A piping hot pan of lasagna takes the chill out of winter. I fantasize about popping a tray of multi-layered goodness into a hot oven after an afternoon of cross-country skiing.
Sure, there are those of us on diets (when are we ever not on a diet?), but lasagna needn’t be the gut bomb of its reputation. In fact, eaten in the appropriate portions (now, that’s the trick to everything), the dish proves ultimately satisfying. It’s perfectly delicious when meatless, vegetable-forward and moderate on dairy.
These days I make two smaller pans, each 8 or 9 inches square, rather than one 13-by-9-inch pan. That way, I have one to serve and one to freeze for later. The square pan makes 6 moderate-size pieces suitable for a main course. Leftovers reheat well.
On a recent visit to Giant restaurant in Chicago, the server bragged that the lasagna had more than 20 layers. It stood shy of 3 inches tall and tasted incredibly light and delicious. It contained just enough cheese to hold it all together, and the sauce had deep, rich tomato flavor. The pasta layers, as thin as paper, nearly melted.
This led me to think about the noodles I’ve been using. Store-bought lasagna noodles with the ruffled edge are simply too thick; they yield a pasta-heavy dish. Plus, boiling them makes extra work.
For a many-layered lasagna, I use the thinnest sheets of pasta I can find, such as the fresh lasagna noodles from the local Italian market. They are thin and moist, so no need to boil; they’ll be pleasantly al dente in the finished dish.
My second choice — very nearly as good — is no-boil pasta sheets found in the dried pasta aisle of most supermarkets. These thin, somewhat translucent, sheets soften perfectly from the moisture of the sauce and remain toothsome in the final dish. The only caution is to be sure they are coated with sauce to prevent dryness.