Big Fat Pan of Cheesy Love

I'm always on the lookout for a good go-to recipe. And it 's always an extra added bonus when it's versatile - suitable for a dinner party or for a lazy Sunday afternoon. This lasagna fits the bill. It's not fast, but its great cooking therapy - you know, when you really want to spend time in the kitchen. I know, I know - rare, but it sometimes happens!

This is adapted from a Tyler Florence Recipe. He calls it "Drop Dead Lasagna". And the man does not lie. It's that good. I have changed a few ingredients and cut the recipe in half. The original is massive. It would feed 12 very hungry adults easily. This one is a little easier to find a pan for and will feed a hungry family of four with leftovers (and this lasagna does improve with age).

A few tips to make this a bit simpler:

- Use bagged, preshredded cheese.
- Jarred Marinara sauce works well, just avoid the sweet ones, like Ragu or Prego.

Grocery List:

1/2 lb lasagna noodles
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 Onion, diced
2 Garlic cloves, minced
3/4 lb ground beef
1/2 lb ground pork
1/2 Tb fennel seeds
1/4 Tb red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp brown sugar
1/4 Tb dried oregano
1/2 (3 oz) can tomato paste
1 lb ricotta cheese
1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan
1 Tb dried Italian seasoning (mixture of basil, oregano, parsley)
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 lbs shredded mozzarella cheese
2 cups Marinara Sauce

Fill a large pasta pot with water and place over high heat. Add a generous amount of salt and bring to a boil. Cook the lasagna noodles for only 8 minutes; they should still be somewhat firm, as they will continue to cook when you bake the lasagna. Drain the noodles in a colander and rinse them quickly under cool water to stop the cooking process. Drizzle some olive oil so the sheets don't stick together, the set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and drizzle with {about 2 Tb} of olive oil. Saute the onion and garlic for a couple of minutes, until the onions are translucent and smell sweet. Add the ground beef and pork, stirring to break it up, and cook until the meat is thoroughly browned, about 10 minutes. Drain out the excess fat. Combine the fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, brown sugar and dried oregano in a spice mill or a coffee grinder, give it a whirl, and sprinkle on the browned meat. Stir in the tomato paste until well blended; season with salt & pepper. Take the pan off the heat.

In a large bowl, combine the ricotta and parmesan cheeses. Fold in the Italian herbs and eggs, season with salt and pepper, and mix well.

Preheat the oven to 350. Take inventory of the components you should have now: slightly cooked lasagna noodles, seasoned meat mixture, ricotta cheese filling, 2 pounds of mozzarella cheese, marinara sauce and a medium (my pan measures about 11x8) glass or ceramic baking dish. Let the layering begin.

Start by ladling enough sauce into the dish to cover the bottom; in my experience this prevents the lasagna from sticking. Layer 1 -- the noodles: slightly overlap 4 lasagna noodles lengthwise so they completely cover the bottom with no gaps. Here is a little tip: if you take 2 lasagna noodles and line the short ends of the pan, they will act as brackets or a wall to give the lasagna support when you cut it. Layer 2 -- the meat: spread half the meat mixture on top of the noodles with a spatula. The meat mixture, being the most solid element, will act as a foundation. Layer 3 -- the cheese: spread half the ricotta cheese mixture over the meat, smooth out with a spatula, and then sprinkle a third of the shredded mozzarella evenly over the ricotta mixture for that stringy cheese pull that you know and love. Layer 4 --the sauce: top with a full ladle of tomato sauce, about 1 cup; smooth it out with a spatula. Repeat layers 1 through 4. Finish with a final layer of noodles, tomato sauce and the remaining mozzarella. Tap the pan lightly on the counter to force out any air bubbles and to compress the layers.

Bake for 1 1/4 hours, until golden and bubbling. Allow the lasagna to sit for 20 minutes so it doesn't ooze all over the place when you cut it into squares.

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