I came to lasagna late in life.
During my freshman year in high school, I met Paula, my very first first-generation Italian-American friend. Her mother introduced all of my teen crowd to robust meat-sauce-laden lasagna, and for years I made it her way, with curly-edged pasta rectangles that are parboiled, and a bit slithery. The arrival in the marketplace of no-boil lasagna noodles took the slither out, earning this item a place in The Perfect Pantry.
Although I prefer the flat-edged Barilla brand, those curled borders on most noodles do have a purpose; they act like little retaining walls, holding the sauce in the lasagna. I've also tried Ronzoni, which are pleated like accordions when dry, and relax when cooked. Use whichever brand you prefer.
Here's a bit of interesting lasagna history, from the folks at De Cecco:
Lasagna probably comes from the Latin lagana (which in turn was the Greek laganon, meaning "big flat pasta sheet sliced in strips"). The first evidence of its current use as lasagna comes from the verses of 12th Century Italian poets. "The peppercorn wins/in virtue of the lasagna" Jacopone da Todi wrote, whereas Cecco Angiolieri reproached his readers by saying: "who makes lasagne with other people's flouer/ has nor walls nor moat around his castle".
Though some recipes call for soaking the no-boil noodles in warm water, I interpret no-boil to mean no-fuss, and I use them straight out of the box unless I'm making something that calls for rolled pasta, in which case the noodles do need to be softened. They're much thinner than regular lasagna noodles, and therefore absorb enough liquid from the sauce to "cook" them completely without parboiling — proving once again that there is no such thing as too thin.
24 oz part-skim ricotta cheese
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 package no-boil lasagna noodles
1-1/4 jars (approximately 35 oz) Mayor’s Own Marinara Sauce (or your favorite bottled or homemade sauce)
2 12-oz packages part-skim mozzarella cheese, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 cup grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Preheat oven to 375°F. Combine ricotta, egg, nutmeg and black pepper in a small bowl. In a 9x13 baking pan, begin the assembly: spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom. Top with a layer of the dry noodles (you make need to break some to fit them neatly in one layer), then plops of ricotta here and there (use 1/3 of the cheese). Add plops of sauce here and there (use a bit less than 1/3 of the sauce), top with a layer of 1/3 of the mozzarella. Then again: noodles, ricotta, sauce, mozzarella. Then a third time. Finally, add a fourth layer of noodles, and spread the remaining sauce on the noodles. Top with the parmesan cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes. Uncover, and bake 10 minutes more. Remove from the oven and allow lasagna to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.
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