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Big Joe’s Classic Lasagna [Recipe]

Picture from Big Joe’s Big Jersey Cookbook / Gary Gellman

Why does lasagna taste so good the next day, and the day after that and the day after that? Good lasagna takes a little time to put together but it really is a total meal within itself. Once assembled, it’s all in one pan. I love that concept!

I use the same sauce recipe that you’ll find for my pasta and meatballs. If time allows, make the sauce a couple of hours before you start to build your lasagna as it’ll give more time for the sauce to tighten up and the flavors to blend together. It’s a good sauce with great flavor. I’ve been making this lasagna for a long, long time and the trick to cooking good lasagna is making it without a lot of moisture or water gathering in the pan.

In order to avoid the extra water make sure that your ricotta is thoroughly drained and that your mixtures are thick and void of excess grease. Take the time to make this dish on a rainy or cloudy day because when you serve this classic, it’ll be worth the sunny effort. I usually serve this dish with a nice glass of red wine and a big salad.

 

NOTE: Big Joe’s Homemade Sauce can be found below

 

1 box lasagna noodles (I use Ronzoni Ready to Bake noodles)

¾ pounds of ground beef (no leaner than 85%)

¾ pounds of ground Italian sausage (I use a mixture of both sweet and hot sausage)

½ pound of ground pork or veal

2 cloves of garlic, finely minced

2 tablespoons of chopped basil

¼ cup of finely chopped Italian parsley

1 tablespoon of tomato paste

1 large pinch of cinnamon

1 pinch of chili powder

2 tablespoons of oregano (dried is o.k.)

24oz. of ricotta cheese, drained well and dry as possible

2 eggs lightly beaten

¾ cup of grated Parmesan cheese

1 pound of mozzarella cheese for topping (I like to use a blend of provolone and mozzarella since it adds more flavor)

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a heavy skillet on high – medium high heat add the olive oil. Once olive oil is warm add the garlic and all the meats. Break and blend all the ground meats as you sauté. Right before meat is fully cooked drain the excess grease from skillet.

To the skillet add tomato paste, oregano, basil and cinnamon, salt and pepper to taste. Blend all the ingredients, stir constantly and still sauté over medium heat. Once spices are blended and tomato paste is incorporated into the meat then add 3-4 cups of homemade tomato sauce and stir. Add ¼ of the parmesan cheese to meat mixture. Stir occasionally and continue to cook over medium heat letting mixture reduce.

In a mixing bowl add the now dry ricotta, eggs, ¼ cup of parmesan cheese and Italian parsley. Blend mixture so that it has a nice consistency and that the eggs and parsley are incorporated. Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.

To assemble the lasagna: In your lasagna pan, you can coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil or I like to apply a thin layer of tomato sauce. Add the layers of lasagna noodles to the bottom of the pan, 4 noodles lengthwise in a slightly overlapping style, then add a layer of the ricotta cheese mixture over the noodles with a spatula. With a spoon add the meat mixture on top of the cheese mixture. Sprinkle on some of the shredded mozzarella/provolone cheese. Add more tomato sauce, being careful not to add too much sauce, just a line across the cheese mixture. Repeat the process again. On top of the second layer add a top layer of lasagna noodles, cover with tomato sauce, add mozzarella/provolone cheese and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan. Bake for 1 hour. Once lasagna is cooked let stand for thirty minutes so that lasagna settles. Cut into squares and serve with a big spoon of tomato sauce on the top.

BIG JOE’S HOMEMADE SAUCE

Like good wine, good sauce or gravy as some of my Brooklyn and Northern Jersey friends would call it, needs time and patience.

3 28oz cans have crushed tomatoes (I like the Tuturro brand)

1 can diced tomatoes

1 ½ small can of tomato paste (Italian seasoned is good)

¾ cup of red wine (I use Chianti or a Merlot or a Pinot Noir)

4 cloves of garlic, crushed or finely diced

9 white button mushrooms, diced

1 small yellow onion (I like Vidalia when in season), diced

4 tablespoons of oregano (I like more!)

2 bay leaves

3 tablespoons of basil

4 tablespoons of Romano or Parmesan cheese (I like a blend of these two cheeses)

1 large pinch of sugar

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes (I like a little more)

freshly ground black pepper

salt to taste

Note: I find it almost mandatory to use a wooden spoon and better for your pots!

In a large pot over a medium high heat add olive oil. Once oil is warm add onions, mushroom, garlic and salt (salt prevents browning). You don’t want to brown the onions, mushrooms or garlic so add a little salt and cook so onions are a little transparent. Add oregano, basil, black pepper and sauté briefly, mixing in all the spices. Add diced tomatoes stirring constantly, add tomato paste, mix well and incorporate. Add crushed tomatoes stirring constantly. Add bay leaves, wine, sugar, crushed pepper flakes.

Stir mixture slowly and bring mixture to a slow boil. Once boiling reduce heat to simmer, stirring the sauce every 5 – 10 minutes at first so that the sauce doesn’t stick to the bottom. I partially cover the pot to let some of the sauce reduce, simmer for 2 – 3 hours at very low heat, stirring every 20 minutes or so. About 20 minutes before sauce is ready, add cheese and remove bay leaves.

This recipe comes from Big Joe Henry’s Big Jersey Cookbook

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