You and this Make Ahead Lasagna are going to be good friends this winter.
I know it’s the week before Thanksgiving. And I know lasagna may not be at the top of your list of of holiday dishes. But listen – you’re going to be glad you’ve got this in your arsenal. Got family coming in the day before Thanksgiving? Know you won’t be able face making another complete meal once the leftovers are gone? Prep one of these to freeze this weekend. It requires some time up front, but, seriously. When your cousin’s daughter is having a meltdown in the middle of your living room and your mother-in-law is giving your unpolished silver the side-eye, you can take a deep breath and know that at least a fantastic, homemade dinner is taken care of. All you’ll have to do later is remember to defrost (the hardest part!), then pop it in the oven, whip up a green salad, and open a bottle of wine (or several?).
Lasagna is, of course, completely delicious when prepared fresh and eaten the same day. But it’s also very freezer-friendly. Properly wrapped, it can last up to three months. (I’ve actually frozen lasagna successfully for north of six months. Not that I’m advising that you do that. It was fine! But freezer burn can happen with time, so I don’t actually recommend that). For best results, you’ll need a full day to defrost it in the fridge.
This recipe is … substantial. Last time I made it, I weighed the pan, and it was 14 lbs. Fourteen! That’s like holding two babies. Wow. But it feeds a lot of people. At my last dinner party (six adults), I served this lasagna with just a Caesar salad and some garlic bread, and even with a couple guests going back for second helpings, we had plenty of leftovers. The final version is surprisingly light-tasting, thanks to an airy layer of cottage cheese and egg and a light hand with the cheese. It’s rich and satisfying, but not so much that you’ll get that dreaded after-dinner belly-bomb feeling. The holidays are upon us, and we don’t want to have to slink into the closet prematurely to fetch our fat pants, now, do we.
This Make Ahead Lasagna is also easily customized. The full version includes a homemade meat sauce, plus a layer of sauteed veggies. But if you’re cooking for a vegetarian, use plain marinara and maybe add some mushrooms to the saute. Sub ground turkey for ground beef. Or dispense with the vegetables altogether for the spinach-averse. And if you’re strapped for time, by all means use jarred tomato sauce. You do you. It’s pretty hard to muck this up.
I like to use standard curly-edged lasagna noodles. Yes, they’re a pain to boil, and I do curse liberally every time I lift a boiling-hot noodle out of the water with tongs and it rips in two (GAH). But they are thicker than no-boil noodles, and I like their texture better. That said, if you like a thinner layer of pasta, or just don’t want to deal with boiling, it’s completely fine to use the no-boil version.
So there you are. Make one, maybe two pans, pop them in the freezer, and retrieve when needed. Drop spatula. Pour wine. Look like a rock star.
Oozing with a rich meaty sauce, herb-scented vegetables, and airy, melty cheese, taking a little time to prep this savory Make-Ahead Lasagna will have you congratulating your fore-thinking weekend self.
- Prep Time: 90 mins
- Cook Time: 60 mins
- Total Time: 2.5 hours
- Yield: 12 servings
- Category: entrees
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb lean ground beef
1 lb hot Italian sausage, ground
1 6-oz can tomato paste
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
1 TB dried oregano
2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 small onion, diced
1 medium head broccoli, finely chopped
5 oz (one large clamshell container) fresh spinach leaves
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp seasoned salt (such as Lawry’s)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 cups (16 oz) cottage cheese
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup (1.5 oz) grated fresh Parmesan
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
9-12 lasagna noodles, cooked to al-dente and cooled (or use dry no-boil noodles)
8 oz fresh mozzarella, very thinly sliced
1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan
If baking lasagna immediately, preheat oven to 375°.
Start the sauce: in a dutch oven or large saute pan, heat 2 TB olive oil over med-low heat. Add onions and cook until they begin to soften, 3-5 mins. Add minced garlic and cook another minute. Turn heat up to medium and add ground beef and sausage, breaking up with a wooden spoon as it cooks. When the meat is evenly brown, add spices, tomato paste, and diced tomatoes, stirring to combine. Bring sauce to a simmer and cook for one hour, stirring occasionally. If the sauce begins to look dry at any point, add a little water, broth, or even a splash of good red wine.
If using cooked noodles, fill a stock pot 3/4 full of water and set to boil (if using no-boil noodles, skip to next step). When water reaches a roiling boil, add 2 TB salt, then carefully add noodles, giving them a swirl with a spoon to make sure they don’t stick together. Cook noodles to al dente consistency and cool on parchment or wax paper.
Make the vegetable mixture: In a separate large skillet, heat 1 TB olive oil over medium-low heat. Add onions and cook about 5 minutes, then add broccoli and spices. Saute about 5 minutes until broccoli begins to cook down a bit, then add the fresh spinach. Don’t be alarmed by the volume of the spinach; it will cook down to a fraction of that. Cook until spinach is wilted and remove vegetables from heat.
Layer your lasagna:
1) Ladle a spoonful of sauce on the bottom of a 9×13 pan (casserole dish, baking pan, or disposable foil, if freezing)
2) Add a layer of noodles, cutting into pieces if needed to fit pan
3) Spread 1/2 of cottage cheese mixture evenly across noodles
4) Add 1/2 of vegetable mixture, distributing evenly
5) Lay half the thinly sliced mozzarella across veggies
6) Repeat layers 1-5
7) End with a layer of noodles topped with sauce, taking care to cover exposed noodles to avoid dry edges.
7) Spread remaining mozzarella slices on top; sprinkle with remaining Parmesan. If desired, add a little extra chopped parsley or dried basil for color
If freezing, let the lasagna cool completely and wrap tightly with plastic wrap, then a double layer of foil. Freeze for up to 3 months. Before baking, remove from freezer and allow to defrost for 24 hours in refrigerator.
If cooking immediately, place the lasagna on a foil-lined baking sheet (to catch any drips), and place in a 375° oven for 55-60 minutes, until bubbly and brown on top. Let rest for 10-15 minutes before serving.
… If freezing, try assembling the lasagna in a disposable foil pan. It freezes beautifully, and saves you from sacrificing one of your regular baking pans for too long.
… Be sure to remind yourself to leave plenty of time to defrost your lasagna! It takes a full 24 hours in the fridge. It will take a very (very) long time to cook if you take it straight from the freezer.
…. Leftover baked lasagna also freezes well. I like to cut remaining pieces into individual servings, wrap each tightly with plastic wrap, and store in a freezer bag or plastic storage container. It’ll make you super happy on a busy weeknight.