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Lasagna

EVERYTHING YOU LOVE, MINUS THE COMPLICATED CONSTRUCTION

Lasagna is eminently popular, served at potlucks, church suppers, and kitchen tables. But in most homes lasagna is weekend food, prepared only when time permits. You need to make the sauce, grate the cheeses, and then layer ingredients into the baking dish. The advent of no-boil noodles has eliminated the tedious steps of cooking, draining, and shocking the pasta, but the process still takes at least 90 minutes once you factor in the baking time.

However, if you are willing to live without the layered construction, you can make lasagna in a skillet in half the time. Because the pasta cooks in the same pan used to make the sauce, the “baking” time is just 20 minutes. On the stovetop, the heat transfer is superefficient and the lid traps heat and cooks the noodles very quickly. Best of all, cleanup is a breeze since there are no other pots to wash.

To our surprise, this recipe is better with old-fashioned curly-edged pasta (the kind used by your mother) than newfangled no-boil noodles. The latter become mushy in this preparation. And reducing the simmering time even further (yes, we tried this) doesn’t give the sauce time to thicken properly.

But there’s another unexpected benefit to using curly-edged noodles. Because these dry noodles are typically boiled, they are designed to soak up liquid. Rather than absorbing water, these noodles soak up tons of flavor from the sauce and actually taste better than noodles baked in a conventional lasagna. Just another good reason to trade in your baking dish for a skillet.

WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS

Three Meats Are Better Than One

After sautéing onion and garlic, brown the meat in the pan to develop its flavor. Meatloaf mix (a blend of ground beef, pork, and veal) contributes deep, meaty flavor to the dish and requires no extra work.

Pasta Break

Naturally, you can’t fit full sheets of lasagna noodles in a skillet, but you can break them up into fork-friendly pieces. No-boil lasagna noodles don’t work well here—regular, curly-edged noodles are thicker so they’ll absorb (and capture) more flavor from the meaty tomato sauce.

Make It Saucy

Canned diced tomatoes and tomato sauce, thinned with water, provide ample liquid to cook our noodles and they thicken to just the right consistency after simmering. The richness of the seasoned browned meat simmering in the sauce also gives it long-cooked flavor in very little time. Don’t worry if everything seems too watery at first—the dried noodles will absorb much of the liquid. Remember to use a skillet with a tight-fitting lid for tender noodles and a perfectly thickened sauce.

Wait on the Ricotta

Parmesan is stirred into the cooked noodles to add salty, nutty flavor, but when it comes to cheese in lasagna, ricotta is the star of the show. Too bad it often turns out dry and grainy. That’s because this naturally low-fat cheese easily dries out in the oven. Things are even worse in a lidded skillet—the agitation of the bubbling sauce will break the ricotta into tiny, unappealing curds. For creamy pockets of cheese, remove the skillet from the heat and drop big spoonfuls of ricotta over the cooked noodles. Quickly cover the pan and let it sit just long enough to warm up the ricotta. A handful of chopped basil sprinkled over the skillet lasagna provides a bright, fresh finishing touch.

lasagna-b

Making lasagna in a skillet means breaking some rules—and some noodles.

lasagna-a

Skillet Meaty Lasagna

SERVES 4 TO 6

RECIPE DETAILS

Timeline

  • 10 minutes to prepare ingredients
  • 10 minutes to sauté ingredients
  • 20 minutes to cook noodles (mostly hands-off)
  • 5 minutes to finish dish

Essential Tools

  • 12-inch nonstick skillet with tight-fitting lid

Substitutions & Variations

  • If meatloaf mix is not available, use 8 ounces each ground pork and 85 percent lean ground beef.
  • You can substitute part-skim ricotta in this recipe, but do not use nonfat ricotta, which has a very dry texture and bland flavor.
  • To make this dish spicy, increase the amount of pepper flakes to 1 teaspoon.

Do not use no-boil noodles in this recipe. If the curly-edged noodles are especially dry and prone to shattering, you may need to add extra water to the skillet while the pasta cooks.

  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • Water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 pound meatloaf mix
  • 10   curly-edged lasagna noodles, broken into 2-inch lengths
  • 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 ounce parmesan cheese, grated (½ cup), plus 2 tablespoons, grated
  • 8 ounces (1 cup) whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  1. Place tomatoes and their juice in 4-cup liquid measuring cup. Add water until mixture measures 4 cups.
  2. Heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and ½ teaspoon salt and cook until onion begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add meatloaf mix and cook, breaking up meat into small pieces with wooden spoon, until it is no longer pink, about 4 minutes.
  3. Scatter noodles over meat but don’t stir. Pour tomato mixture and tomato sauce over noodles, cover, and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until noodles are tender, about 20 minutes.
  4. Off heat, stir in ½ cup Parmesan and season with salt and pepper to taste. Dollop heaping tablespoons of ricotta over top, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with basil and remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan. Serve.

SKILLET LASAGNA WITH SAUSAGE AND RED BELL PEPPER

Substitute 1 pound Italian sausage, casings removed, for meatloaf mix. Add 1 chopped red bell pepper to skillet with onion.

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