A Lasagna for Lillian

I didn’t leave the house yesterday. Washington’s governor declared a state of emergency, but it was more of a state of mind thing for me, not just the rain. I didn’t leave my pajamas, or my computer, either. It was just that sort of day. I spent the hours inside, looking out, wondering how much more water the clouds above Seattle could possibly give, and how long it would take for our basement carpet to dry out again.

When six o’clock rolled around, I felt the rumblings of hunger, and thought of the lasagna recipe a friend sent recently. I imagined it sliding apart in my mouth, layer after moist layer, and thought about how her youngest daughter, Lillian, the Queen of Ground Beef for Breakfast, must have eaten it before school the next morning.

I love lasagna, but usually the times I need it’s simple, satisfying flavors are the same times the whole process is a little too much for me. I somehow always contract some lofty ambition of making extra for neighbors and friends as I’m gathering ingredients, and before I know it, I’m making lasagna for 600. I pick some swanky recipe, with a page-long list of esoteric ingredients, and spend hours layering. It’s usually good, but when I dig in, I always think of the very first time I made it, with my friend Sari, in my childhood home. In my mind, it took next to no time to prepare. We scattered cooked noodles out all over the counter, going through box after box before we figured out how to cook them and drain them without ripping them to shreds, but it was all done instantaneously. We used cottage cheese instead of ricotta, which was easier to spread and somehow infinitely more appealing to us as kids. (I can’t remember if that was part of the recipe, or if my mother made us use it because she didn’t want to schlep us to the grocery store for a missing ingredient. I’m betting on the latter. In any case, don’t knock it ’til you try it.)

That lasagna, the one I remember for the joy in eating it without flinching at the effort in making it, is the one I craved last night. I wanted Instant Gratification Lasagna. I thawed out some ground beef, made a quick trip to my neighbor’s refrigerator for mozzarella, and dug in.

When we sat down to eat, my husband looked baffled. Lasagna? he said. Does this make us normal?

Lillian, I think I finally understand the ground beef thing. It was such a good breakfast.

Loaf Pan Lasagna 1

Loaf Pan Lasagna (PDF)
Recipe 338 of 365

There are obvious advantages to making food in large batches, but there are disadvantages, too. It’s easier to eat too much, for one, and if I have something like lasagna too many dinners in a row, I lose my taste for it.

But some rainy nights, lasagna is all I want. Here’s a super simple version, made with no-bake noodles, lean ground beef, and lowfat cottage cheese. It fits perfectly into two loaf pans, which means it cooks more quickly, too. Share one between two people for dinner, saving a bit for lunch the next day, and freeze one for another night, or bake up both to feed six.

TIME: 45 minutes active time
MAKES: 6 to 8 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 pound lean ground beef
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 large eggs
2 cups (16 ounces) lowfat cottage cheese
3 cups marinara sauce (or one 24-ounce jar)
12 no-bake lasagna noodles (I prefer the flat kind Trader Joe’s sells)
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the oil, then the onion, and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes, or until onion begins to soften. Add garlic, thyme, and oregano, and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the beef, breaking it up as you drop it into the pan, and season with 1 teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Cook the beef for about 10 minutes, breaking it up as it cooks, until no pink remains. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, whisk the eggs to blend in a mixing bowl, and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir in cottage cheese, and set aside.

Spread 1/4 cup of the marinara sauce on the bottom of each of two 8 1/2” x 4 1/2″ loaf pans. Add a sheet of pasta to each, followed by another 1/4 cup sauce, 2/3 cup of the meat mixture, and 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella. Next, add another sheet of pasta, followed by 1/2 cup of the cottage cheese mixture. (It will be slightly runny, that’s okay.) Top each with another noodle, then 1/4 cup sauce, and divide the remaining meat between the two pans. Top each meat layer with another 1/4 cup mozzarella, then a sheet of pasta, and divide the remaining cottage cheese mixture between the two pans. Finally, top the cottage cheese with the last of the pasta. Divide the remaining sauce over the noodles, spreading it to cover them all the way to the edges. Sprinkle each with about 1/2 cup mozzarella.

Cover each pan tightly with foil, and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil, and bake another 15 minutes uncovered, until cheese is melted and beginning to brown. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

To freeze cooked lasagna, let cool to room temperature, then cover the top with foil, wrap in plastic, and freeze up to 2 months. Transfer to refrigerator 24 hours before baking, with foil on top, for 20 to 30 minutes at 350 degrees, or until hot all the way through.


Filed under Beef, Pasta, recipe

11 responses to “A Lasagna for Lillian

  1. andrew

    hi jess,

    will this recipe work when using fresh pasta? I’ve been wanting to make lasagna with fresh sheets of pasta for awhile now.


  2. Honestly, A., I’m not sure – I haven’t tried it. But I don’t see why not . . .

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  6. ron

    my dove!! it is the best!! what nice about two loafs is u eat up one and give to friends as gift. Ive made it five times and all five friends rave for it! Been using ground turkey since I dont eat red meat! next time Im gonna try turkey sauages mix. Vodka sauce knock them out. so much more to play with this recipe enjoy

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  10. thanks for the great recipe :))

  11. Katie

    Hi- do you have to cook the lasagna prior to freezing? If not, do you know how I’d cook it once thawed?

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