Best Lasagna Ever

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By Viki Gonia

This will make 3 large, deep pans of lasagna. I could try to figure out how to adjust it for one pan, but I’ve never made less than three at once. They freeze nicely. You could make one or two large and 2-4 small pans. You can give them away. You can eat them all at one sitting. Whatever suits your fancy. Depending on how you put things together, you may end up with more, or less.

THE SAUCE  (…if you want to call it “gravy,” that’s fine, I won’t judge, but all that means if you’re from the Midwest is that you have relatives from Philly or you’re a fan of The Sopranos. It’s spaghetti sauce.)

3-4 packages of Italian sausage, removed from casing (or buy bulk), cooked through and crumbled

Olive oil

Garlic (lots, minced)

Saute as much garlic as you like in a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot and add the cooked sausage. Or cook up the sausage and then push it aside a little and add the olive oil and sauté the garlic in it and then mix everything up. It doesn’t really matter that much, except you’ll have one less pan to wash, which will be an advantage later. Include the fat from cooking the sausage, though (IMPORTANT! Don’t go skimming that shit off like some health-food freak. If you’re a health-food freak, you shouldn’t be eating lasagna anyway. At least, not this lasagna).

2 large cans crushed tomatoes

2 large cans diced tomatoes (use the “Italian style” that has basil/oregano/garlic. Or don’t. Whatever.)

1-2 large cans tomato sauce

2 small or one medium-sized can of tomato paste

(Preferred brands: for the crushed and the sauce, get Dei Fratelli from the Jewel. Paste, I prefer Contadina. Del Monte makes the best version of the already-flavored diced tomatoes, but in the end, none of this matters. I don’t even know why I’m bothering to tell you. Buy whatever you like. Just buy way more than I listed above, because you’re probably going to need it).

Add all the tomato stuff to your pot until it’s full. It might not all fit right away. You can add more later once the sauce has cooked down. If you use all those cans and you didn’t fill your pot, then I am impressed by the size of your pot. You should add more cans of tomato stuff. I would add more of the diced, myself. You may wish that you had more Italian sausage.

Get the tomato-sausage mixture going at a nice bubble. Add a bunch of dried oregano and basil (2 tablespoons of each or so). Or use fresh. Or use all oregano or all basil. Whichever. About a tablespoon (no more) of white sugar. If you like a lot of sugar in your sauce, just go ahead with some of that bullshit jarred garbage and be done with it, but don’t you dare claim publicly that you actually made my lasagna. Add some salt and pepper.

Toss in some pork bones (Oh. Yeah. Save just a bit of room at the top so you can toss in some pork bones). Neck bones? Sure. A couple of pork chops? Why not, just make sure that whatever bones you put in there are substantial enough for you to be able to fish it out later without leaving any bits of bone behind. Your guests won’t like it. Leftovers meat with bones in it? Why not. Chicken is fine too, but pork is best. The meat will fall off and become part of the sauce, but you have to be able to get the whole bone out later, and chicken will have some cartilage that is not delicious, so watch out for it. You could get fancy and secure the bones in some kind of cheesecloth bag, I suppose. I don’t. I haven’t killed anyone with a stray piece of bone yet, but then again, I haven’t really tried. My grandmother just threw in all of the leftover meat and bones from the week’s meals into the pot on Saturday night. You could do that if you haven’t cleaned out your fridge for a few days.

Cook the sauce on low heat, stirring and tasting occasionally and adding more oregano or basil or salt as necessary (probably won’t be). Cook it for a long time. Hours. Have an extra loaf of good Italian bread on the counter so you can rip pieces off and dip into the sauce for “tasting” purposes. Give your kids a little bowl of sauce and a hunk of bread for a snack. It’s called “a dip.” Leave the lid off to maximize the delicious house smells as well as cook it down a bit. My grandmother let it go all night but that’s a long time unless you start it late at night and get up at the crack. I usually go minimum of 6 hours but if it’s less, that’s okay. You can make it the day before and refrigerate (or, if it’s cold out, put it in your garage as long as there are no critters around to get into it. Just don’t tell anyone you did that. People freak out about food in a garage).

It’s going to lose a couple of inches from the top, and there will be an inch or so of orange fat up there. Keep mixing that fat in. That makes it good. Back in the day, my Auntie Grace would toss the pasta in that fat and some parmesan on Sundays. It’s amazing. When you run short on sauce, either because it cooked down a lot or because you had too many dips, you can add some of the canned stuff to stretch it out a little.

THE CHEESE
4 large tubs of whole-milk ricotta cheese (usually found near the milk, at least at the Jewel). You’d think it would be with the cheese. I don’t understand, either. You can get it from the Jewel deli. You can go to some fancy Italian deli. I don’t care. Just don’t use cottage cheese or I will hunt you down and beat whatever eastern-European blood you’ve got running through your veins that made you do such a horrible thing right out of you. You can use skim-milk ricotta cheese, but it will be runny and you’re going to pour off all that water from there anyway. You’re eating lasagna. Screw the fat savings. For god’s sake, did you see that melted orange pork fat at the top of your sauce?)

Dump all the ricotta cheese in a giant bowl.

Whisk up about four large eggs and add them to the ricotta. Throw in a cup or two of grated parmesan cheese. Or one of those “Italian cheese blend” in a bag that are already grated. I’ve done that a few times. Salt and pepper. Some dried parsley for color.

Fold this cheese mixture together by hand. Do NOT use an electric mixer. Why not? Because I said so. I’ve never done it, but I bet it makes it runny or something. It’s not that hard to mix it by hand. Don’t over-mix. You just want all the egg incorporated.

BUILDING THE LASAGNA
Get yourself some of those Barilla flat no-cook lasagna noodles. Yes, I know, Barilla hates homosexuals and their desire to marry and have families. If you can find another brand of these no-cook noodles, go ahead. If you want, boil up a boatload of water and cook a gazillion regular lasagna noodles and then hang them all over your kitchen to get rid of the excess water. That is a PAIN IN THE ASS and takes forever. This is why people hate making lasagna. Just use the flat no-bake noodles and promise your gay friends that you won’t eat at Chick-Fil-A anymore. It’s fine.

You’ll use about a box of noodles per pan. Place them, overlapping by about a half, all over the bottom of the pan. Spoon in some of the ricotta mixture and spread all over the hard noodles. How thick? I don’t know. You have to make that cheese last over three pans, two layers each. Do the mental division.

Layer on some sliced mozzarella. I have, on occasion, been very lazy and have used shredded mozzarella from a bag. This is okay, but for some reason, the shreds don’t melt very well in the lasagna. I don’t know why, I think it has something to do with the fact that the shreds are coated in flour or some chemical to keep them from sticking together. Just layer on some mozzarella however you want, but have it completely covering the ricotta. Don’t spend a thousand dollars on fresh mozzarella. That’s just pretentious. This is lasagna.

Spoon sauce over the mozzarella. How much? You be the judge. Some people like a lot of sauce in their lasagna. If that’s the case for you, you’re going to need more sauce than you already made. I like just enough.

Repeat—layer of noodles, layer of ricotta, layer of mozzarella, layer of sauce. Two layers are all you’re going to fit in the pan. If you do thinner layers, you can have more than two. I really don’t care. It’s totally up to you. It’s your lasagna. Some people sprinkle some additional mozzarella or parmesan on the top. I usually don’t.

These will keep fine in the fridge for a couple of days if you want to make them ahead. Freeze if it’s going to be longer than two days.

Bake at 350° or 375° for a long time. Like, an hour at least. Maybe an hour and a half. If you’re using a throwaway aluminum pan, put a cookie sheet under it. Watch that the top doesn’t burn. If it’s burning, throw on some foil, maybe only around the edges. It’s done when you stick a knife in the middle and it hurts your fingers to pinch the end of the knife when you pull it out. It’ll be bubbly as hell. It’ll probably bubble over and make a mess in your oven (or on that cookie sheet).

Let it set for a while. It’ll stay hot, and frankly, it tastes better when it’s not piping hot anyway.

Serve with garlic bread and a nice salad. Eat with abandon. Throw your fork onto your empty plate and ease back in your chair and rub your belly and sort-of half-groan “Oh my god that was the best lasagna I’ve ever had.” Enjoy the adoration and praise of your friends and family. Realize a little later that because you’ve just made the best lasagna anyone has ever had, no one else is ever going to make it again, and it’ll be you, every year, agreeing to make the lasagna. But you won’t mind. Because the best part about this lasagna is making more than enough to share with family and friends and enjoying it with them. Also, they’ll think it was really hard to make and will do all the dishes.

catViki Julian Gonia, non-fiction editor for Hypertext Magazine, has been a columnist and freelance writer and photographer for The Doings Western Springs for six years and holds a Bachelor’s and a Master’s from the original Fiction Writing Department of Columbia College Chicago. She’s the mother of two fantastic teenagers, one in college and one in high school. She is not a cat. She’s been published in f Magazine, Hypertext, and various other places she can’t really remember. You can find some of her photographs at spiritstandingstill.com and she’s working to launch a new blog at illbehavedwoman.com. She also occasionally writes on Svbtle and Medium. Follow Viki: Twitter  G+  Flickr.

Photo courtesy Viki Gonia

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