Prep 40 mins
Cook 24 hrs
I strongly suggest due to the large amount of cheese filling to use a pan with higher sides or a lasagna pan however you definitely could use a 13 x 9-inch pan but it will be very full, I make this in my lasagna pan --- you will most likely have some sauce left over so just freeze for another time, this sauce freezes very well --- the secret to great lasagna starts with a great sauce and lots of it, so don't be shy to use lots of sauce --- this sauce *must* be made a day ahead which not only allows the flavors to blend and improve but also is a big time saver, it may even made up to 5 days ahead the longer refrigeration time the better the sauce will be, also to save some time an to blend the flavors I suggest to mix up the cheese filling a day ahead, so all you have left to do is boil the pasta and layer the lasagna --- although the recipe states to use only 16 noodles but will depend on the size of pan you are using, I always cook more just in case some of the noodles happen to crack while boiling --- the complete recipe may be layered in the pan, covered and refrigerated for up to 24 hours in advance --- since the tomato sauce is spread on top of the mozzarella cheese, I strongly advise to use only sliced for the layering, if you use shredded you will need to dollop the sauce on top then carefully spread --- prep time for this recipe does not include making the sauce --- you may adjust the noodles to the size of your pan, and also the sauce amounts may be adjusted to taste, the spinach may be doubled if desired, also one pound fresh sliced mushrooms may be added to the tomato sauce :)
- 16 uncooked lasagna noodles (I always cook up more)
- 1 lb mozzarella cheese, slices (can use more or less, and make certain to use a good-quality mozzarella cheese)
- 1⁄2 cup parmesan cheese
- 1 lb Italian sausage (casings removed, use milk or spicy, can use 1-1/2 pounds)
- 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste, you may omit if using spicy sausages)
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon dried basil
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 (5 1/2 ounce) can tomato paste (can use 2 cans if desired for a richer sauce)
- 2 (28 ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
- 3 cups canned tomato sauce
- 1 1⁄2 cups water
- 1 tablespoon seasoning salt (more if needed) or 1 tablespoon white salt (more if needed)
- 1 -2 teaspoon ground black pepper (or to taste)
- 1 tablespoon sugar (more if needed)
- 3 -4 tablespoons oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh minced garlic
- 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
- 4 cups ricotta cheese (can use half ricotta and creamed cottage cheese)
- 1⁄2 cup parmesan cheese
- 4 ounces cream cheese (very soft)
- 2 eggs, slightly beaten
- 3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1 teaspoon seasoning salt (or to taste)
- 2 teaspoons ground black pepper (or to taste)
- Prepare this sauce a day ahead.
- For the MEAT SAUCE; in a large heavy pot cook the sausage meat with crushed chili flakes and onion until the meat is lightly browned breaking up the meat while cooking; drain any fat from the sausage meat.
- Add in garlic, basil and oregano; cook stirring for about 3 minutes.
- Add in tomato paste; cook stirring with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes.
- Add in crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, water, 1 tablespoon salt, black pepper and 1 tablespoon sugar; bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.
- Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for about 2 hours stirring occasionally and adjusting the salt and sugar to taste.
- Cool sauce to room temperature and refrigerate overnight or up to 5 days.
- For the CHEESE FILLING; heat oil in a skillet over medium heat.
- Add in onion with dried Italian seasoning and saute until just lightly browned, about 4-5 minutes (adding in the fresh garlic after the last 2 minutes (do not brown the garlic).
- To the bowl add in ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, soft cream cheese, eggs, seasoned salt and black pepper; mix well to combine (at this point you may cover and refrigerate for 24 hours).
- In a large pot of boiling salted water cook the lasagna noodles until they are just al dente (do not over cook the noodles as they will cook more in the oven, cooking time for the noodles should be a little less time than stated on the box).
- Carefully remove the noodles then place into a large bowl of very cold water, shake off any excess water before layering in the dish.
- Grease a large pan with high sides or a lasagna pan.
- TO ASSEMBLE; spread about 2-1/2 to 3 cups meat sauce evenly to cover the bottom of the pan (I just use 2 ladles full it will depend on the size pan that you use).
- Over the meat sauce, going lengthwise down the dish arrange 6 noodles overlapping slightly, then place 2 noodles at the end of the dish going the other way cutting off one end to fit in the dish.
- Spread HALF of the ricotta mixture over the noodles (the ricotta does not have to cover completely, it will depend on how large your pan is).
- Top the ricotta with a THIRD of the mozzarella slices, then spoon about 3 cups sauce over the slices.
- Repeat the layers using 8 noodles, remaining HALF of ricotta mixture, 1/3 of the mozzarella cheese slices and 3 cups sauce on the top of the cheese slices (do not add on the remaining mozzarella cheese until the end of baking).
- If your pan is very full then I advise to place onto a large baking sheet to catch any spills.
- Cover with foil and bake at 375°F for 1-1/2 hours or until the ricotta cheese mixture is set and firm and the lasagna is bubbling hot.
- Remove from oven and top with remaining mozzarella slices then 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese; return to oven and bake uncovered until the cheese is melted and bubbly (about 8 minutes).
- For easier slicing allow the lasagna to sit for about at 30 minutes even more.
The one thing that I don't usually like about lasagna is the ricotta cheese layer. I'm not fond of the taste or texture of ricotta cheese, but you don't notice it mixed with the other cheeses in this recipe. This was fantastic.