If you think about it hard enough, a lasagna is just a fancy bolognaise spaghetti.
For over a decade I placed my oldest sister on a pedestal because of her scrumptious lasagna recipe. It was the best that I had tasted in my entire life, until I made my own lasagna and it tasted very similar to hers—with a lot less effort.
I lost some reverence for my sister that day, but I had a mouth-watering lasagna to make me feel better about it.
You may feel skeptical about lasagna requiring too much effort for the “lazy cooks” community. But if you really think about it, a lasagna is nothing more than a fancy bolognese spaghetti—and we all know how easy that is to make, albeit not as cheesy!
Let us get right down to taking shortcuts to make this delicious meal.
12 lasagna sheets
½ kg of minced beef (equivalent to around MAD 40 ($4))
1.5 kg of tomatoes (equivalent to around 12 relatively small tomatoes)
1 medium-to-small onion
Salt and pepper
1 liter of milk
2 Packets of powder bechamel sauce
500 g of edam cheese (that’s about half of a medium-sized ball)
The meat filling
The first step to making the meat filling is, unsurprisingly, cooking your meat. The original lasagna recipe mixes two kinds of meat. I am sure the Italians have their reasons, the same way you and I have our own to ignore them—we could not be bothered and it costs less to only use minced beef.
Start by pan frying a finely chopped onion on medium heat for a few minutes, until lightly browned. Next, add the minced meat with some salt and pepper.
While the meat is cooking, start on the marinara sauce (which is a fancy name for a well-seasoned tomato sauce.) You could skip this entire step and save yourselves 30 minutes. I probably recommend that, it just involves purchasing a store-bought can of the sauce. It will do the work just fine.
Since I had tomatoes at home that I didn’t want to go to waste, I made my sauce from scratch. First, boil the tomatoes in barely a teacup of water for about 20 minutes. Then turn them into a sauce using an electric mixer.
Finally, add your seasoning. Salt and pepper are enough but if you are committed add basil, bay leaf, garlic, and/or hot sauce. The point is you want to have a rich and well-seasoned sauce.
When your meat is ready, add the marinara sauce and let it cook for five more minutes. Now your meat filling mixture is ready, and it is time to move on to the bechamel sauce.
The bechamel sauce
You will find that the traditional lasagna recipe also lists a mixture of multiple wet cheeses and a layer of dry cheese. That is blasphemy in the “lazy cooks” book. In this version, we stick to one sauce and one dry cheese to minimize cost and labor.
In a saucepan, pour the milk and add the bechamel powder. The trick here is to slowly dissolve the powder in a cup of milk then add the cup of milk-powder mixture to the rest of the milk. This stops heterogenous chunks from forming in your bechamel sauce. Keep stirring for one to two minutes until the liquid turns into a condensed mixture. Your bechamel is ready.
Pro tip: You can also make your bechamel sauce from scratch by mixing butter, milk, and a tablespoon of flour. But since the bechamel powder costs around MAD 5.5 ($0.5) per packet, why bother?
The lasagna sheets
The authentic lasagna recipe is made from freshly-made dough, but we are definitely not going to commit to that project.
The common practice is to boil sheets in a similar fashion to spaghetti. This is more appealing, but I am ambitious in looking to minimize my time and yours.
Behold, there is such a thing as oven-ready lasagna sheets! The catch with these sheets is that they absorb the sauce from your other ingredients in order to hydrate. This means using the raw sheets, you will need to be very generous with liquids in each layer and risk that your lasagna might turn out to be too runny.
To counter this we will boil the oven-ready sheets in salted, hot water for about three minutes, trying to keep them in one piece. If your lasagna dish has similar dimensions to mine you will only need 12 sheets for three layers, but have two or three as spares in case you break the others.
Pro tip: Add vegetable oil to the water and only boil four sheets at a time to avoid the sheets sticking together. I also find rinsing the sheets with cold water to be helpful.
Layering the lasagna
Butter your lasagna dish–I learned the hard way that this means a rectangular, deep, and oven-friendly dish, but this is a story for another article–then start with a thin layer of the meat filling. If you happen to have leftovers from the marinara sauce, add a sauce layer first as an alternative to prevent wasting your meat.
Second, layer four lasagna sheets and add a generous layer of meat filling, then bechamel sauce and shredded edam cheese. Repeat this step one more time. Then, for the top layer, add four more lasagna sheets followed by bechamel sauce and the edam cheese—but skip the meat filling.
Your lasagna is ready for the oven. Cover your dish with tin foil and place it in a preheated oven around 170 degrees Celsius for about 45 minutes. Then remove the tin foil and let it cook for another 15 minutes.
Pro tip: The tin foil protects the lasagna from drying up and losing its juice. When you remove it in the last 15 minutes you allow the cheese to melt and caramelize just enough.
Your lasagna is ready but stop! Do not cut it just yet. Let it rest for another 15 to 20 minutes after you take it out of the oven. If you cut it right after you bring it out of the oven it will be runny.
Let it settle before you enjoy a marvelous, cheesy, comfort food. If you ever run into my sister, feel free to mention that “lazy” lasagna is a winner.