Lasagna is one of those meals that I feel sort of lukewarm about. It's not that I don't like it, it's just that there's such a wide swing in the variables that can make or break it. Like the cheese, for instance. Ricotta? Cottage cheese? Store bought sauce or homemade? No boil noodles or traditional noodles that you boil before assembling? Sausage or beef? Veggies or no? The list goes on, and before you know it, you've got the perfect setup for a "choose your own adventure" culinary disaster. I've made very few lasagna recipes that I found worthy of repeating (actually, just one, and it's posted on this here blog already). But last night? Kids, I made the most amazing lasagna that is worthy of repeating over and over and over. Did it take a bit of prep? Yes. Was every second of that prep worth it? A million times, yes. Did I make it 24 hours in advance so when my company arrived I sat down to drink wine while it baked in the oven? You betcha! If I invite you to my house for dinner and tell you I'm making lasagna, this is what we will enjoy together. The secret isn't in the sauce (though the sauce is good, and yes, homemade), it's in the cheese. Cream cheese to be exact. Trust me on this one.
Sausage and Cream Cheese Lasagna
-adapted from aspicyperspective.com (changed up meats and seasonings)
First you've gotta get your sauce going. If you want to use store bought sauce because you love it, that's just fine. If you want to use store bought sauce because you think homemade is hard, put on your big kid pants. You've got this. This particular sauce is meatless (until you add it later for the lasagna) and comes together so fast. It would be great for any occasion that you need a simple red sauce for. You will need the following:
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cans of crushed tomatoes (large cans, 28 oz each)
- 1 large can tomato sauce (14 oz)
- 1 cup shredded carrots (I recommend shredding yourself as opposed to pre-shredded carrots. The texture will melt into the sauce better)
- 1/2 t. dried thyme
- 1/2 t. dried oregano
- 1/2 c. chopped fresh basil
- 1 stick unsalted butter
Melt the butter in a large pot over medium low heat, then add the onions and garlic and saute for about 10 minutes, or until the onions are soft. Stir this often, if you burn your garlic you will ruin your sauce. Don't do that. Add the carrots, thyme, and oregano and continue to saute for another 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, 1 1/2 t. salt and 1/2 t. black pepper. Raise heat to medium and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat, partially cover (lid cracked) and let simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes. Stir in fresh basil. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. And just like that, you have homemade sauce. Strong work!
It's time to get cracking on the actual lasagna at this point. For this you need:
- 1 lb hamburger
- 1 lb hot Italian sausage (don't panic, this will not make your lasagna spicy)
- The above pot of sauce, or 2 jars of store bought sauce of your choice
- 2 pkg cream cheese (8 oz each, please go for full fat. Because YOLO), softened
- 5 cups shredded mozzarella
- 1 1/2 cups shredded parmesan
- 12 lasagna noodles, cooked according to package directions
Brown meats, add sauce, and simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, lay your cooked noodles out on a clean kitchen towel and spread each with an even amount of cream cheese (yes, you are using all of that cream cheese!). To assemble lasagna, spoon a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of a well-sprayed 9x13 pan. Top with 4 lasagna noodles (cream cheese side up), overlapping slightly to fit, then 1/3 of the mozzarella and parmesan, 1/3 sauce. Repeat. After the third layer of noodles, spoon the rest of the sauce on top and THEN top with the last 1/3 of mozzarella and parmesan (just switch the order of sauce/cheese on the third layer, got it?). Bake uncovered at 375 for 30 minutes (if making right away), or throw it in the fridge for up to two days before baking for about an hour (or until hot and bubbly). Let rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting. I'd recommend you place the lasagna pan on a sheet pan before putting in the oven--my pan was full and I didn't want any spills.