For birthday celebrations, welcome-home-from-camp and back-to-school dinners, this is our go-to easy family meal. It’s a creamy, rich lasagna without much effort or mess. That’s why we call it “weeknight lasagna!” You can make it even faster (and meatless) by eliminating the sausage. Pop open a jar of store-bought tomato sauce, open a box of no-cook noodles and mix up the ricotta and parmesan, and 15 minutes later you’re ready to pop this in the oven.
There’s really only one extra step to this recipe: Egg and milk is added to the ricotta, which makes it easier to spread. I sometimes use a simple, homemade tomato sauce, such as Marcella Hazan’s recipe, but Rao’s Homemade Marina is a perfectly suitable alternative. It’s flavorful, not pumped with sugar and sodium, and tastes fresh.
Look for no-boil lasagna noodles at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods — I prefer noodles that are completely flat, not the ones with ruffled edges. To take this weeknight lasagna to the next level, you can make and roll out your own sheets of fresh pasta, but then it wouldn’t be “weeknight,” would it? You can also use gluten-free lasagna sheets — I recommend Cappellos brand.
To top it off, grate your own mozzarella for a creamier texture and better flavor. Pre-grated cheeses are coated with powder that keeps the cheese from sticking together (but also keeps it from melting as well).
While that fantastic smelling lasagna is tucked in the oven, toss up a salad and pour yourself a glass of wine to celebrate…dinner is done, and you didn’t even break a sweat.
Weeknight Lasagna with Parmesan-Ricotta and Italian Sausage
Look for bulk Italian sausage in the butcher section; if you can’t find it, use sausage links and remove the meat from the casings. This recipe was adapted from The Williams-Sonoma Weeknight Cook: Fresh & Simple Recipes for Good Food Everyday. I’ve tweaked it substantially over the years by simplifying the instructions and adding the egg and parmesan to the ricotta, which boosts the flavor and texture.
- 1 ½ pounds mild Italian sausage
- 1 15-ounce container part-skim ricotta
- ¼ cup milk (skim, low-fat or whole will work)
- 1 egg
- 1 cup finely grated Parmesan (reserve ¼ cup)
- 5 cups tomato-basil sauce (I prefer Rao’s Homemade Marina Sauce)
- 1/2 pound lasagna noodles (regular, whole wheat or gluten-free), about 12-14 noodles
- 8 ounces part-skim mozzarella, grated or sliced
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a sauté pan over medium-high heat, sauté the sausage, breaking it up into small pieces, until browned. Drain any fat from the pan and set aside.
- In a bowl, stir together the ricotta, milk, egg and ¾ cup parmesan.
- In a 9×13 baking dish, spread 1 cup tomato sauce. Cover with a single layer of noodles without overlapping them. Spread on a third of the ricotta mixture, another cup of the sauce and top with a third of the sautéed sausage. Add two more layers of noodles, ricotta, sauce and sausage. Top with a final layer of noodles, remaining sauce, the mozzarella and the remaining 1/4 cup of Parmesan. Be sure the top layer of noodles is covered with sauce (if any edges are dry or uncovered, they will be crispy instead of soft).
- Bake uncovered for 45-50 minutes in the middle of the oven, until bubbly and golden brown. If the cheese starts to get too dark, cover the pan with foil during baking. Let stand for 5 minutes before cutting.
- Note: Lasagna can be assembled and frozen before baking. Place in refrigerator the night before you plan to bake.