Big Joe’s Jersey Homemade Lasagna with his Homemade Sauce
I know, I know the title of this recipe is a little over the top. I apologize for that but many of us take painstaking measures to create what we think is a very good New Jersey staple, homemade lasagna.
Some of you will look at this recipe and say, “Fuhgetaboutit” what does he know about lasagna? Well, I know what I like, and I like a good lasagna.
Lasagna is a staple dish that should be served at least once every six months. That’s just my opinion. A good lasagna with flavors blending from a good sauce and a nice ricotta mixture is so satisfying and almost tastes better the next day, the day after that, and the day after that. Good lasagna takes a little time to put together, but it is a total meal within itself. Once assembled, it’s all in one pan. I love that concept!
The sauce is an important part of this process in making great lasagna. I have included my recipe for homemade sauce at the end of this page. 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. 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.
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, a big salad, and a warm loaf of good Italian bread.
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 the meat is fully cooked drain the excess grease from the skillet.
To the skillet add tomato paste, oregano, basil 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 the meat mixture. Stir occasionally and continue to cook over medium heat letting the mixture reduce.
In a mixing bowl add the now-dry ricotta, eggs, ¼ cup of parmesan cheese, and Italian parsley. Blend the mixture so that it has a nice consistency and that the eggs and parsley are incorporated. Preheat 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.
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 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 the onions are a little transparent. Add oregano, basil, and 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, and crushed pepper flakes.
Stir the mixture slowly and bring the 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, and simmer for 2 – 3 hours at very low heat, stirring every 20 minutes or so. About 20 minutes before the sauce is ready, add cheese and remove bay leaves.
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Gallery Credit: Dennis Malloy
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The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 weekend host Big Joe Henry. Any opinions expressed are Big Joe’s own.