Kitchen Guy: Love Your Lasagna

By Beacon Staff

Whoever invented the no-boil lasagna noodle changed my life. Eliminating the tedium and considerable skill necessary to cook lasagna pasta, making sure each noodle retained its shape and integrity was a seminal moment in 20th century culinary history.

Okay, so maybe I shouldn’t ascribe so much gravitas to the no-boil noodle, but it did provide the impetus for taking lasagna from a standard meat and cheese and pasta dish to one that inspires creativity and versatility.

What that means is that lasagna can become something more than a pedestrian main course. For instance, on special occasions, I like to make an extraordinarily rich (and kind of expensive) crabmeat lasagna that I use as an appetizer. It relies on the standard lasagna structure, but uses a crabmeat and cream sauce (also called béchamel).

The underlying reason why these no-boil pastas work is that there is so much liquid from the proteins – meats, cheeses, eggs, etc. – that the noodles soften while baking. After all, if you spent 45 minutes to an hour at 350 degrees with all that bubbly stuff going on around you, I wager you’d be pretty soft, too.

In both the traditional lasagna and the crabmeat lasagna you can use the no-boil noodles just as they are.

So here are the things in common that these two different lasagnas have: The oven is at 350 degrees throughout. And each takes only 45 minutes to bake and I recommend a 15 minute rest before cutting and serving. The cheese portion of each is fairly similar, too. In both, ricotta is mixed with an egg. But this is where the similarities end. In the standard lasagna, add mozzarella and Parmesan cheese to the ricotta-egg mixture; the crabmeat version gets cream cheese and Parmesan.

Want to have a fun meal some night? Try the crabmeat lasagna as your appetizer and the traditional lasagna as the main course. Okay – I know – it’s monotonous and a fairly high number of calories to take in at one sitting. But I think you’ll end up singing the praises of no-boil lasagna noodles just as I do.

Traditional Lasagna
1 28 oz. can Italian tomatoes
1 pound ground beef
¼ pound ground Italian sausage
1 small onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. sugar
½ tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. dried thyme
¼ tsp. garlic salt
1 6-oz. can tomato paste
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 30-oz. container ricotta cheese
½ cup Parmesan cheese
6 or 8 no-boil lasagna sheets
8 oz. shredded Cheddar or Jack cheese
4 oz. sliced black olives

Cook beef, onion, and sausage until well browned. Drain fat, and add sugar, oregano, crushed red pepper, bay leaf, salt, thyme, garlic salt, tomatoes with juice, and tomato paste. Simmer covered, for 30 minutes, then discard the bay leaf.

Mix eggs and ricotta and 1/2 of the Parmesan in a bowl.

Cover the bottom of a glass baking dish with a little bit of the sauce. Layer 1/2 of the noodles, half of the Ricotta-egg mixture, 1/2 cubed jack cheese, and 1/2 of the meat sauce. Repeat layers. Sprinkle olives and remaining Parmesan cheese and grated Cheddar cheese on top.

Crabmeat Lasagna
Crabmeat sauce:
1 small onion, diced
4 Tbsp. butter
2 tsp. Dried basil
4 Tbsp. flour
2 cups whole milk
12 oz. Crabmeat

Cheese mixture:
1 egg
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
15 oz. ricotta cheese
2 Tbsp. parsley, chopped
½ tsp. salt

3 medium tomatoes, sliced thin
½ cup Parmesan cheese
6 or 8 no-boil lasagna sheets

Sauté the onions over medium heat in butter until soft. Stir in the basil and flour. Cook for 2 minutes stirring constantly. Add milk, salt and pepper, stirring until thick and smooth. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes until the consistency is of thick chowder. Remove from the heat and mix in the crab. Set aside.

Beat the egg with the cream cheese, and then add the ricotta cheese, parsley and salt. Place a layer of noodles in the bottom of a lasagna pan. Spread about half the crabmeat mixture and then top with about half the cheese mixture. Place another layer of noodles and top with the rest of the crabmeat mixture, followed by the rest of the cheese mixture.
Top with another layer of lasagna noodles and then spread the tomato slices on top. Sprinkle liberally with the Parmesan cheese and bake in a 350° oven for 45 minutes to an hour until center is hot. Place briefly under the broiler to brown the Parmesan.

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