Lasagna is a wonderful dish that can be made high calorie and also low calorie. My Sausage, Mushroom and Shallot Lasagna uses fat-free or low fat cheeses to compensate for the higher calorie and fat content in the sausage. In the summer, when produce is generally at its best, I replace the sausage with sauteed zucchini and yellow squash for a meatless meal. See my Individual Vegetable Lasagnas for the recipe using zucchini and squash.
I was thinking back to my childhood (in the 1970s…ssshhhhh…) when the most popular and best-selling type of lasagna was from a box: Chef Boyardee. As soon as I’d graduated from college, moved out of my parents house, and was cooking for myself, I bought that box of lasagna to make on a Friday evening in my newly acquired solo kitchen.
The Chef Boyardee kit, which contained uncooked lasagna noodles, tomato sauce with beef, and a can of grated “Italian cheese”, just didn’t have that pizzazz I was seeking from the from-scratch lasagnas that my college friends’ Italian moms had made. Those Italian moms’ lasagnas usually had a bechamel sauce and a tasty long-simmered Italian tomato sauce with big chunks of sausage or beef. The boxed version just didn’t have much flavor or texture and was pretty boring (sorry, Chef Boyardee). And even sillier, you had to pre-cook the giant lasagna noodles which usually fell apart on their way out of the stockpot. I much prefer the no-cook versions of lasagna noodles that are available today.
And the “secret” to the Chef Boyardee Lasagna Sauce was the addition of bell pepper. I’ve found the closest readily available jarred version is Paul Newman’s Own Sockarooni Sauce. Or just add some finely chopped bell pepper to your own spaghetti sauce recipe, and you’re on your way.
The above photo shows the original Chef Boyardee Lasagna Dinner “kit.” Unfortunately (or maybe “fortunately”), you can no longer purchase it. Also, here is a cool website that lists other foods that are no longer manufactured: Discontinued Foods.
The Chef Boyardee Pizza kit was pretty bad, too. Nothing like the pizza we picked up from the local pizzeria!
In a few months after living on my own, I was making my own lasagna from scratch prompted by those Italian moms and watching chefs and cooks on the Public Broadcasting Service channels. Here is is my creation which I’ve perfected (and would be even better with some bechamel sauce from those Italian moms!): Sausage, Mushroom and Shallot Lasagna!
From the kitchen of A Food Lover’s Delight….
Sausage, Mushroom and Shallot Lasagna
4 c Tomato Sauce for Pasta (can use my Roasted Tomato Sauce or my Year-Round Tomato Sauce or your own favorite)
1 bell pepper, diced
2 links fresh sweet Italian sausage (Whole Foods makes a great fresh sausage)
3 T olive oil, divided into 2 T and 1 T
1 shallot, diced
4 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced (Cremini is nice, but you can use regular white ones)
4 oz fat free ricotta cheese
1 large egg
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
3 slices provolone cheese
4 oven ready (no cook) lasagna noodles
1.5 c reduced fat mozzarella cheese
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. In a saucepan, saute the diced bell pepper in 1 T olive oil until pepper is soft. Add the tomato sauce and simmer for 10 mins. Set aside and keep warm.
3. Remove the sausages from their casings and brown in 1 T olive oil over medium heat in a skillet, breaking them up into chunks. Remove from heat. Set aside.
4. Sauté the shallots in 1 T olive oil. When shallots are translucent, add the mushrooms. Sauté until the mushrooms are soft. Remove mixture from heat to cool. Set aside.
5. Beat the egg in a small bowl. Add the ricotta cheese and the nutmeg and stir well. Mix in 1/2 c of the shredded mozzarella cheese. Set aside.
6. Coat a glass loaf pan or other small baking dish with cooking spray. Cover bottom of pan with 1/2 cup tomato sauce. Place one lasagna noodle on top of sauce.
7. Cut the round provolone cheese slices in half. Place the half-moon shapes on top of the noodle, arranging the cut sides towards the sides of the pan, overlapping the cheese slices if necessary.
8. Sprinkle the sausage over the provolone cheese slices. Add 1/4 cup of sauce.
9. Place the second noodle on top of the sausage. Spread the ricotta mixture over the second noodle.
10. Place the third noodle on top of the ricotta mixture.
11. Spoon the mushroom and shallot mixture on top of the third lasagna noodle. Add 1/4 c tomato sauce.
12. Place the fourth noodle on top of the mushroom shallot mixture. Pour enough of the remaining sauce over the lasagna to coat the sides and cover the top noodle, but not so much as will spill over while cooking. Set aside the remaining sauce and keep warm.
13. Cover with aluminum foil and place on a cookie sheet. Bake for 1 hour.
14. Remove the aluminum foil, and discard, and sprinkle the remaining mozzarella cheese on top.
15. As soon as the cheese melts and becomes bubbly, and the temperature of the interior of the lasagna is at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit, remove the lasagna and let cool for 10 minutes in the pan.
16. Cut into four pieces. Serve with the remaining warm tomato sauce, hot crusty bread and a green salad.
Serves 4 as a main course. Sometimes, as a different presentation, I like to make “individual” servings of lasagna in a 6″ wide round ramekin for each person.
Variations: Can use full-fat cheeses if taste is more important to you. Try fat-free cream cheese instead of ricotta for a creamier consistency. Substitute Italian sausage coins (thin slices) from cooked links such as Niman Ranch’s Spicy Italian Sausage instead of the crumbles from fresh sausage. Saute the sausage coins before adding to the lasagna before baking. For a vegetarian version, substitute sauteed zucchini and yellow squash for the sausage. Add a layer of my Garlicky Creamed Spinach and Arugula made with Greek yogurt instead of cream. For a vegetarian version, see my Individual Vegetable Lasagnas recipe.
Here’s a cool pan that ensures your lasagna is cooked all around:
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