Freezer Nesting: Lasagna

I remember, after our first child was born, my sister came to visit when we were all home. She arrived with a full pan of lasagna, loaf of garlic bread, salad…all the things we’d need for dinner that night, and the only work we’d need to do was heat it up in the oven. It fed us not only that night, but for a number of lunches in the week that followed. And was even more delicious from the fact that it was made for us.

Not everyone in the house is a fan of Italian food, but we all love a pan of lasagna. To confess: we often purchase a pre-made frozen pan at the grocery store and call on the comfort of lasagna after a busy weekend day. Perhaps it was because I recalled witnessing the efforts of my own parents to assemble a good pan of lasagna for a dinner party, and recalling little more than the monumental work it seemed to take. We’ve even made lasagna in a crock pot, which still felt like a lot of work, but loved the idea that it would just cook all day and be ready for us to eat as soon as we came home. But still leaned on the crutch of pre-made pans.

Then it hit me: the bigger reason we avoided making lasagna (aside from my lack-of-Italian-blood complex) is because we are a family of 2.75 eaters. And getting leftovers to disappear is a very meh effort among 1.75 of those eaters. Unless we’re talking about a batch of Monkey Bread. But that’s a different recipe.

What if we could make two meals from a single recipe? That would solve the leftovers problem and bring me two meals closer to my goal. Inspired once more, I hit the cookbooks. Both recipes below come from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.

Chunky Tomato Meat Sauce

IMG_15521/2 pound lean ground beef (85 percent lean)

1/2 pound ground pork

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, minced

Salt

6 garlic cloves, minced

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Pepper

Heat oil in a large saucepan until shimmering. Add onion and 1 teaspoon salt and cook until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until just fragrant, about 30 seconds. IMG_1554

Add the beef and pork and cook, stirring to break up the clumps, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. IMG_1555

Stir in the tomatoes with their juices, the oregano, and red pepper flakes. Simmer until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Season with pepper to taste.

IMG_1557IMG_1558

Makes 6 cups.

Simple Meat Lasagna

IMG_156015 ounces ricotta cheese (1 3/4 cups)

2 1/2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (1 1/4 cups)

1/2 cup minced fresh basil

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

6 cups tomato sauce

12 no-boil lasagna noodles (1 8- or 9-ounce package)

1 pound whole milk mozzarella, shredded (4 cups)

Mix the ricotta, 1 cup of the Parmesan, the basil, egg, salt, and pepper until well combined.IMG_1562

Spread 1/4 cup of the tomato sauce over the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish.

For freezer prep, I used two 8x8 foil pans.

For freezer prep, I used two 8×8 foil pans.

Place 3 of the noodles on top of the sauce and drop 3 tablespoons of the ricotta mixture down the center of each noodle, then spread it to an even thickness.

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From this point forward, I simply divided the two ingredients in between the pans.

Sprinkle evenly with 1 cup of the mozzarella. Spoon 1 1/2 cups of the sauce evenly over the cheese. IMG_1567

IMG_1568Repeat this layering two more times.IMG_1569

For the final layer, place the 3 remaining noodles on top. Spread the remaining 1 1/4 cups sauce over the noodles. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup mozzarella and then the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan. Spray a large sheet of foil lightly with vegetable oil spray and cover the lasagna.

Bake in preheated 375-degree oven for 15 minutes.  Remove the foil and continue to bake until the cheese is browned and the sauce is bubbling, about 25 minutes longer. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving. (Serves 6 to 8.)

For final steps before freezing, I added the first layer of foil (this is great for keeping the cheese from sticking to the foil). Then I measured another layer of foil where I wrote out the thawing and cooking directions. IMG_1571Then it was a simple matter of adding the plastic domed lids, and they were off to the freezer for a summertime slumber.

(And, according to the big-brother-to-be, the baby will really love this recipe. He had a hand in helping put this particular one together.)

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Here’s where the meal tally stands to-date: 10 down, 20 to go. The freezer silo we’ve started is starting to grow noticeably.

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