Growing up in a traditional Italian family in the 1970’s & 1980’s our special meals usually consisted of a homemade lasagna or homemade cannelloni, all from scratch…fresh pasta and sauce. This was traditionally served on Sunday, after church for lunch or “Pranzo”, a formal, multi-course lunch. I still serve these dishes for special occasions only as they are very time consuming and very delicious! I teach the art of Classic Italian Meat Lasagna in my cooking school in the Speciality Class…Fresh Pasta, but let’s face it, it takes a better part of the 3 hour class, with many hands to make it! I share tips in the class of how to break the tasks down so you can do a lot ahead but it certainly is not a weeknight dinner menu!

This is where the “cheater lasagna” comes in! This is basically all the same components… pasta, meat sauce, mozzarella cheese & parmesan cheese, all baked into a delicious pasta that serves a crowd or your family on any weeknight! There is no real recipe just a few steps…..First make your favorite tomato sauce with ground meat….enough for a pound of pasta.  I often make a double batch a few days before, one for the same day to serve with pasta and the second batch for this recipe a few nights later when I know I will be time strapped. Next, boil  a pound of your favorite, short pasta, such as penne rigate but make sure you undercook the pasta by a few minutes. Meanwhile, add about 1 cup of water to the sauce to liquify it and compensate for the evaporation that will occur when you bake it. This runny sauce will ensure your pasta gets fully cooked in the oven and the resulting sauce will be the perfect consistency, not dry. Have a couple of cups of grated mozzarella nearby as well as about 1/2 cup of grated parmesan.
Strain the pasta and mix in a little bit of the sauce to ensure it doesn’t stick. Add a generous amount of sauce to the bottom of a lasagna pan. Spread half of the pasta on top, spread half of the remaining sauce and sprinkle half of the 2 cheeses.
Now repeat with the remaining ingredients, ending with the cheese. Cover with tinfoil and bake for about 30-40 minutes at 350 degrees fahrenheit or until the sauce is boiling and the cheese is melted. To ensure it is all heated through, poke the middle with a knife and check that the blade is hot. The ingredients were all cooked when we placed it in the oven, we are just ensuring now that it is hot. Remove from the oven, let this rest for 10-15 minutes so it will slice easier and enjoy!

Much easier than lasagna but the same flavour profile…guess what we are having for dinner tonight?
Ciao for now, Natalina

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