Copyright Thomas Saaristo  All Rights Reserved
Best of class lasagna
I wanted a lasagna that was a harbinger back to my childhood, or that pitch perfect
Italian restaurant somewhere I can't recall. My Best of class lasagna is redolent with a
hearty tomato meat sauce, perfect pasta, and just about enough (could I use just a bit
more) cheese to satisfy young and old, friend and foe


For the sauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 lbs ground beef
1 large Vidalia onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoon House salt, then more to taste
Black peppercorns in a pepper mill
28 ounces fire-roasted crushed or diced tomatoes
16 ounces tomato sauce
12 ounces tomato paste
1/2 cup of water
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons ground fennel
2 tablespoons Dell’Alpe Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon extra-hot crushed red pepper flakes
10 large leaves fresh basil
2 tablespoons Madeira, Port, or Dry Sherry

For the cheese mixture
8 ounces small cured cottage cheese
1 large egg
2 tablespoons minced parsley
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon House salt
Black peppercorns in a pepper mill

For the noodles
6 dried lasagna noodles
1/3 cup House salt

For final assembly
30 slices Kraft Mozzarella cheese (from 2 ½ 12 slice packages)
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (Note: If making sauce in advance, heat oven
just before you begin to assemble the lasagna)

For the sauce
Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Add the oil and heat until
shimmering. Add the ground beef and break it up with a spatula and let it brown
before turning over and browning and turning over and browning, continually
breaking the meat up into a fine mince and until no longer pink.

Add the onion and garlic and stir to combine. Season with salt and freshly ground
black pepper and cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until the onions just begin to soften.

Add the crushed/diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste and water and
stir/whisk to incorporate fully. Sprinkle in the sugar, ground fennel, Italian seasoning
and crushed red pepper flakes and stir through the sauce gently. Add the basil and
gently push the leaves into the sauce. Turn the heat to simmer and simmer the sauce
for 1 1/2 hours stirring occasionally. (1 hour will suffice but the extra half hour will make
a considerable difference). At the end of cooking, swirl in the Madeira.

The sauce can be made in advance. Remove the sauce from the heat and cool to room
temperature before moving to an opaque container with a tight-fitting lid. Sauce will
keep, refrigerated up to 1 week or in a zero degree Fahrenheit freezer indefinitely.

While the sauce is simmering bring a large kettle of fresh cold water to the boil.

For the cottage cheese
In a medium bowl, combine the cottage cheese, eggs, parsley, Parmesan, lemon zest,
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg, salt and freshly ground pepper and mix
thoroughly. Set aside or keep refrigerated until final assembly.

For the noodles
Have ready a half-sheet rimmed baking pan lined with parchment, foil, or a silicone

Slowly add the 1/3 cup house salt to the boiling water. Add the dried lasagna noodles
and give them a stir to ensure they are bit  sticking. Bring to the boil and then set a
timer for 4 minutes. After 4 minutes, turn off the heat and carefully ladle 1 1/2 cups of
the pasta cooking liquid onto the prepared sheet pan. Use tongs to retrieve the
lasagna sheets from the water and arrange in a single layer on the pan. The noodles
should lay flat. If not, top with another liner and set a 2nd half-sheet pan inside to
keep them moist and flat.

For final assembly
Pour 1/3 of the tomato meat sauce in the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish. Lay 3 noodles
length wise in the sauce across the bottom of the dish. Spread half of the cottage
cheese mixture in a thin layer across the length of the noodles (Tip: divide the cottage
cheese mixture in half, then dollop a generous tablespoon of the mixture on both
ends of each noodle and one measure in the center. Use your spoon to link the 3
measures together, completely but thinly covering the lasagna noodles)

Lay 6 slices of mozzarella cheese evenly atop the noodles with the cottage cheese
mixture. Lay another 6 slices of cheese atop the mozzarella perpendicular to the first
layer (overlapping is fine). Sprinkle the cheese with 1/2 cup Parmesan.

Pour 1/3 of the tomato-meat sauce over the cheeses in an even layer. Lay the last 3
noodles length wise side by side atop the sauce. Spread the remaining cottage cheese
mixture evenly over the noodles in the manner described above.

Lay 6 slices of mozzarella cheese evenly atop the noodles with the cottage cheese
mixture. Repeat with an additional 6 slices of mozzarella as described above. Sprinkle
1/2 cup Parmesan evenly across the mozzarella.

Pour the remaining 1/3 of the tomato-meat sauce over the cheese in an even layer. Lay
6 slices of mozzarella evenly atop the sauce and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup

Spray a length of foil that will cover the dish with non-stick spray and cover the

Place in heated oven and set a timer for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, carefully remove
the foil and bake another 35 to 40 minutes until hot, bubbling and golden brown.

Remove the lasagna from the oven and let it rest for 40 minutes to 1 hour before
slicing and serving

Recommended sides: Caesar salad and Garlic cheese baguette

Recommend wine: Chianti, Pinot Noir