My Go-To Dinner When I Don’t Have Time To Cook

Well, however it turned out we survived cooking Thanksgiving! Whew! Wait, what? The holidays aren’t over? There are more meals to cook? More feats to prepare? How do I keep it from being so stressful!?

When I am planning a big meal I know it’s all about the prep work. This can be days ahead of time. With all the prep work though I often don’t have the time or the energy to also make dinner every night leading up to it. That means I need a dinner that doesn’t require my attention. Bring in the LASAGNA!

I must admit I love lasagna. However with just two of us making a 9×13 pan seems a bit excessive. So I devised a lasagna that makes dinner for the two of us and lasts only 4 nights. Depending on the size of your family you may need to make a bigger lasagna but the best part about lasagna is it’s the most easily scaled recipe I have come across.

The other secret about my lasagna… it’s made from scratch! Well, ok, I didn’t make the cheese. Well, not yet…

It starts in August. YEP! August… I make pasta sauce from all my tomatoes from my garden. I make as much as I can put up. I know having pasta sauce ready to go at any time always makes for an easy dinner.

Now, fast forward to the holidays.

I start with making my pasta. EVERYONE should know how to make pasta. A manual pasta machine is usually no more than $30 and is an essential tool that should be in any kitchen. I also make a custom blend of pasta flour that is a 50/50 blend of semolina flour and all-purpose flour. I keep this in a big tub in my pantry.

When I go to make the pasta I scoop 350 grams of the flour into the food processor fitted with the dough blade. Then I add 3 eggs and lastly 1 tablespoon of room temp water. I close it up an run it until it forms a solid mass. I pour it out on to a lightly floured counter and knead it into a ball then wrap it in plastic and let it sit for 30 minutes. (Letting it sit is VERY important. The dough needs time to absorb the liquid and relax.

While the dough is resting start a pot of boiling water and in a separate pan make your sauce.

My mixture is anywhere from a pound to two pounds of ground meat. You can use whatever blend you prefer. I do a combination of beef and sweet Italian sausage. Once it’s browned I add 2-3 pints of homemade canned pasta sauce. Once it’s warmed through turn off the heat.

Now, it’s time to roll out the pasta. I lop off about a ¼ of the dough. I wrap the rest in plastic. The piece I lopped off I lightly dish in flour and squish flat between my fingers. I then roll it through my pasta machine on a setting of 1 (my machine has settings 1-6). I then fold it in thirds and turn it 90º. I roll through again on a setting of 1. I do this 2-3 more times. If at any point it’s feeling sticky I lightly dust with flour. Then I reduce the dial to 2 and roll again. I keep doing this until I get to 6. Paper thin make for a great lasagna. Lay it out flat.

Time to prep the pan. If it’s just my husband and I then I opt for a loaf pan. This will make 8 slices. For larger amounts use the traditional 9×13. Start with a layer of sauce in the bottom of the pan to keep the base layer of pasta from sticking. Try to get as little meat as possible. A trick for this is to only put 2 pints of sauce in the meat and then pour some of the 3 pint into the pan and anything leftover pour into the meat sauce. I then set the pan next to the rolled out pasta and with a sharp knife slice it to the length of the pan. The width of the pasta machine is just slightly larger than a loaf pan so it work perfectly. I then slowly lower the pasta into the boiling water. Give it 1-2 minutes to cook. It will turn a lighter color and float when it’s done. Then remove it from the water with tongs and lay it flat. Give it just a second to cool enough to handle and then layer it into the pan.

Next is a layer of meat sauce. Cover the pasta well. The next layer? Not ricotta but instead cottage cheese! This was something I learned in the midwest. To me it’s the secret to GREAT lasagna. Dollop the cottage cheese in small amounts over the meat sauce then spread out. Next slice off another piece of pasta and repeat. If you run out of pasta then roll more. If you end up with a lot of pasta dough leftover you can vacuum seal it and freeze it. Just let it fully thaw before using it again and it might need a little extra flour added to it.

Keep layering the pasta, meat sauce, and cottage cheese until you’re almost at the top. For the final layer I omit the cottage cheese and layer on the mozzarella cheese.

To bake, I put the pan on a rimmed cookie sheet so if it overflows it won’t make a mess of your oven. I bake at 350ºF for about 30 minutes. Until the cheese on top is melted and browning.

My biggest discovery is that lasagna is best served at least the next day if not a couple days after baking. Serving it cold is 100 times easier than hot and then just pop the plate into the microwave and reheat!

It sounds like a lot of work but you can make it in advance. I have had it in the fridge for up to 48 hours before I baked it and it keep for quite a while after you bake it if it doesn’t get devoured as it comes out of the oven. All in all it’s actually quite easy to through together.

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