For many of us, lasagna is special-occasion food, reserved for those times when we have to feed a lot of people. But because I love a piece of lasagna more than once or twice a year (as do my kids), I make three smaller lasagne at one time, with each lasagna feeding four people amply. The amount of work involved is about the same as making one huge one. And instead of eating the leftovers of that big lasagna all week, you can eat one right away and freeze two right in their pans to enjoy down the road.
To demonstrate how well this method works, I offer a recipe for a fresh-flavored take on the classic Italian American version, as well as a robustly flavored eggplant lasagna. The traditional one is my interpretation of the lasagna my mom made, and the one I loved growing up: layers of pasta, ricotta cheese, and a tomato-y meat sauce. Even though I have since tasted and made literally a hundred different kinds of lasagna, this is the one I think of as “my lasagna.” During a recent trip to Sicily, however, I enjoyed a lasagna in Catania on Sicily’s eastern shore that I was just wild about: a deeply flavored vegetable lasagna with a sauce reminiscent of the best puttanesca.
Sometimes three is better than one
I think lasagna always tastes better reheated. In fact, I rarely eat it after the first baking (though it is good then). The flavors form their final melding and excess water is absorbed after the lasagna has rested and cooled. This is why I make enough lasagne to last for several meals. To do this, and to make stacking in the freezer easier, I use three 8x8- or 9x9-inch square cakes pans—disposable are fine—that are at least 2 inches deep.
No-boil noodles taste great and are easy to work with. Because making any lasagna involves some work, I really like the ease of using instant or no-boil pasta sheets instead of the thicker, curly-edge lasagna noodles that have to be boiled before they’re layered. More important, boil-first lasagna noodles are much too thick, making for an unpleasantly chewy texture and doughy flavor. The instant lasagna sheets, by contrast, are practically translucent and seem to melt in your mouth when baked. This style of dried dough is thin enough to cook in only the liquid coming from the other ingredients in the lasagna. This thinness is also closer to the texture of freshly made pasta sheets—another option if you have the time or know of a good source for fresh pasta. (For more on no-boil pasta, see the sidebar below.)
Dried or fresh, no-boil lasagna really works
Instant, or no-boil, lasagna eliminates one of the more tedious steps of making a lasagna: boiling all those unwieldy sheets of pasta. I generally use the square dried pasta sheets because they fit easily into the baking pan. (At least one pasta maker, Delverde, includes a few disposable baking pans with its sheets.) The smaller strips of instant lasagna also work well; you’ll just need to overlap them slightly to fit in the pan.
Fresh pasta is another option. Some supermarkets, Italian markets, and some restaurants sell sheets of fresh pasta. If the pasta very thin, there’s no need to boil it first. If you make your own pasta, use the roller to make very thin strips, which is easier than trying to roll a square by hand.
Dried pasta sheets swell to fit the pan. Don’t worry if they look too small at first, but do trim fresh pasta close to the pan sides; it swells less.
A teaspoon works well to spread the chunky sauce all the way to the edges. Be sure the sheet is well coated: bare spots won’t become tender.