For me a beef lasagna must have: a good meat sauce with mushrooms, good noodles, ricotta cheese, and a blend of melting cheeses, parmesan and cheddar. My wife taught me a trick that is very much worth mentioning and that is adding a light dusting of garlic powder in with the cheese layer. It gives your cheese layer a bit of extra oomph.
I know that out there everyone is looking for a quick and easy 30 minute weekday meal, and it is good to have for those weekdays where that's all the time you have, this isn't one of them. There are ready to bake noodles and other shortcuts that can be used, but flavour takes time. I have been taking the time to make my homemade pasta, and I wanted to try making lasagna with fresh pasta. I am glad I did because using fresh pasta (once made and rolled out of course) was just as easy as the ready bake. Once you get the hang of making pasta it is actually fairly easy to do, and you will not go back to the store bought dry packaged stuff again. If you can't take the time, try to at least find fresh pasta sheets at the market, the difference will shock you!
Now the ingredients you use in your lasagna are very important because of the different layers you will notice each of the ingredients more. Organic and fresh is key here, and because of the focus on the dairy try to find a good ricotta (it is the one that your family or guests will notice most). Lasagna pretty much goes against the trends of quick, easy, healthy and affordable, but that's what makes it so irresistible. So go out and live a little, and take the time to make something memorable.
For 8 portions of memories you will need:
1 onion finely diced
2 medium carrots finely diced
2 celery stocks finely diced
1/2 pint of favourite mushrooms (I love cremini because they are more earthy)
1 1/2 lb. ground beef
3 big cloves garlic minced
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp coarsely chopped fennel seeds
1/4 tsp + pinch for dusting- garlic powder
3 tbsp olive oil
S&P to taste
1/4 red wine (something you would drink)
1/4 cup chicken stock
3 cups canned crushed tomatoes
2-3 cups diced tomatoes (fresh if in season or canned other wise)
1 tbsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp marjoram
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
1 lb. fresh pasta cut to fit you baking dish (for other types of Lasagna noodles follow directions on the box)
400 grams of good ricotta
350 grams of shredded cheese a mix of mozzarella, provolone (or other stringy cheeses), parmesan and a bit of cheddar
To make the sauce:
Start of by browning the beef at medium to medium high heat in a large pot. Then put off to the side. Add oil to pan and start to sweat the onions, and when they are softened, about 2 -3 minutes add the diced carrots and celery. Brown together adding mushrooms when the rest of the vegetables are almost brown. Seasoning with salt and pepper, then start to add the dry spices. When you can smell the spices, add the garlic and beef. then add the red wine and scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pot. Then add the crushed tomatoes, bay leaves and chicken stock. Let simmer for 30 mins uncovered. Add the diced tomatoes and let simmer for another 10 mins. Season to taste, depending on the tomatoes you may need more of the dried spices or a bit more salt and pepper.
To bring it all together:
Preheat your oven to 375 F. Skim a bit of the liquid from the meat sauce and line the baking dish with it. Lay down first layer of pasta to cover dish, then a generous layer of meat sauce on top, then pasta. Keep layering until you are 1/2" from the top of the dish, spread a layer of ricotta top with a thin layer of sauce and pasta. Then top with cheese blend and dust with garlic powder. Bake about 25 minutes on a baking sheet (so you don't have to scrape cheese of the bottom of your oven) for fresh pasta, and follow directions for other types of pasta.
Let cool for about a minute or two then serve and enjoy!