The Italians know pasta and love! Heck.. I think they might be one in the same! This is was my first attempt at mastering dishes, so you’ll have to excuse the lack homemade pasta. I actually didn’t take a picture the first time around, so what you see here is a recreation. For this round, we’re going to focus on a great lasagna that is easy to cook and sure to please a crowd.
To get started immediately go the basil sausage lasagna recipe. Stick with me to hear a little about my visit and why I chose this dish..
My Italian experience
Italy kicked off my European summer in 2006. I was traveling with friends from UNC Kenan-Flagler and waiting to start my real-world role in tech marketing. Little did I know this role would lead to so many amazing friends, personal growth, professional development, and a relationship that certainly changed the trajectory of my life. More on that later! For now, lets stick to the food.
My friend Mindy and I toured around Italy before meeting up with the other girls, We fell in temporary love with Italian boys in Venice, then ventured on to Florence, Tuscany, Rome, Naples, Pompeii, and the Amalfi Coast. You’ll come to know Mindy well as she will feature in many, many of these countries. I’ve also visited with work a few times, but the pictures aren’t terribly exciting. Check out some of my favorite spots on he Taste Bud travels page.
Why basil and sausage lasagna?
Mindy and I could not get enough lasagna (or pasta in general) on this trip. I swear we both gained five pounds each in a matter of about 10 days. I also personally think basil tastes like the freshest thing ever created – next only to mint. I cooked this in December when it was finally cold enough in Austin to enjoy a warm, cheesy lasagna.
An Austin Italian experience
The idea for mastering dishes from 38 countries was born over this plate of lasagna. My friend Kefren was over for dinner and we were having this amazing conversation. I decided at that moment that I wanted to spend more time with my friends and I wanted to cook more – a lot more. This was my remedy to feeling lonely cooking for one. Six months later, I can’t believe how far I’ve come!
Inspirational lasagna recipe and resources
Epicurious was a great starting point for this recipe.
Tweaks and cautionary tales
Feel free to create fresh pasta. I reduced the cheese a bit and upped the basil. I also added in real tomatoes. Oh, and don’t use canned tomatoes – ever! The acidity in the tomatoes pulls from the aluminum. Even if that is not true, why not stick to glass jars or fresh tomatoes just to be safe?
How to make this healthier
I’m borrowing from Not My Mama’s Meals here. I’m addicted to the show and have a slight crush on Bobby Dean. If you make fresh pasta, make it thinner to cut down calories. Also, replace half the sausage with either lean beef or turkey and the other half with Portobello mushrooms. If you do replace the sausage, add in fennel to keep that sausage flavor. Low fat cheese is another way to cut down on fat, but I’m not a fan of low-fat foods. I stick with healthier ingredients over artificially adapted foods.
- Learning Curve: mild
- Pre-work: none
- Vegetarian: can be tweaked
- Freezes well: yes
- *This dish freezes great, so you might want to consider doubling the recipe and freezing it for a quick meal later.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound spicy Italian sausages (Whole Foods has a great choice in the butcher section)
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 3 large garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- ¼ teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes with added purée
- 2 tomatoes, chunked
- 1 14½-ounce can diced tomatoes with green pepper and onion (do not drain)
- 2 cups (packed) fresh basil leaves
- 1 15-ounce container plus ¾ cup part-skim ricotta cheese
- 1¼ cups (packed) grated mozzarella cheese (about 6 ounces)
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 ounces)
- 1 large egg
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 12 no-boil lasagna noodles from one 8-ounce package
- 2 cups (packed) grated mozzarella cheese (about 12 ounces)
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 ounces)
- Nonstick olive oil spray
- Sauce: Optional: Make the sauce a day in advance. Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add sausages, onion, garlic, oregano and crushed red pepper and sauté until sausage is cooked through, mashing sausage into small pieces with back of fork, about 10 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, and diced tomatoes with juices. Bring sauce to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 5 minutes to blend flavors. Season with salt and pepper.
- Filling: Using on/off turns, chop fresh basil leaves finely in processor. Add ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan, egg, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Using on/off turns, process filling until just blended and texture is still chunky.
- Assembly: Preheat oven to 375°F. Spread 1¼ cups sauce in 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Arrange 3 noodles on sauce. Drop 1½ cups filling over noodles, then spread evenly to cover. Sprinkle with ¾ cup mozzarella cheese and ¼ cup Parmesan cheese. Repeat layering of sauce, noodles, filling and cheeses 2 more times. Top with remaining 3 noodles. Spoon remaining sauce atop noodles. Sprinkle with remaining cheeses. Spray large piece of foil with nonstick olive oil spray. Cover lasagna with foil, sprayed side down.
- Bake lasagna 40 minutes. Carefully uncover. Increase oven temperature to 400°F. Bake until noodles are tender, sauce bubbles thickly and edges of lasagna are golden and puffed, about 20 minutes. Transfer to work surface; let stand 15 minutes before serving.