Like most Americans, I grew up eating lasagna. Although my mother made lasagna, the red sauce was nowhere near this version which I adapted from Pat Bruno Jr’s recipe. Mr. Bruno is a food writer and a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. His expertise in the field of Italian cooking is enormous as he once owned and operated an Italian cooking school in Chicago and has written several cook books. While I dinked a little here and a little there, increasing this a bit, reducing that a tad, this is without a doubt the sauce I have searched for near and far. Its thickness comes from long slow cooking so you have to plan to be doing something else in the kitchen. The sauce goes together quickly but needs to be stirred very frequently and as it nears the end, it is good to stir it every four to five minutes. But the reward is worth every turn around the pot as the sauce reduces to red gold.
After you add the tomatoes to the pan you will see a fair amount of liquid that comes to the top. As the sauce cooks, the solids will sink to the bottom and the liquid will rise to the top. It is necessary to stir often so the solids don’t scorch. While the sauce should definitely bubble, it should not do so at a break neck clip. A lazy, slow simmer is fine. As the liquid begins to evaporate, the bubbles become louder and faster reminding you to stir. At this point, monitor the flame. If the sauce is bubbling too rapidly, reduce the heat. You may need to do this several times.
During the last 15 minutes of cooking, it is important to stir every 3 or 4 minutes as the sauce will thicken noticeably and you will see the liquid and solids stay together longer after stirring. At this point be careful about stirring as when you remove the lid the sauce will in most likelihood spit at you possibly causing an uncomfortable burn.
Do not fudge the cooking time. The magnificence of this sauce lies in the slow reduction and careful attention. When it is finished there will be no layer of liquid or solids but it will be invitingly thick and appealing. Check carefully for salt. If you taste it and it seems a bit flat, stir in a bit more salt until your tongue tingles with the spice of the sausage and the hot pepper flakes.
As the sauce contains meat, cooling this sauce quickly is the last step if you are making this ahead. In the restaurant business there is a 40 – 140 rule. This means the food must be kept below 40 degrees or above 140 degrees for it to be safe. Cooling quickly is essential. To quick cool this sauce, spread it out on jelly roll pans, and it will cool in 15 to 20 minutes. If not using at once, transfer immediately to a container and store in the refrigerator for a few days or freeze for longer storage.
In addition to the lasagna below, this is an excellent all purpose sauce for pasta or any recipe calling for a Bolognese sauce. My husband loves it as a “sloppy joe” by serving the heated sauce over a toasted English muffin and topping it with grated cheese. In all fairness, I must say this was his idea, of which he is very proud. Using a pre-made, pizza crust, use this sauce, add any toppings desired and finish with mozzarella and/or provolone for an instant pizza beyond compare.
I have always used hot Italian sausage along with the red pepper flakes as I like some zing to my food. If you prefer a milder version, use sweet Italian sausage. It can be difficult to find the 14-ounce can of crushed tomatoes in puree. I use half of a 28 ounce can then place a plastic bag in a 2 cup container, fill it with the remaining tomatoes in puree and freeze it. Once frozen, remove it, seal it and you have an instant disposable ccontainer. One last important point – partially cover the pan so the liquid will evaporate but the sauce won’t splatter all over the stove. This isn’t a fun cleanup job!
Although there are many types of lasagna, according to Mr. Bruno the two mostcommon are Bolognese and Neopolitan. While both use meat sauce, it basically comes down to using a white sauce layer for the Bolognese or a ricotta layer as in the Neopolitan. This tall, stately lasagna is of the Neopolitan variety.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, finely diced
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup dry red wine (such as a Burgandy or Cabernet Sauvingnon)
1 pound 10% ground beef
1/2 pound Italian Sausage
6 cups crushed tomatoes in puree (2 – 28 ounce cans)
1- 14 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 1/2 tablespoons dried basil
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven. Add the onions, cooking until they are softened. Add the garlic and parsley and cook briefly. Turn the heat to high, add the wine and cook until the wine is almost evaporated. Add the ground beef and sausage and cook until completely done, breaking up the meat. Add the remaining ingredients
Cool before assembly or quick cool and store in the refrigerator or freezer. One half of the sauce will be used for the Lasagna, the remainder will be frozen in containers for other pasta dishes.
Note: The sauce makes about 8 1/2 cups.
1/2 recipe of the above meat sauce
9 lasagna noodles (about 13 ounces)
1 1/2 pounds low fat ricotta
3/4 cups asiago cheese
1 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 pound low fat mozzarella, grated
1/4 pound provolone, grated
Fill a pasta cooker or a 2 1/2 to 3 gallon stockpot with hot water. Add 1 tablespoons salt. Cook the lasagna noodles for about 12 to 14 minutes just until tender. Drain in a colander and run cold water over the pasta to stop the cooking and keep them from sticking together.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 9 inch square pan with cooking spray.
Place three noodles lengthwise in the pan. Cut off excess pasta to fit the pan. Dollop the pasta with 1/2 of the ricotta mixture spreading it to completely cover the pasta. Spread 1/3 of the meat sauce over the ricotta.
Continue for 1 more layer. Place the remaining pasta over the last layer, top with the remaining meat sauce and cover the sauce with the mozzarella and provolone. Spray a piece of aluminum foil large enough to loosely cover the lasagna with cooking spray; cover the lasagna. Place on a jelly-roll pan and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the cheese is a speckled brown. Remove from oven and let rest 10 minutes. Cut into desired size and serve.
Yields: 6 to 9 servings. This may be made in a 9×13 inch pan by using all the meat sauce and double the ingredients for the Lasagna. The remaining instructions remain the same.
To Make Ahead: This can be made, baked ahead and refrigerated. Release from pan, turn right side up and cut into the desired number of pieces. Wrap each piece in film and freeze. Store in a freezer proof bag up to 3 months. To serve, thaw the night before. Heat in a covered pan for 25 to 30 minutes at 350 degrees. It may also be microwaved if heating one serving.