Our Christmas and 4th of July gatherings would simply not be the same without my Aunt Kathy's famous lasagna. This is not a family recipe, per se, nor is it an authentic lasagna recipe by any means. It's entirely constructed of pre-made ingredients, most of which are really salty and fatty and bad for you. My god, though...this lasagna really tastes very good.
To make this much-loved dish, Kathy browns some ground beef, sometimes along with some sausage, and ads this meat to a big jar of Ragu (with meat) along with a packet of Lipton Onion Soup Mix...and pepperoni. Salty Salterson! Uncooked lasagna noodles are layered with this sauce, cottage cheese, mozzarella, and parmesan cheese. I've never met a person who didn't like it.
Unfortunately, that recipe relies heavily on processed, packaged foods. It's a wonderful treat twice a year, but I wanted a weekday meal that we could consume without guilt for several days. I set out to make a healthier version, using ingredients as close as possible to their natural form.
I replaced all of the meat with hot turkey sausage. I browned the meat and added 2 cans of Muir Glen crushed tomatoes to the mix along with a little kosher salt. (As an important aside, I buy Muir Glen tomatoes in their various canned forms whenever possible. Their flavor and freshness really do make a difference in the outcome of any meal.)
I let this tomato sauce simmer for a while (30 minutes?) while I made some caramelized onions to replace the concentrated flavor of the Lipton Onion Soup Mix. I cut about 5 medium onions into rough strips and slowly cooked them in some olive oil and butter over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes, occasionally covering and sometimes stirring until brown, sweet, and just starting to fall apart.
To add some nutrition to the meal, I thawed two packages of frozen spinach, ringing them out very well to get rid of the extra water. I was also sure to use whole wheat lasagna noodles (I've never once pre-cooked lasagna noodles, nor have I ever bought the no-boil noodles — they all work!) and low-fat cottage cheese (I refuse to buy non-fat products—they scare me), as well as part-skim mozzarella cheese.
Once everything was ready (and the oven was preheated to 375 degrees), I began the layering: sauce, noodles, sauce, cottage cheese, spinach, onions, mozzarella, shredded parmesan, noodles, sauce, cottage cheese, spinach, onions, mozzarella, shredded parmesan, noodles, sauce, mozzarella, parmesan. Phew, that was fun!
Then, into the oven it goes — covered with foil for the first 45 minutes, then foil-less for the final 15 until the cheese is brown and the lasagna is bubbly.
This lasagna was unbelievably awesome and, really, it was my first official original recipe! John really loved it, which worked out especially well. The lasagna was primed for consumption (after a rest overnight in the fridge) on his birthday. Since he's not eating bread or anything remotely cake-like, I came up with a solution... (The lit candle, a barrier between the lasagna and his fork, didn't last long enough for a photo.)