Cooking for big life events is one of my favorite things. My family is currently awaiting the arrival of my nephew, and I wanted to make and freeze a lasagna for the new parents. In fact I made two. Perhaps I got a little carried away.
Lasagna is a classic. Some of you might be weary of lasagna, but there are tons of possible combinations of fillings and sauces to keep you interested. Even though I’d made lasagna before, I still fell victim to a couple pitfalls. Thankfully, lasagna is a pretty forgiving dish, and I’ve since done some research on lasagna methods and best practices.
The big point of debate when it comes to lasagna noodles is whether to use no-boil or regular. Obviously the best choice is to make your own homemade pasta, but realistically, not many of us are going to do that. I’ve tried no-boil noodles in the past and had a little trouble with the edges drying out. This could probably be solved by thorough sauce application. Bon Appétit actually recommends no-boil noodles.
Be warned, lasagna noodles will stick together and make your life hell if you’re not careful. If you’re not into meticulously peeling apart wet noodles, drain and rinse them after cooking. This helps get ride of extra starch. Then lay the noodles in a single layer between two damp towels until you’re ready to use them. If that sounds like a lot of trouble to you, I suggest timing your assembly process so that you have everything else cooked and ready to go when the noodles are done. That way you can transfer them directly from the pot to the pan. Of course, using no-boil noodles eliminates this problem entirely.
Tomato sauce is the classic. The blog Well Preserved recommends cooking it down a little to get rid of extra moisture. For my sauce, I sautéed cubed chicken sausage in a big pot and then set it aside in another bowl. In the same pot, I sautéed diced onions, zucchini, peppers, broccoli, and frozen spinach in the fat from the sausage, plus a little olive oil. I set that aside and put the pot back on the burner. I added a couple jars of marinara sauce and deglazed all the brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Then I let it cook on low for about 30 minutes while I prepped the other ingredients.
My favorite unconventional lasagna sauce is butternut squash and sage. It’s a delicious, warming combination of sweet and savory, and perfect for fall. Evan Kleiman’s recipe is life-altering.
Ricotta vs. Béchamel
There’s much debate surrounding this issue. I’ve used both in the past and you really can’t go wrong. I do believe I prefer bechamel though. (I read once that Mario Batali does, but I’m having trouble finding confirmation.) Some people like to use both at once. Pioneer Woman uses cottage cheese.
Lasagna With Ricotta
Lasagna with Béchamel Sauce
Lasagna is the quintessential make-ahead and freeze dish. There are several methods: pre-bake and freeze whole, pre-bake and freeze in small portions, and freeze whole unbaked. For this lasagna I baked first and then froze. For the sake of experimentation, I made two. One I froze whole, the other I frozen in individual portions. Whatever you do, make sure to wrap it first in several layers of plastic wrap, then a layer of foil, and if possible seal it in something air tight. Whole frozen lasagnas will need to thaw in the refrigerator for a day ahead of time. (Otherwise you will have to drastically increase your baking time.) Cover the dish with a layer of foil until the last ten minutes of baking. That way the cheese will brown but not burn. Lasagna frozen in individual portions will need to be reheated in the microwave, covered, to seal in moisture.
If you’re making and freezing lasagna as a gift, be sure to include reheating instructions for the lucky recipients.
Tips for Freezing
Lasagna or Lasagne
Apparently, North American English speakers use “lasagna” while English speakers in other parts of the world use “lasagne.” In Italian, “lasagne” is actually the plural form of “lasagna.” Now you know.
The fabulous thing about lasagna is you don’t really need a recipe. You just need some kind of noodles, some kind of sauce, and some kind of filling. You can use whatever kind of cheese you like, or none at all. It can be meaty or vegetarian. You can see from my photos that the lasagna I made got a wee bit too toasty on top, but guess what: it was still delicious. Go forth and make lasagna!
Thanks for reading!