Believe it! Years ago, I was watching ATK* when Chris Kimball and Julia Collin Davison started a show on one-skillet-dinners. I grabbed a glass of Pinot Noir and smugly thought, "Oh, this should be rich."
Lo and behold, it was.
Granted, I tweaked the original recipe a bit, but aside from that, this is a yummy and dare I say lighter, but no less rich, version of traditional lasagna. Best of all, the noodles cook right in the sauce!
Break up good old fashioned curly lasagna noodles or use rigatoni or penne. All work great.
But first, let's set the WAYBAC machine to my earliest experience making lasagna. This was back in the start of the 70s when my Dad's friend and work associate, Pete Formica**, wanted to host an authentic Italian feast at the family homestead in Yarmouth, Mass.
Dad was all for it. He invited the team from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Chatham Office (of which Dad was the MIC or Meteorologist-in-Charge), neighbors and friends. It was quite a crowd.
Pete brightened our home for two full days. He was larger than life, always laughing hard and long. He broke into song just because it moved him. He called my father "Peanuts" (I never did learn why). And when Pete made a lasagna, it was a multi-day process. Full on "gravy" was prepared the first day and included three-meat-balls (beef, veal and pork), sweet & hot sausage, pork chops and braciole, thin meat slices seasoned, rolled and tied, then simmered in the sauce. Day two was for preparation of the noodles, cheese mix, a béchamel just to change things up a bit and, finally, the assembly of multiple trays.
Pete was clearly a lasagna aficionado and I'm pretty sure he'd be horrified by this 45-minute version, but he wouldn't deny how tasty it is.
Key to this recipe is to use whole tomatoes and then crush by hand or if you prefer less chunky, one or two taps with a boat motor. I've made it with puree and kitchen ready tomatoes, but it's just not the same. You really need the naturally occurring liquid in whole tomatoes to help cook the noodles, but also leave plenty of sauce.
Lastly, spices and cheeses: don't skimp! You want this dish to have deep flavor, like you slaved over a hot stove, slowly cooking the "gravy." When all is said and done, it will taste exactly like you did.
Based on an America’s Test Kitchen recipe…but I add more spices and cheese...you know, for flavor. Leftovers are just as good as original. It offers all the goodness of lasagna without the heaviness. NOTE: one box of regular lasagna noodles makes two batches. I like more meat in mine, so I use up to 1 1/2 pounds in the recipe and sometimes add a hot sausage link or two. Bon appetito!
Place cleaned and hand-crushed tomatoes with their juice into a 1-quart measuring cup. Tomatoes should measure a little over 1/2 way. Add enough water to the tomatoes to measure 4 cups.
Heat olive oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add the meatloaf mix and cook, breaking up the meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon, cook until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add above Italian seasonings; mix well.
Sprinkle the broken dry noodle pieces evenly over the meat mixture. Pour the hand-crushed tomatoes over the pasta, followed by the small can of tomato sauce. Move all around to be sure to get some liquid on each piece of pasta (and to prevent noodles from sticking). Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally (more like moving the mass around to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pan). Cook until the pasta is al dente, about 20 minutes. (The sauce should look watery after 15 minutes of cooking. If dry, add up to 1/4 cup additional water to loosen the sauce.)
Remove skillet from heat and sprinkle in 1/2 cup Parmesan. Give a small stir, just once around the skillet to distribute evenly. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Dot heaping tablespoons of the ricotta over the noodles. Sprinkle mozzarella. Cover skillet and let stand off the heat for 5 minutes.
Top with the chiffonade basil and serve, using extra Parmesan as a garnish.