Using someone else’s noodle

lasagnaI love making lasagna, and I always have fun with it. So I didn’t necessarily have a good reason to try a boxed lasagna kit. But I was looking for something for dinner the other night, and something made me pick up Progresso’s new “Kitchen Favorites” classic lasagna, which was near the Hamburger Helper-style box dinners in one of our local supermarkets. I have to say, I liked it, for what it is, and may well try it again in the future.

Usually, when I make lasagna on my own, I use up a box of lasagna noodles, which means making a large pan.  I end up freezing portions and living off it for weeks. The Progresso product is designed for an 8-by-8 baking dish, which is actually a better size for my needs.

The box contains no-boil noodles about the size of large file cards; a pouch of a thick tomato sauce; parmesan cheese for sprinkling on top; and a dry powder which is mixed into a “ricotta sauce.”

Let me digress here and say that I’m not a huge fan of ricotta cheese. Usually, when I make lasagna, I substitute cottage cheese. This goes back to Hunt’s Skillet Dinners, an early competitor to Hamburger Helper; their lasagna-flavored product, which was sold when I was a kid but old enough to help Mom cook, had cottage-cheese curds in it.

The herb-flavored “ricotta sauce” in the Progresso product, which the customer reconstitutes with a little bit of milk, doesn’t taste like ricotta cheese, but as I said that’s not a problem for me.

Anyway, you have to supply ground beef (I’m sure you could substitute ground turkey), milk and mozzarella cheese, plus cooking spray for your baking dish and aluminum foil. You brown the ground beef, add the sauce plus a little water, and simmer for a few minutes. Meanwhile, you make the ricotta sauce. Then you layer the meat sauce, the raw no-boil noodles, the ricotta sauce and the mozzarella cheese in the baking dish, topping it with the packet of parmesan cheese. You cover the dish with aluminum foil, bake for half an hour, remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes.

I thought the finished product came out just fine. When making my own lasagna, I usually use the traditional lasagna noodles, which are thicker and more substantial than the ones marketed as “no-boil” noodles. (You can also use the traditional noodles without boiling them – you just have to add a little extra liquid to the recipe, cover the dish with foil for most of the cooking time, and cook for a little longer than you would if you’d boiled the noodles first.) But the no-boil noodles were OK in this case.

The only addition I made on this first attempt was a little red pepper flake when I was simmering the meat sauce, and a little bit of dehydrated minced onion in the ricotta sauce. But you could easily add olives, or chopped onions, or peppers or what have you when assembling the casserole.

I don’t think this will replace my own lasagna experimentation. But at this time of year, when I don’t necessarily want a freezer full of leftover lasagna, it was a perfectly acceptable option, and I think it was better and more customizable than supermarket frozen lasagna.