Momma Kelly makes the best lasagna in the entire world. That’s not just my opinion, that’s a fact. It is perfectly meaty and cheesy and saucy and HOLY CRAP is it good. It’s been made in very much the same way for many many years, and she has perfected it over time. The technique, the amounts, how long it bakes, and how long it sits to rest before you eat it. It all matters.
The one thing that you do have to keep in mind though is that you will never EVER have a lasagna that tastes exactly the same as another. There are so many variables, the meats, the sauce, the seasoning of the ingredients…it will all vary ,and because of that, your lasagna will never really taste the same. That’s ok though, if you get the technique down, it will always be good.
The most defining ingredient that has the greatest effect on the success of the whole dish is the sauce. If the sauce isn’t great, your lasagna won’t be great. Perfect noodles, perfect layering, and perfect baking will never be enough if the sauce isn’t awesome. Work on your sauce, add lots of meats, and season liberally. Let it cook for a while to meld, and if it’s possible, make it a day or even a couple days before you want to make your lasagna. You will thank me.
The other important thing is to get quality ingredients. Not to go all Barefoot Contessa on you, but you want quality cheeses, and pasta along with good tomatoes for your sauce. It really does make a difference. We use Tuttorosso and Sclafani brand tomato products…crushed tomatoes, tomato puree, and tomato sauces too…they can be found at your local grocery store. If you find a good Italian cheese shop you can get everything else you need there, and also find some other delicious treats while you browse like olives, dried sausages, and nutella. The market we go to is Liuzzi’s in North Haven, CT. They are straight from Italy, they’ve been doing this gig here in the US for over 30 years, and they totally rock, check them out if you’re in the area.
Wherever you go, whatever ingredients you use, however you make your sauce…be consistent. Consistency will be what makes your lasagna something that people ask for every holiday and at every special occasion. Why? Because they know that even if it’s a “bad” batch, it will still be good. My mother’s worst lasagna still is better than anything else you will have that night.
In the end I’m really blessed to even be able to talk about all these crazy tips and tricks for this traditional food. I’m blessed because I have a mother who taught me this. I’m blessed because I have the ability to carry on this tradition, along with my sisters, into the next generation of our family. I’m blessed because the family I have been gifted with has a talent for making amazing food, and through that food, creates strong relationships, traditions, and love. I truly believe that it is the reason everything we make tastes so wonderful. It’s the reason that every gathering we have is attended by people who are laughing, happy, and have full plates and full hearts. You want to know what it feels like to be in my family? Come over on a Sunday afternoon, watch football with us, play with the kids who are running around the house like little maniacs, and EAT. My parents kitchen feeds more than your belly, it feeds your soul. Dishes like this remind me of that and will forever remind me of the love that they have taught us and the fullness of spirit that can come from a simple plate of pasta. So when you are making this lasagna, don’t just think of it as a recipe. This is a history of my family. Give it time, give it respect, and above all, give it love.
Momma Kelly’s Lasagna
Important notes before you get started:
- It really is a process over a couple of days to get the best result. Making the sauce, then making the lasagna, then it really helps to let the lasagna sit in the fridge overnight to set. Then bake it the next day.
- This lasagna is made in a hotel pan (dimensions are about 20X12). I don’t know how to make it smaller, that’s just the way it is. So invite over your family and friends and make it for everyone. It feeds about 25 depending on the size of your pieces.
- These measurements are approximations. We have guesstimated amounts as best we can, but it’s all about feel and sight and you may have a need for an additional egg, or another meatball in your crumbled meat. Go with your gut.
- We make a large pot of meat sauce. Somewhere around 10 quarts. The sauce has meatballs, stew beef, pork chops, and hot and sweet italian sausages. If my mom’s really getting serious, she will also add in pigs feet. I know, just trust it. Like I said above, making it in advance helps too.
- You will have to do some work to find the perfect pasta sheets. The dried box kind is usually much too thick. We suggest fresh pasta sheets, but not all fresh pasta is created equal. Try a few brands and go with the one you like best. We get a frozen brand from Liuzzi’s that has a mint green and red label.
OK here we go…
3 lbs of lasagna pasta sheets, cooked according to the package
2 lbs of whole milk ricotta
1.5 lbs shredded whole milk mozzarella
3-4 cups grating cheese (this is a serious geusstimate on amount, sprinkle like in the pictures and use however much that takes, we like parmesan and romano blend)
3 lbs of crumbled meat (from your sauce)
Sauce (I have no idea how much, just keep your pot next to you)
salt, pepper, granulated garlic, dried parsley
- Clear off a counter for assembly purposes. You are going to need a good amount of space.
- Warm your sauce on the stove, you don’t want it really hot, just warm enough that the meat is warmed through.
- Cook your pasta with a little bit of oil in the water, and watch them carefully. Stir them gently to prevent sticking. Drain them and put them back in the pot with cool water to stop the cooking. Set onto the counter, ready for assembly.
- Pull out about three pounds of mixed meats into a bowl. Meatballs, sausages, pork, beef, you want some of everything but you will have the most bulk from meatballs and sausage.
- Crumble the meat with your hands. It should look like this:
- Mix your ricotta, eggs, and seasonings together in a bowl. Be generous with your seasoning, you have a lot of cheese there. It should look like this in the end:
- Put everything out on your counter so all is within reach. Here’s the master at work:
- Start by spreading a good amount of sauce onto the bottom of your pan (she’s doing that above)
- Then gently start laying out your noodles in your first layer, overlapping about 1/3 of the width.
- Spread sauce over the noodles.
- Sprinkle a few handfuls of grating cheese over the sauce
- Evenly sprinkle over handfuls of the crumbled meat.
- Then spread out clusters of the ricotta mixture. Mom uses a fork so that it kind of spreads a little and you don’t have big clumps. She is working fast here and is annoyed with me taking pictures…just FYI.
- You then sprinkle over the shredded mozzarella
- Your first layer is done! Congratulations! Now layer on another set of noodles. If you will notice, she is now spreading them out in the opposite direction in the tray. She also sometimes tears them and makes the middle pieces a little less wide to try to eliminate a too high center and lower edges. This is an art, she does it without even thinking. I still struggle with it, so just do your best.
- Start all over again, and do two more layers so you have three total. In the end spread over another layer of sauce and sprinkle on the final grating cheese.
- Cover the tray with parchment paper first, then aluminum foil. Don’t put the foil directly on the sauce, as the acid will cause a reaction with the metal.
- If you can, put the lasagna in the fridge overnight to set. If you can’t do overnight, at least let it sit in there for a few hours to firm up.
- Now pay attention to this! Take your lasagna out of the fridge, remove the cover, and cut it like you would be serving it. I know it sounds crazy but cutting it before you bake it makes for a way better piece later.
- Cover it back up and bake it in the oven at 350 for about an hour or so.
- When you take it out it will look like this beautiful tray of deliciousness.
- DON’T EAT IT! That’s right, I said do NOT eat it yet. Let it sit out on the stove top or counter for at least 20 minutes. This will allow the cheese and noodles to set up and it will keep your pieces from turning into messy sloppy kind of layers that you have to scoop out with a spoon. Instead they will look like THIS:
Oh hell yes…drizzle on a little more sauce and sprinkle on some grating cheese and dig in. Then get ready for the uncontrollable moaning that will then occur. Enjoy!