Lasagna Carnivale

What a fun name!! This lasagna uses a basic marinara sauce and small meatballs instead of a meat sauce. Those along with fresh mozzarella and grated parmesan-it’s a winner. Also it came out pretty light compared to most other lasagnas. Usually when there’s no ricotta a bechamel sauce is used-this one doesn’t have that-perhaps that’s why. It was delicious.

I have always had a love/hate thing with lasagna. Since I’ve never been able to digest-either mentally or digestively- (what I call) ‘tub ricotta’ I was always disappointed to see, more often than not, that a lasagna had 60% tub ricotta and 40% other ingredients. Yuck.  Imagine my absolute glee when I went to Rome and found a cute restaurant serving lasagna-sans ricotta-which, apparently, is the way it’s made there.  Oh happy day!!! That was my first visit in 2008 and during 2 visits since then I’ve never ever seen ricotta put into lasagna. That’s not to say I’ve visited every home and restaurant in the great country, just an observation of the ones I have.  In fact, in Castelvetrano in Sicily, at my husband’s aunt’s families house, we ate it served warm and fresh right out of the pot on toasted bread for breakfast. YUM!! Since then I’ve become addicted to the fresh stuff and other versions-smoked ricotta, ricotta salata etc… So, in my opinion, people are nuts for buying a 3lb tub of mediocre mass-produced not-fresh stuff rather than heading to their local store and ponying up a bit more $ for the great fresh stuff. It makes such a monumental difference. (It’s on my ‘to do’ list to make it myself as well but I haven’t gotten that far yet.) But since there’s no ricotta in this recipe it doesn’t matter in the slightest. I just felt like explaining all of this 🙂

So here you have it:

Lasagna Carnivale

Why this recipe works:

A combination of fresh whole-milk mozzarella and Parmesan or Pecorino Romano kept our Lasagna de Carnevale recipe moist but not watery. For more even layering, we made mini meatballs, which we baked on a baking sheet in a hot oven, and then added straight to the sauce. To simplify our Lasagna de Carnevale’s sauce without sacrificing consistency, we simmered canned crushed tomatoes to our desired consistency. Finally, we used our cheese layer as the final topping to keep the lasagna from drying out as it cooked

Do not substitute no-boil noodles for the traditional noodles here; they will not work in this dish. The size of the noodles varies by brand; if the noodles are short (such as DeCecco) you will layer them crosswise in the dish, but if they are long (such as Barilla and Ronzoni) you will layer them lengthwise in the dish. Regardless of which brand of noodle you are using, there should be 3 noodles per layer.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound 85 percent lean ground beef
  • 6 ounces Parmesan cheese or Pecorino Romano cheese, freshly grated (3 cups). Don’t use pre-grated.
  • 1/2 cup plain dried bread crumbs
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh basil or parsley leaves
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 onion, chopped small.
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 12 dried lasagna noodles(see note)
  • 1 pound fresh whole-milk mozzarella cheese, shredded (4 cups). Do not use pre-shredded.

Instructions

  1. 1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees. Spray a large rimmed baking sheet with vegetable oil spray. Mix the beef, 1 cup of the cheese, bread crumbs, eggs, 5 tablespoons of the basil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper together in a large bowl using your hands until uniform.
  2. 2. Pinch off grape-size pieces of the mixture, roll them into small meatballs, and arrange on the prepared baking sheet. Bake the meatballs until just cooked through and lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the meatballs to a paper towel–lined platter and set aside. Reduce the oven to 400 degrees.
  3. 3. Meanwhile, heat the oil, onion and garlic in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the garlic starts to sizzle, about 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, 10 to 15 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the remaining 3 tablespoons basil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the meatballs and cover to keep warm.
  4. 4. Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and noodles and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Drain and rinse the noodles under cold water. Spread the noodles out in a single layer over clean kitchen towels. (Do not use paper towels; they will stick to the noodles.)
  5. 5. Spray a 13 by 9-inch baking dish with vegetable oil spray. Smear 3 tablespoons of the tomato sauce (without any meatballs) over the bottom of the pan. Layer 3 noodles into the pan; the noodles can touch but not overlap. Spread about 11/2 cups of the tomato sauce with meatballs evenly over the noodles. Sprinkle evenly with 1 cup of the mozzarella and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan.
  6. 6. Repeat the layering of noodles, tomato sauce with meatballs, and cheeses twice more. For the final layer, cover the noodles with the remaining 1 cup mozzarella and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan.
  7. 7. Bake until the filling is bubbling and the cheese is spotty brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Let the lasagna cool for 10 minutes before serving.
  8. TO MAKE AHEADThe lasagna can be assembled through step 5, then covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Remove the plastic wrap and cover the lasagna tightly with aluminum foil that has been sprayed with vegetable oil spray (or use nonstick foil). Bake the lasagna covered for 10 minutes, then remove the foil and continue to bake as directed in step 6.Here’s the meatballs in the sauce.

    Slightly adapted from Cook’s Illustrated.

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