Easy Cheesy Party Lasagna Recipe
Classic Lasagna: Yum!
On a cold day, there's nothing better than digging into a nice piece of warm, homemade lasagna. It's filling, comforting, and best of all, delicious! Not many things can beat the taste sensation that comes from that perfect combination of cheese, sauce, and noodles. Fortunately, lasagna is also really easy to make.
My mom is a good cook, so I'd always watch her make dishes while I was growing up. I didn't attempt to make my own lasagna, though, until I was in college and decided to throw a dinner party for some friends. It seemed simple enough: you layer noodles with sauce and cheese and you're done, right? Wrong! In my case, I forgot to cook the noodles first and ended up with a crunchy, burnt dish—not exactly appetizing.
I'm happy to say, I've never made that mistake again and now regularly serve my meatless lasagna at parties. It's the perfect dish because both my meat-eating and vegetarian friends like it, you can adjust the ingredients so that it serves a bigger crowd, and it tastes even better the next day, so leftovers are also delicious!
By now, I've made this dish so many times that I get requests for it. My father-in-law loves it so much, he always makes sure it's going to be served. One time, I didn't serve it and instead went for a Mexican-themed meal . . . and several of my guests were disappointed. So now, whatever theme I decide to go with, I always have that lasagna on hand—just in case.
For parties, I tend to use full-fat ingredients, but that can easily be adjusted. You can use low-fat cheese or low-sodium sauce, and even whole-wheat noodles. It's also delicious if you add veggies to it and turn it into a vegetable lasagna. Whatever you do with it, though, your diners are almost to certain to like it. Here's hoping that this will become a regular party dish for you, as well!
Yield: 10 servings (double the ingredients if you're having more guests)
- 1 box lasagna noodles (make sure they're NOT the no-cook kind!)
- 1 large jar meatless spaghetti sauce, like Ragu (Note: make sure it's a smooth sauce and doesn't have large tomato chunks in it.)
- 2 cups fresh or pre-shredded mozzarella cheese (whole-milk or low-fat, your preference)
- 2 cups ricotta cheese (whole-milk or low-fat)
- 2 tbsp Parmesan cheese (optional)
- Sprinkling of oregano or pepper (optional)
- Non-stick cooking spray, such as Pam
Note: This lasagna works and tastes best if prepared a day, or at least a few hours, in advance of serving. If serving more guests, you can double the ingredients and make two lasagnas or just use a larger pan and put more noodles across in each layer.
- In a very large pot, boil the noodles according to the package instructions. To get them "al dente"—soft, but firm—I let the water boil, then turn it down and keep them at a low simmer for about 30 minutes. Make sure you periodically stir the noodles—gently—to keep them from sticking together. When they've reached the consistency you like, drain and put the noodles back into the pot to let cool. For this recipe, it's important that the noodles not be too hot when you work with them.
- Once the noodles have cooled, get a large, square pan and spray liberally with non-stick cooking spray. Put on some plastic kitchen gloves and very gently place a layer of noodles in the pan so that they're just slightly overlapping. Usually, I can fit about four noodles across.
- Spread a liberal amount of the ricotta cheese over the noodles so that they're completely covered. This is why the noodles can't be too warm—you DO NOT want the cheese to start melting at this point.
- Over the ricotta, add a liberal amount of shredded mozzarella. Take a spoon and press the cheese together so that the flavors can blend.
- Spread about 1/4 cup tomato sauce over the cheeses. As I said in the ingredients section, try to use a sauce that's thick and easy to spread. This is why chunky tomatoes don't work; they can be difficult to spread and can get runny and watery. If you're making your own sauce, make sure the consistency is smooth and thick. I've found that spaghetti or pizza sauce works best for this.
- Repeat noodle, cheeses, sauce layers until you use up all of the noodles. For the final—and top—layer of noodles, DO NOT add the ricotta cheese. Instead, pour a liberal amount of tomato sauce over the top, so that there's enough to run over the sides. Spread to make even. Finish up with a generous sprinkling of mozzarella cheese, and if you desire, a little parmesan cheese.
- At this point, I carefully wrap the lasagna in plastic or tin foil and place it in the fridge. I like to let it "rest" overnight so that the flavors blend together; also, the lasagna forms a more solidified shape and doesn't fall apart when being cut.
- When ready to heat, I've found that the slow but steady process works best. Prepare to heat up at least an hour before you plan to serve it. Set the oven temperature to about 250 degrees Fahrenheit -- hot, but not overwhelming -- and put a layer of foil over the lasagna. Then let the lasagna slow bake. By doing it this way, all of the cheese will melt evenly and you won't get burnt cheese crusts on the sides of the pan.
- About 15 minutes before it's time to serve, turn off the oven and let the lasagna cool. Then serve—being careful not to burn yourself—and enjoy!
- Leftovers can be reheated or frozen, but I personally like the way it tastes cold!
Garlic Bread: The Perfect Side Dish
I love to serve this lasagna with a nice, toasty garlic bread. Here's a quick and easy garlic bread recipe:
- 1 loaf fresh French or Italian bread
- 1 stick butter
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- As much garlic powder as you can stand!
- Slice the bread in thin, even, slices, but don't cut the entire way; slice about 3/4 of the way down, so that the loaf is still intact.
- Butter both sides of each slice, then sprinkle a liberal amount of garlic powder between the slices.
- Clamp the slices back together so that the loaf is back in one piece and drizzle the olive oil over it. Then dust with some more garlic powder.
- Wrap the loaf tightly in foil so that it maintains its shape. You can heat this in the oven set at 250, along with the lasagna. Take out and let cool when you remove the lasagna dish. The slices should have a nice, crusty outside and a soft, buttery inside. You can cut the slices apart yourself or provide a knife and let your guests do it.