I'm not a huge pasta guy, I like stuffed shells on occasion and once in a while something light with shellfish, white wine and lemon but every so often I get a hankerin' for lasagna. I'm not talking about new age lasagna either with wild mushrooms, pancetta and a light layer of pecorino, I'm talking red sauce, meat and loads of cheese. While I do get the urge to eat classic lasagna I rarely get the urge to make it, the labourious layering and the inconvenience of dealing with lasagna noodles simply kills the buzz for me so............. I cheat and make fauxsagna .
You will see countless renderings of this dish listed as lazy lasagna or lasagna casserole and those descriptions are accurate but I prefer fauxsagna.
Last week in the early afternoon I received a call from work, apparently a party of 20 had cancelled and we found ourselves over staffed for the evening so I was offered the night off and I accepted. The issue was I already had dinner for that evening planned for wife and daughter, homemade chicken soup and cheese buns, and was, at the time of the call, working on marinara sauce for later in the week. Since I was now going to be home for dinner I decided to leave the soup for another day and expand on the marinara sauce base for dinner. A quick check on provisions showed some ground pork and ricotta in the fridge so I immediately thought:" Fauxsagna".
I browned the ground pork with some shallots while I cooked some pasta. The classic noodle for baked pasta is ziti which are tubes generally about two inches in length, or ziti rigate if they have ridges, but I didn't have any ziti so I cooked up a pound of tofette, which are small ridged shells, while I browned the pork. I then added the browned meat and cooked pasta to the marinara sauce and mixed well, reserving about a cup of the basic marinara. The next step is blending ricotta, egg, spinach and cheese to form the middle layer of the fauxsagna I used two cups of ricotta, blending in one beaten egg about 3/4 of a cup of mozzarella and a cup of chopped, cooked , spinach.
Now for assembly, spread a thin layer of the reserved marinara over the bottom of an 9 X 13 inch casserole dish, or any casserole dish you like, then add half the pasta and sauce mixture, spread the ricotta/spinach mix over the top, add the other half of the pasta and sauce mix and the rest of the marinara then top with a mix of grated mozzarella, or fontina, and parmesan/romana. Pop the casserole into a preheated 375 degree oven and bake, uncovered, for 40 minutes until slightly brown around the edges and bubbly. Take it out of the oven, wait 10 minutes before serving or it will burn your mouth, so you can set the table, toss the salad and open the wine, any pizza red will do, and then serve.
The beauty of this is that you can modify any way you want, use prosciutto instead of ground meat, add mushrooms, whatever. You can use any good bottled tomato sauce if you want, I like Whole Foods 365 Marinara, and if you're really lazy leave out the ricotta layer and just top the pasta mix with cheese and bake. Serve it up with a green salad, or even better with roasted broccoli or cauliflower and it's a pretty impressive dinner. The added bonus is that there are often leftovers which are great for lunches or "home from working late" snacks.