Courtesy of E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune; Shannon Kinsella/food styling

Recipe of the Day: Sausage Lasagna

A little bit of ricotta, a whole lotta love
Courtesy of E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune; Shannon Kinsella/food styling

There's something special about Italian food during the holidays, and few dishes can top a homemade lasagna for Christmas. Layers of noodles, meat, cheese and homemade sauce are flavored with fennel seeds, garlic and crushed red pepper for a hearty and heartwarming entree. The baked dish is elegant enough to serve for your holiday dinner, but simple enough to make for busy weeknights

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The key to any good pasta dish is a great sauce. To make the sauce for this recipe, start by cooking the sausage. Meanwhile, in a separate pan, start sauteeing the onion, bell peppers and garlic. When the sausage is crumbled and cooked through, drain any excess fat, then stir in the crushed tomatoes and cooked vegeteables. Add in the chicken stock until the sauce is slightly liquidy. Add in your seasonings and let the mixture simmer for about 20 minutes.

While it may seem a bit thin, chicken stock guarantees that the sauce is watery enough for the no-boil noodles to cook while getting extra flavor. Keep in mind, that this recipe yields more sauce than you'll need, but just store it in the freezer and save it for later. 

Once the sauce is done, you can construct the lasagna with your noodles, sauce, ricotta and mozzarella cheese. Bake the dish for about 45 minutes, or unil the cheese is bubbling and golden brown. Serve the dish alongside more holiday favorites, like honey glazed ham and green bean casserole

Sausage Lasagna

Ingredients:

2 pounds bulk Italian sausage
Neutral oil, as needed
1 onion, small dice
1 bell pepper, medium dice (the color of your choice)
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
Salt to taste
2 cans (28 ounces each) crushed tomatoes
8-12 ounces chicken broth or water
1/2 tablespoon Italian seasoning, optional
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, optional
Crushed red pepper to taste, optional
1 package (9 ounces) no-boil lasagna noodles
1 pound ricotta cheese
1 pound mozzarella cheese
1-2 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated

Directions 

For sauce: Place a heavy-bottomed pot over medium high heat, then add oil to coat the bottom.

Add sausage; saute until cooked, stirring to break up chunks, 8-10 minutes.

While sausage cooks, saute onion, bell pepper and garlic in a tablespoon or two of oil in a separate pan until soft, about 5 minutes.

Season with salt.

When sausage is cooked, drain and discard any accumulated fat.

Stir in crushed tomatoes and cooked vegetables.

Add chicken stock or water until sauce is somewhat liquidy.

Season with salt and stir in optional Italian seasoning, fennel seeds and crushed red pepper; simmer to blend flavors, 20 to 30 minutes.

To construct lasagna: Ladle a thin layer of sauce over the bottom of a 13-by-9-inch casserole dish.

Lay noodles over the sauce with edges overlapping.

Spoon blobs of ricotta onto noodles every couple of inches, then sprinkle mozzarella over.

Ladle more sauce to cover entire surface.

Repeat with another layer.

Cover top layer with noodles, then mozzarella.

Add sauce until it’s coming up the sides, then sprinkle Parmesan over.

To bake, cover lasagna with foil and slide into a heated, 350-degree oven until sauce is boiling and noodles are cooked through, about 45 minutes.

Uncover for last 10 minutes to brown.

Let lasagna rest for 10 – 15 minutes before serving.

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This recipe as written by James P. Dewan originally appeared in The Chicago Tribune.