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The Ultimate Lasagna Recipe Takes the Fuss and Muss Out of Popular Casserole

July 28, 1988|DIANA WILLIAMS HANSEN | Hansen is a Louisville, Ky.,-based cooking consultant specializing in microwaving. and

One of the joys of streamlined microwave cooking is lasagna, because you can omit precooking the noodles.

Imagine the ease of just assembling the lasagna ingredients and layering, minus the fuss of boiling and handling steaming noodles.

When making such a casserole, however, you must be careful to check the center of the casserole while cooking to be sure the noodles have softened sufficiently. It then must be left standing at least 20 minutes before serving. Although the pasta has a chewy texture, the flavor is delicious.

Quick and Easy

The ultimate lasagna recipe came when Polly Dunn of Cincinnati published her Easiest Lasagna recipe, which requires absolutely no precooking of noodles or beef. This recipe, which Dunn created for her own cooking schools, is one of several in a booklet titled "Skip a Step Main Dishes" (D&D Ventures, P.O. Box 23089, Cincinnati, Ohio 45223).

In the recipe that follows, notice that the lasagna can be cooked immediately or after being stored overnight in the refrigerator. The refrigerator variation allows time for the noodles to become moistened throughout. This promotes even cooking. Overnight chilling also works well with casseroles featuring manicotti, which, like lasagna, are larger and thicker than some other kinds of noodles.

POLLY DUNN'S EASIEST LASAGNA

2 eggs

1 pound lean ground beef

1 cup ricotta or cottage cheese

1 cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

15 to 20 ounces (about 2 to 2 1/2 cups) prepared spaghetti sauce

6 uncooked lasagna noodles (about 5 ounces)

8 ounces sliced mozzarella cheese

Beat eggs lightly in bowl. Add uncooked beef, 1/2 cup ricotta, 1/2 cup Romano, oregano, salt and pepper and mix well. Spread 1/3 spaghetti sauce over bottom of 12x8-inch microwave baking dish. Place 3 lasagna noodles on sauce, making sure noodles are flat. Spread with 1/2 filling mixture, then 1/4 cup Romano and 1/2 mozzarella.

Spread another 1/3 spaghetti sauce over top, then remaining noodles, filling, Romano and mozzarella. End with remaining 1/3 sauce, spreading to cover evenly. Cover dish with plastic wrap.

To cook lasagna immediately, vent plastic wrap by turning back at 1 corner. Microwave at HIGH (100% power) 8 minutes. Reduce power to MEDIUM (50% power) and microwave 30 to 35 minutes, or until noodles are tender, rotating once if necessary for even cooking. Sprinkle with additional Romano cheese, if desired. Allow to stand, covered, at least 15 to 20 minutes before serving. Makes 8 servings.

Mix-ahead method: Refrigerate assembled ingredients overnight or at least 12 hours ahead. Vent plastic wrap by turning back at 1 corner. Microwave at HIGH (100% power) 5 minutes. Reduce power to MEDIUM (50% power) and microwave 15 to 18 minutes, rotating once if necessary for even cooking. Sprinkle with additional Romano cheese, if desired. Allow to stand, covered, at least 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

This recipe uses uncooked manicotti and freshly made tomato-meat sauce. Be sure the center noodles are tender after cooking, and allow the full standing time before serving. If possible, make and chill this ahead of time for convenience and more even microwaving of the finished dish.

SPINACH-STUFFED MANICOTTI WITH BEEF SAUCE

2 pounds tomatoes

1 pound lean ground beef

1 cup chopped onions

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

12 ounces large curd cottage cheese

2 cups finely chopped fresh spinach or 1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 eggs

7 manicotti shells

Core and finely chop tomatoes or puree in food processor to yield about 3 1/2 cups. Add enough water to make 4 cups total.

Break meat into small pieces in 3-quart microwave casserole. Add tomatoes with water, onions, sugar, basil, garlic, salt and pepper. Stir sauce well. Cover and microwave at HIGH (100% power) 15 to 19 minutes, until meat is cooked and sauce is well blended.

Blend cottage cheese, spinach, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and eggs in medium mixing bowl. Use mixture to stuff uncooked manicotti shells. Place shells in single layer in 12x9-inch dish. Add extra spinach filling to dish on either side of manicotti. Pour hot tomato sauce over top.

With fork, lift each manicotti so some sauce can flow underneath, but be sure pasta is completely covered with meat sauce. Cover with plastic wrap, turning back 1 corner to vent. Microwave at MEDIUM HIGH (70% power) 35 to 40 minutes, rotating dish half turn, if necessary, after 20 minutes, until center manicotti is tender. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese and let stand, covered, at least 20 minutes before serving. Makes 7 servings.

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