Uncle Johnny’s Lasagne

My uncle Johnny came from a large Italian family in New York City. After World War II, he ended up in San Francisco, where he met and married my mother’s sister. I learned all my best Italian recipes from him, and this might be my favorite because it’s so easy … and, of course, delicious.

Uncle Johnny’s Lasagne
6 servings

1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1 24-ounce bottle pasta sauce (I like mushroom-olive)
1/4 cup pesto
1/4 cup dry red wine
2 tablespoons fennel seeds, crushed between your palms
Fresh ground pepper
(Optional additions: kalamata olives, anchovies, sautéed mushrooms, etc.)
1 pound fresh mozzarella, grated or shredded
16 ounces whole milk ricotta
1 cup coarsely-grated Parmesan
1/3 cup heavy organic cream
Freshly-ground black pepper
1 pound dried lasagne noodles (I like whole wheat, but any kind will do)

Heat a large skillet over medium flame and add the sausages, breaking them up as they cook until they’re crumbled. Add the pasta sauce, pesto, red wine, fennel seeds, pepper, and any additions you might like. Cook over low heat for 20 minutes or so to incorporate all the flavors.

Bring a stock pot of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Turn off the heat and add each lasagne noodle to the water, crosswise to the last. Let sit for 15 minutes. At the 15-minute point, pour into a drainer, then set aside until needed.

In a large bowl, mix mozzarella (except for 1 cup), ricotta, Parmesan, and cream together. Grind some pepper over it all. Mix again. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 375.
In a 9″x13″ pan*, add enough meat sauce to cover the bottom of the pan. Lay down three noodles, then a cup of meat sauce, followed by 1/4 of the cheese mixture. Repeat several times, finishing with covering the last layer with the reserved cup of mozzarella. Cover with aluminum foil.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, until bubbling around the edges. Remove foil and increase temperature to 450 degrees. Bake for another 15-20 minutes until the lasagne is golden brown and the edges are crispy. Let cool a bit before serving.

*NOTE: If you use a smaller pan that 9×13, your lasagne might bubble over in the oven. To avoid that, bake on top of a rimmed baking sheet.