Easy Shortcut Lasagna
This is a shortcut recipe for a rich and filling lasagna that tastes and looks like "from scratch", but is really a hybrid of homemade and store bought ingredients. It's easy to make, and the most time consuming part is making the meatballs for the optional meat layer. This recipe was prepared in two versions: one with meat, and one with a layer of steamed fresh spinach instead for vegetarians in our family. Both worked out well. Brands are mentioned to reflect what was available locally, but you may, of course, have other favorites on the supermarket shelves.
- Ready In:
- 1hr 15mins
- 32 ounces mueller's lasagna noodles
- 52 ounces marinara spaghetti sauce
- 32 ounces ricotta cheese
- 12 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
- 12 ounces grated parmesan cheese
- 1⁄4 cup fresh sweet basil
- 1⁄4 cup fresh Italian parsley
- coarse black pepper
- granulated garlic
Meat or Vegetable Layer Choices
- 16 ounces sliced meatballs
- 16 ounces fresh spinach
Optional Meatball Ingredients
- 16 ounces lean ground beef (optional)
- 1 egg (optional)
- 1 1⁄2 slices whole wheat bread (optional)
- 1⁄2 cup chopped Italian parsley (optional)
- 5 garlic cloves (optional)
- 1 dash garlic powder (optional)
- 1⁄8 - 1⁄4 cup red wine (optional)
- 4 ounces grated parmesan cheese (optional)
- 3 1⁄2 teaspoons Italian breadcrumbs (optional)
If Adding Meat Layer:
- Combine ground beef, egg, finely minced garlic and garlic powder, breadcrumbs, grated parmesan and chopped Italian parsley in a large mixing bowl. Run water over the bread slices to soak them and squeeze the water out. Add a splash of wine if desired.
- Mix meat for several minutes by hand, and roll out into fairly compact and tight meatballs. I make mine about 1 inch to 1.5 inch in size.
- Brown / sear the meatballs while continually rolling them with the utensils of your choice. I use two wooden spoons, but I've also used tongs to do this. The key is to get them browned enough to be "medium rare", not raw, as the cooking time is not long in the lasagna. However, they need to be done well enough to stick mostly together for slicing. I think next time I may chill them in the refrigerator. I put layers of paper towels down on a platter to hold the meatballs while they are cooling off.
If Adding Spinach Layer:
- Steam the spinach until it softens somewhat. It will continue to soften further in the lasagna while it’s cooking.
Making the Lasagna:
- Open the jars of your favorite spaghetti sauce, and heat to a low simmer. If using meatballs, put them in the sauce to soak up some additional flavor.
- Note about the sauce: I am Italian American, and make my own marinara sauce from scratch several times a year. It takes all day, so I freeze it in storage containers for later use. However, when I use store bought sauce, I prefer the sauce made by Del Grosso, a small company in Tipton, Pennsylvania. Their products include both inexpensive sauces, and a line of specialty ones called “La Famiglia Del Grosso that are roughly twice the price of Ragu or Prego ($6-$7 a for a 26 ounce jar). This recipe is about shortcuts, not making things from scratch. The company’s “Aunt Mary Ann's Sunday Marinara” tastes very, very much like the sauce I make from scratch, so that is what I used for this recipe.
Here is the product link:
- Boil the lasagna noodles to just below al dente. What worked for me as a guess was one minute shorter than the lowest recommended time - this was 9 minutes for the Mueller brand noodles that were on sale for 2:1 the day I was shopping for supplies for this project. The noodle layers will also soften while the lasagna is cooking, so do not worry if they are a little stiff.
- If using meat, remove the meatballs from the sauce and slice into roughly ¼ inch slices. Don’t worry if the crumble (as some will). These will form the meat layer of the lasagna.
- Wash and chop the Italian parsley and sweet basil into fairly small pieces. In a big mixing bowl, combine evenly the ricotta cheese with the chopped parsley and basil, the ground pepper and the pinch or two of granulated garlic.
- Put a thin layer of spaghetti sauce in the bottom of a 9 x 11, 10 x 13, or 12 x 11 pan (your sizes may vary somewhat). I used a Pyrex type glassware for mine.
- Layer the lasagna noodles with slight overlapping in the pan. If you need to, don’t be afraid to use small “band aid” sections or cross sections to make the layer. You should have plenty of noodles.
- Using a spatula, or spoon of your choice, make a layer of sauce covering the noodles. Add a layer of the ricotta mixture covering the sauce. If adding meat, arrange slices or crumbles of the meatballs next. If not, use the steamed spinach to create a veggie layer. Now sprinkle a later of mozzarella cheese, and top with a light to moderate dusting of parmesan cheese.
You will now repeat the process at least one more time. Depending on the depth of your pan, and the thickness of the optional meats, it could be twice more:
- 1) Noodles.
- 2) Sauce.
- 3) Ricotta mixture.
- 4) Meat or spinach.
- 5) Mozzarella cheese.
- 6) Parmesan cheese.
- The last layer does not contain meat or spinach, and will be roughly at the top of the pan itself. That’s fine. The top layer should be with noodles, a some sauce and a mix of mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.
- Cover with aluminum foil.
- Bake at 350 F for a total of 45-50 minutes. Remove the foil after the first 30 minutes so that the top can brown lightly into a crust. Let it stand for 15 or 20 minutes before serving to firm up the layers, and avoid burning your tongue.
- Hope this works out for you, but it has become a family favorite in our house, and only takes a short while to prepare when compared to the time investment in a day-long “from scratch” lasagna recipe.