(oh, a little apology for the terrible pictures in advance. Now that Mr. Daylight Savings Guy has stolen my natural light I can't get anything to look good, please practice a little imagination for now)
I very rarely use real lasagna noodles that actually have to be boiled, but this recipe demanded it and who am I to go against tradition?! The extra step adds a nice touch, leaving firm, structured noodles as opposed to soggy strips of starchiness. Another way this recipe differs from my usual is that it doesn't use ricotta cheese, and I can't say that I'm upset about it. The ricotta really does add a significant amount of moisture to the finished product, which usually results in piles of pasta-sauce-meat-cheese on my plate instead of layered slices. I also liked how crispy the top layer turned out without the ricotta, yum!
see what I'm talking about? C-R-I-S-P-Y = mmmmm
In the end this recipe will be added to my book of keepers, buuuut just as a once in a while change of scenery. Those meatballs are exhausting and I want to keep the fun alive! For now, enjoy!
Mini Meatball Lasagna (adapted from The Best International Recipe)
Lasagna di Carnivale alla Napoletana
*TIP* Since this is a very time consuming recipe, I made the meatballs in advance just because I had the spare afternoon. It definitely helped make the recipe less daunting and more enjoyable. Store cooked meatballs in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 2 days, or freeze in zipper bag for up to 1 month - ok now you can carry on.
For the meatballs and sauce
1 lb ground beef (I used 1 lb meatloaf mix - beef, pork and veal - and it was divine)
1/2 C grated parmesan cheese
1/2 C plain dried bread crumbs
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano (or you could use Italian seasoning, basil or parsley)
salt & pepper
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1-14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes with liquid
1-14.5 oz can of chicken broth (or beef broth)
1-6 oz can of tomato paste
salt & pepper to taste
Pasta and Cheese
12 dried lasagna noodles
4 C (about 1 lb) shredded mozzarella cheese
2 C (approx) grated parmesan cheese
For meatballs and sauce: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450F. Spray large rimmed baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray and set aside. In large bowl mix together the ground meat, cheese, oregano/seasonings, bread crumbs, egg, salt & pepper until uniform. Pinch off small grape-size pieces of the meat mixture and roll into balls; arrange on prepared baking sheet. Bake just until cooked through, about 8-10 minutes. Transfer meatballs to paper towel lined platter to drain excess fat.
Meanwhile, heat oil in medium saucepan over med-high heat. Add garlic and cook just until fragrant (30 sec-1 min). Stir in the tomatoes, broth, tomato paste, salt and pepper and whisk until thoroughly combined. Bring to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened. Take off the heat and add the meatballs to the pot, cover and keep warm while pasta is cooking.
For pasta and cheese: Cook lasagna noodles according to package instructions (I omitted salt in the pasta water because I felt the sauce and cheeses added enough - and they did, but that's personal preference). Drain and run under cold water. Transfer noodles to clean dish towels (NOT paper towels...they will stick!).
Spray a 13 X 9 inch baking pan with non-stick cooking spray. Smear about 3 Tbsp sauce (without meatballs) on the bottom of the pan. Line with a layer of pasta (3 noodles side-by-side) making sure the noodles touch but do not overlap. Spread about 1 1/2 cups of the sauce and meat mixture evenly over the pasta. Sprinkle evenly with 1 cup of the mozzarella and about 1/2 cup of the parmesan. Repeat the layering (pasta > sauce/meat > cheeses) 2 more times. For the final (4th) layer, cover the pasta with the remaining 1 cup mozzarella and 1/2 cup parmesan.
Heat oven to 400F. Bake lasagna until the cheese on top starts to turn golden-brown in spots, about 20-25 minutes. Let the lasagna rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing and serving.