- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas Eve at our house, it is one of the busiest nights of the year. It is enjoyable but still busy, and everyone comes in hungry after church and caroling and wants a hot meal.

Few recipes are as simple as this lasagna, a great make-ahead entree.

Choose the best pasta sauce you can find in a large jar. If you can’t find a 3-pound jar of sauce, use two 26-ounce jars.

I like fire-roasted tomato sauces.

You might also want to try one with basil and garlic. And look for an interesting blend of preshredded cheeses, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, mozzarella and smoked provolone.

What saves time is using the no-boil noodles. They have ruffled edges and can be used in lasagna dry or after being soaked in water to flatten them. Either way, no lengthy and messy preboiling is required.

Five time-shaving make-ahead holiday dinners for company

• Roast a turkey in an oven bag. The recipe comes with the box.

• Serve cold platters of sliced ham and rolls and shrimp cocktail with dipping sauces.

• Bake your favorite casserole a day or two ahead, under-baking it slightly and cooling, then covering in foil and placing in the refrigerator. Reheat covered just before serving.

• Poach salmon in the oven, seasoned with salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Cover with parchment paper and bake at 450 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.

• Place your favorite slow-cooker beef stew on to simmer.

Fast four-step lasagna

The preparation time is 12 minutes, and the cooking time is 38 to 40 minutes.

1 pound ground beef round

1 3-pound jar tomato-based pasta sauce

9 no-boil lasagna noodles

1 15-ounce container ricotta cheese

3 cups preshredded Italian cheese blend

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Crumble the ground beef into a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring and breaking up the beef with a wooden spoon, until it browns all over and is cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the pasta sauce.

Spoon enough of the meat mixture into the bottom of a 13-by-9-inch (3-quart) glass or ceramic baking dish to just cover the bottom evenly. Arrange 3 of the lasagna noodles side by side on top of the meat mixture.

Top the noodles with one third of the ricotta cheese, followed by 1 cup of the Italian cheese blend. Then, starting with half of the remaining meat mixture, repeat the layering two more times.

Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil. (You can place it in the refrigerator to chill and bake later.) Bake the lasagna until bubbling, about 40 minutes.

Remove the baking dish from the oven and let the lasagna rest for 10 minutes, covered, then serve. Makes 8 servings.

To share favorite cooking tips and ask questions, go to www.cakemixdoctor.com.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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