FRONT BURNER: No-boil noodles speed cheese-laden lasagna to the table

Easy Beef and Three Cheese Lasagna (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Easy Beef and Three Cheese Lasagna (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

No-boil lasagna noodles are a game changer for weeknight lasagna cravings. Combined with jarred sauce, they make lasagna on a Tuesday, in an hour, 100% doable. It took me about 30 minutes to assemble and layer everything in the accompanying video and then just 25 minutes to bake it to bubbling hot.

Having a kitchen helper to shred the cheese (or using packaged shreds) would make it even faster.

I'm a bit of a recent convert to Rao's sauces. I've never been a brand loyalist when I buy marinara. When money was super tight, I usually picked whatever was cheapest. After meeting my husband, I started buying the smoothest sauce I could find because he dislikes chunky sauce. And in recent years, I've selected jarred sauce based on which one had the least amount of sugar in an effort to eat less hidden sugar.

But then I heard the raves about Rao's. Naturally I had to give it a try. Four jars later, I'm hooked. Luckily it hits on two of those three earlier criteria — it is relatively smooth and has no added sugar. It isn't cheap by any stretch, but nothing is these days.

The sauce and the cheese are my favorite parts of lasagna, and in this recipe the noodles are there simply as a vehicle for all that cheese and sauce. This recipe is heavy on the cheese. Seriously heavy on the cheese. For a more modestly cheesy lasagna, cut the ricotta and mozzarella back by half.

Easy Beef and Three Cheese Lasagna

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 (22- to 24-ounce) jar tomato pasta sauce
  • 1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, plus more for topping
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • ½ teaspoon, or more to taste, crushed red pepper, oregano and garlic blend such as McCormick OR your favorite Italian seasoning blend
  • Dried basil, to taste
  • Ground black pepper, to taste
  • Salt
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • Olive oil or vegetable oil, for coating pan
  • 8 to 12 no-boil lasagna noodles

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large skillet, brown ground beef, breaking it up as it cooks. Drain. Return beef to pan and stir in pasta sauce and cook until heated through; set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together the ricotta cheese, shredded mozzarella, a tablespoon or so of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, the crushed red pepper seasoning blend, the basil (I usually start with about ¼ teaspoon), ground black pepper to taste and a pinch of salt. Mix well; taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Add egg and mix well.

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Coat the bottom of a 7-by-11-inch or 9-inch square casserole dish (pick a dish whose length corresponds with the brand of noodles you buy) with just enough oil to coat. Spoon about a third of the meat-sauce mixture into the dish. Top with a layer of lasagna noodles (my dish fit two noodles side-by-side; you might be able to fit three depending on your dish and the noodles). Spread noodles with half of the cheese mixture. Top cheese with another layer of noodles. Top with another layer of meat sauce. Top with a layer of noodles, then spread with the remaining cheese mixture. Top with the remaining noodles and meat sauce. Sprinkle the top with more shredded mozzarella, making sure the ends of the noodles are completely covered with sauce or cheese.

Bake 25 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

Makes about 6 servings.

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