And now, I can say, that without a doubt, I have had the most amazing classic Italian lasagna known to man…and I’ve had it at least four times over.
My Aunt Marilyn snagged this recipe from an Italian friend of hers and passed it on to me. I questioned whether to try it, since I am really loyal to my mom’s fabulous lasagna, but I can’t resist trying new recipes, so I made it.
And now I’m trying to find the words to describe it to you.
This lasagna defies the notion of what I always assumed to be normal lasagna (you know, noodles covered with sauce, covered with ricotta or cottage cheese, covered with cheese…and on and on).
That’s all fine and good – and the process creates a great lasagna as I’ve always known it, but this lasagna, oh, This Lasagna…it is unique and different and authentic and just so very, very delicious.
Instead of a ricotta cheese and egg mixture, you get a homemade white sauce that is creamy and rich.
A simmered red sauce compliments the silkiness of the white sauce and this entire classic Italian lasagna is filled with cheese. Lots of cheese.
I couldn’t get over the deep flavor in this lasagna and I attribute the unparalleled richness to the browned mushrooms, garlic and onion that are pureed and added to the red sauce.
What you ultimately get is a lasagna that is a textural masterpiece as far as smooth sauces go. Pair that with the tender ground turkey and the toothsome noodles and this is just an absolute winner.
Go make it now, please. I have no words left to help convince you that your life will not be complete until you try it.
4 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced (see garlic tutorial here)
1/2 large onion, diced (about 1/2 cup)
8 ounces mushrooms, chopped
2 (8-ounce) cans tomato sauce
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning (or a mix of dried oregano and basil)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 cups milk (not skim, I used 1%)
5 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
9 lasagna noodles, boiled for half the time on the box (or use 12 of the no-boil noodles, of which I far prefer the Barilla brand)
1 pound ground turkey
1 pound mozzarella cheese, shredded
8 ounces Parmesan cheese, shredded
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9X13-inch baking pan with cooking spray or with a napkin dipped lightly in olive oil and set aside.
In a large skillet, brown the ground turkey over medium-high heat, breaking the meat apart into pieces with a wooden spoon. When turkey is cooked through, drain the grease and set aside.
In a medium-size saucepan over medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and one tablespoon butter. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. When oil/butter is hot, add the garlic, stirring constantly. When the garlic is lightly browned, but NOT burned, add the onion and mushrooms. Continue cooking on medium-high heat until the vegetables are soft and browned and the fluid has mostly cooked out. Remove from heat and either using a handheld immersion blender or transferring the vegetables to a blender, blend the vegetables to a paste-like mixture. Return the pot to the heat (pour the pureed vegetables back in, if using a stand-alone blender) and add the tomato sauce and tomato paste. Stir to combine. Then add the diced tomatoes, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Stir. Cover and let the sauce sauce simmer for 30 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Right before using the red sauce in the lasagna, stir in the reserved ground turkey.
While the red sauce simmers, if using lasagna noodles that need to be boiled, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and boil the noodles for half the time suggested on the box. Once the noodles are cooked, drain, but do not rinse. Add a dab of olive oil to keep them from sticking together. If you are using no-boil noodles, you can skip this step.
Also while the red sauce is cooking, melt the four tablespoons butter and when melted, add the flour, stirring constantly to combine and letting the mixture cook, while stirring, for a minute or two. Gradually add in the milk, whisking constantly. Add the salt and pepper. Slowly whisk the white sauce, ensuring it doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pan, while cooking it over medium heat. Continue slowly stirring or whisking while the white sauce cooks and thickens quite a bit, about 5-7 minutes. Add a pinch of mozzarella for good luck, if you wish!
To begin layering the lasagna, keep in mind that you’ll have three layers of noodles as well as three layers of the sauces and cheese – so plan on splitting all the sauce and cheese piles into thirds so you don’t run out at the end! On the bottom of your lightly greased baking pan, layer three pre-boiled noodles or four no-boil noodles, slightly overlapping the no-boil noodles. Layer the red sauce, white sauce, Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses, spreading all to the edges and top with another layer of noodles. Again, layer the red sauce, white sauce, Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses and top with the final layer of noodles. Layer the sauces and cheeses again.
Cover the lasagna with a greased layer of aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and let the lasagna sit for 15 minutes before cutting and serving.
Make Ahead Instructions: follow the recipe, letting the red and white sauce cool to room temperature before assembling. Assemble the lasagna as indicated in the recipe. Cover and refrigerate for up to 12 hours. Bake according to the recipe, adding an additional 5-10 minutes if needed. Alternately, the lasagna can be covered with a double layer of aluminum foil and sealed inside a jumbo-size ziploc bag (if you don’t have a jumbo-sized bag, make sure the edges of the casserole dish are sealed tightly with foil). Freeze for up to 2-3 months. Bake from frozen for 1 1/2 hours covered. Uncover and bake for another 45 minutes to an hour, until the lasagna is hot and bubbly. Let sit for 15 minutes before serving.
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