Something about summer screams lasagna to me. I know, it's crazy to think that something that comes from the oven could even remotely belong to the hottest part of the year, but what can I say? It just seems to belong and it's totally worth heating your tiny apartment up to sweltering temperatures.
Admittedly, there's a soft spot in my heart for lasagna. When I first started learning to cook, I fumbled around quite a bit attempting to break into the hobby. Despite trying my darndest, I was having a hard time producing anything my taste buds really wanted to land on. That is... until I learned to make lasagna.
Lasagna is the very first dish that I ever made and thought, "Wow! That's really good!" and for a while, it was my go-to entertaining dish. In fact, I've become so acquainted with it that I know the recipe by heart. Learning to make this dish was truly my gateway into learning to invite people into my home and host them around my supper table.
One of the things I really like about this recipe is that it's not quite uniform throughout. Meaning, each bite is just a little different - in one bite you get buttery sautéed mushrooms, in the next you get the sharp bite of homemade tomato sauce, in the next you get creamy ricotta and parmesan.
I hope this family style dish is as good to you as it's been to me. Either way, it will hit you right in the feels.
You're going to want to wear an apron. When working with tomato sauce, you're basically asking for little red stains all over yourself.
Red pepper flakes can be deceptively spicy, be careful with how much you use if you choose to make alterations to this recipe.
1 medium shallot, finely chopped (about 1/4-1/3 cup)
2-3 Tbsp butter, divided
2-3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup dry red wine (optional)
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 can (28 oz.) whole tomatoes
1 lb. Italian sausage
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced (I used cremini)
1 container (15 oz.) ricotta
1/2 lb - 1 lb spinach
1 cup parmesan, 2 Tbsp reserved
a few fresh gratings of nutmeg
1 lb lasagna noodles
1 lb (16 oz.) fresh mozzarella, sliced about 1/4" thick
1-2 Tbsp fresh thyme, for garnish
To make the sauce: Place 1 Tbsp of butter and 1 Tbsp of oil in a large sauce pan or dutch oven over medium-low heat until butter melts and foam subsides. Add the finely chopped shallot, salt, and red pepper flakes and sauté until shallot becomes translucent, about 5 minutes. Once shallot is translucent, add the wine and reduce until wine has mostly evaporated and glazes the shallot mixture. Add in tomato paste and stir into shallot mixture, about 1 minute. Stir the can of tomatoes (juice and all), into the shallot mixture. Turn heat to just a simmer and gently reduce while you tend to the rest of the recipe. As tomatoes soften up, gently break them down with the back of a wooden spoon. You may notice that the sauce may seem a little sharp - don't sweat it! The noodles and other filling will tone down the sauce's bite.
To cook the sausage: In a separate skillet, over medium-low heat, add a smidge of butter. Once butter has melted, add the sausage. Cook until completely browned, about 10-12 minutes. Once browned, remove to a separate dish.
To make the mushroom, spinach, & ricotta filling: Turn heat to medium/medium-high. If the fat has burned off from the sausage, add 1-2 Tbsp butter. Once butter melts and foam has subsided, add the mushrooms and sauté for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until all of the mushrooms are soft and most of their juices have evaporated. If you're concerned that this may be too many mushrooms to cook at one time, you may sauté them in batches. Remove to a large bowl (NOT the same as the sausage).
If butter has burned off, add 1-2 Tbsp more. Add spinach and sauté until cooked down and soft, stirring frequently, about 3-5 minutes. Remove to bowl with the mushrooms.
In the bowl with mushrooms and spinach, add the ricotta and all but 2 Tbsp of the parmesan. Stir until well combined.
To cook the pasta: Cook according to manufacturer's instructions.
To assemble: Place a rack in the middle level of your oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. In a 9" x 13" baking dish, or dish equivalent in size (I used an oval baking dish), smear a few Tbsp of the sauce. Then, line the bottom of the baking dish with lasagna noodles. Pour in and spread about 1/4 of the tomato sauce. Sprinkle in 1/3 of the sausage. Dollop 1/3 of the mushroom, spinach, and ricotta filling (about 3 or 4 per layer) and place 1/4 of the mozzarella slices in remaining spaces. Repeat this process 2 more time.
Once you've created three full layers of tomato sauce, sausage, ricotta filling, and mozzarella, top with the final layer of lasagna noodles. Pour over and smear the final 1/4 of the tomato sauce, arrange the final 1/4 of the mozzarella slices, sprinkle with remaining parmesan, and garnish with fresh thyme.
Put the lasagna on the middle rack of your oven and bake for 45 minutes, or until cheese has melted and the top has nicely browned. Allow to cool for at least 20 minutes. I prefer my lasagna warm, but not hot.
Serve with salad and wine.