s made with homemade ricotta cheese. How many people can say they’ve made homemade ricotta cheese? If you follow this recipe, you can! And your family won’t miss the meat.
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 ½ tablespoon lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup onion, diced
- 10 Roma tomatoes, chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil
- 1 ½ tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. pepper
- ½ tsp. sugar
- ¾ cup red wine
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 cups crimini mushrooms, chopped
- 2 cups spinach
- ½ tsp. salt
- 9 lasagna noodles
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
Bring the milk and cream to a boil. Add lemon juice and let curdle.
Place a piece of cheesecloth over a mesh sieve and place it over a bowl. Pour the liquid into the cheesecloth and let it set for 30 minutes.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and onion and sauté over medium heat for 5 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the basil, 1 tsp. salt, pepper, sugar and ½ cup wine. Simmer for 10 more minutes.
Heat the butter in a pot. Add the mushrooms and sauté, until tender. Add the spinach, ¼ cup red wine and ½ tsp. salt. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
The first layer is noodles. You should be able to fit three in a 13 x 9 pan.
Then, spread half of your homemade tomato sauce onto the noodles.
Add another layer of three noodles.
Now, spread your homemade ricotta cheese on top. You won’t believe how the milk and cream turned to cheese in just 30 minutes. And, you’ll totally lick the spoon when you’re done because the cheese is so good.
On top of the cheese, spread on the mushroom and spinach mixture.
Then, layer on three more noodles.
Spread on the remaining half of the tomato sauce.
Finish it all off with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. If you use the hard noodles, you’ll need to cover the dish with foil. If you boiled your noodles, you don’t need foil.
Bake 25 minutes in a 350-degree oven.
Then, in the last 10 minutes, crank up the heat to 450 degrees, and let that cheese get all nice and bubbly.
Let it rest on the counter for 10-15 minutes before serving.