La Bella Lasagna (part 2)

My Grandmother calls Lasagna "the Poor Man's Italian" as in it's easy to make and hard to screw up.  However, I have met many a person who is incredibly intimidated by this actually very simple dish.  And this post will show you how actually its not as tough as it seems

The Lasagna!
So now that you have your awesome homemade sauce simmering on the stove top beside you, its time to break out the basics for your awesome lasagna.

1.  The Meat: In a pan take your ground beef and brown it up.  No need to use any olive oil or anything - the natural grease of the beef will help lubricate things.  Also a non-stick pan will help with clean-up (also, it helped alleviate me of the trauma from a week earlier where i burned meat so badly on our beauti-mus copper core all-clad saute pan that it took almost 4 days to just get it all off the pan.  Lesson learned: do not burn your beef.  That is bad.)

brown baby, brown.
 Keep in mind another gem of wisdom from my awesome Grandma (that she got from her mother in law): "Use the best ingredients you can find, or else don't bother cooking it all."  Don't use chuck, mediocre ground beef, use the best you can find - that goes for all of the ingredients you use for your lasagna.  The best part is that most ingredients for Italian food are ridiculously cheap to begin with and the recipes are simple, so you don't have to worry about busting your wallet just to cook a really good meal.  So many times people end up using sub-par ingredients and wonder why the lasagna tastes only okay or doesn't hold well over time.  It's the ingredients.

Next up - your sausage.  After the beef is browned, remove it from the heat and put in in a large mixing bowl.  Then add your sausage to the same pan -Sweet Italian sausage is the best.  I've used turkey sausage in the past, and while it wasn't bad, it just didn't taste as good in the end (and over time).
kinda gross, I know, but that's cooking for ya.
This might be the grossest part of the entire process, but alas, it is necessary.  You need to take the sausage and squeeze it out of its casing.  Yup - that means hands on!  I was grossed out by this the first time I helped my mom make this back in high school, but its not a problem any more.  Its amazing how well you adjust to gross stuff over time.
sausage chopped up to look like ground beef
You want almost the reverse of the ground beef - go from white-ish color to a pink-brown.  Once the sausage is browned, combine it in the bowl with the ground beef and then set to the side.

2. The Cheese: Now onto the non-meat part of the recipe.  In another mixing bowl, combine some more basic ingredients:  Ricotta, beaten eggs, pepper, garlic salt and some more parsley. 

Mix til combined and then set aside.
3. Play Architect!  A few months ago Mr. Bama bought me two awesome Lasagna pans to a - encourage me to cook him some lasagna, and b- alleviate my other lasagna trauma (last year my stupid aluminum pans kind of imploded, with the lasagna still inside.  so bad...).  These pans are amazing, heavy duty, and best of all, were on sale at Home Goods (yippee!!).  Temporary ones are still fine, but i don't suggest the Wal-mart kind......
nothing says "I'm a serious Italian" like a heavy duty Lasagna pan
Any who, break out your pasta.  This is tricky, because when you think of lasagna noodle, the 9x3x3 box  from the super market containing the flat noodles with wavy trim comes to mind.  These are fine, but if you can manage to snag a few large sheets of flat noodles that you do not need to boil in water, then even better.   While I do have a pasta maker that can make lasagna sheets, I was slightly overwhelmed with the rest of the lasagna project, so I caved and bought some flat sheets from WFM.  I have to admit, this was the most expensive part of the entire recipe, but very worth it in the end.
Spread some of your sauce out on the bottom of your pan, then lay out your lasagna. 
Next up, sprinkle handfuls of your meat over the pasta and drop spoonfuls of your ricotta mix evenly over the meat. 
Fill the empty spaces with slices of mozzarella and then sprinkle with Parmesan (note: DO NOT skimp on the quality of your parmesan-regianno.  Nothing is worse then bad cheese.)
 Then cover your cheese/meat mix with sauce and continue the process three more times, ending with just a bare layer of lasagna (save the best pieces of your pasta for this layer.)  Complete by adding only sauce, and the cheeses. 

Do not worry if you run out of ingredients or have too much of something.  No matter how much you "plan" out your ratios, you will ALWAYS (yes, always) have too much sauce, not enough meat or too many noodles and not enough ricotta.  Its just the way it is.

Pop your lasagna in the oven (450 degrees) for about 40 mins, which just allows the cheeses to melt and combine everything together.  When done, let sit a few minutes, then slice up, serve on plates, spoon some of your leftover sauce and sprinkle with Parmesan.  Then enjoy your truly Bell'Alimento (beautiful food)!
nom nom sooooo goood
The best part is that your Lasagna can be frozen -- and believe it or not, this makes it taste better.  Cut up your lasagna into serving sized pieces and wrap with freezer paper.  Then pop in the freezer and take out, thaw and reheat when ready to enjoy in the future.  It sounds bizarre, but 6 month old lasagna is SOOOOO tastey (it sounds gross, but trust me).

If you partake in your own lasagna (or any other food) adventure, please share.  I'd love to hear your own twists on and stories behind your own family recipes!

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