In my family, we always knew it was a special occasion by the telltale aroma of lasagna baking in the oven. Neither my grandmother nor my mother made it often. A traditional lasagna is a labor intensive dish that takes several hours to prepare – even longer if you make your own pasta. So, it was usually reserved for holidays and the occasional birthday, christening or graduation party. Maybe that’s why this classic Italian combination of layers of tender sheets of pasta filled with meat, veggies and ooey, gooey cheese tasted so wonderful to me. Or, maybe it was because lasagna is just plain wonderful.
The thing is, that with a little advance planning and a few teensy shortcuts, you can make a perfectly scrumptious lasagna in a lot less time than you may think. And, if you prepare it in the form of these luscious, self-contained lasagna rolls, you can easily make enough to stash a batch or two in the freezer for later. How about that! You can enjoy lasagna any old time you feel like it! What a concept!
So, grab an apron and let’s make some lasagna rolls!
Remember those teensy shortcuts I mentioned? Well, the first one is using marinara sauce from a jar. Oh yes, I really did just say that. I know that cooking a marinara from scratch is preferable, but I’m trying to save you some time here. And, unless you already have a vat of homemade marinara sauce in your freezer, it’s going to take an extra hour to make some. Besides, there are some really excellent jar sauces out there made with San Marzano tomatoes, olive oil and other quality ingredients. So, don’t be a sauce snob. Embrace the convenience!
When I make this dish, I start preparing my filling at the same time I put a big pot of water on to boil for the lasagna sheets. By the time the pasta is cooked, my filling is all ready to go.
Roll, baby, roll!
Cook your lasagna sheets just to the shy side of al dente. They will be drenched in sauce and baking for a while. This will help keep them from falling apart. Also, be careful not to put too much filling into each roll. A couple of tablespoons is enough. If you overdo it, the filling will ooze out during baking. It will still taste good, but it will look kind of yucky. Yucky is not a good look for lasagna.
Snugly fit your rolls together in a baking dish and smother them with sauce and cheese. See! It looks just like a traditional lasagna, except that it will be a lot easier to serve.
These lasagna rolls can be prepped the night before and will be ready to bake when you get home from work the next day. They can also be made ahead and frozen in one of two ways. You can prepare them and freeze either before baking or after. I prefer to freeze before baking. If do you freeze them, you’ll need to either thaw them out first, or add at least an extra half hour or so to the baking time. This is no big deal, as your prep work is already done.
So, don’t wait for a special occasion to treat yourself to these cheesy, meaty, yummy lasagna rolls. Every day should be a celebration!
“Not Just for Holidays” Lasagna Rolls
Note: This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled. Make an extra batch or two and freeze to enjoy later.
- 8 uncooked lasagna sheets
- 3 cups prepared marinara sauce, divided
- 1 pound ground veal
- 1 15-ounce container ricotta or 2 cups homemade ricotta
- 1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- 2/3 cup Parmesan cheese, divided
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella, divided
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- Pinch nutmeg
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cook lasagna noodles according to package instructions just until al dente. Drain, pat dry and arrange the noodles in a single layer on a baking sheet to prevent them from sticking.
- Preheat oven to 375 F. Ladle one cup of the marinara sauce into a baking dish, approximately 9″ by 12″, and spread to coat the entire surface of the dish. Set aside.
- Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and cook veal until lightly browned and no pink remains. Drain and set aside to cool.
- Combine cooled veal, ricotta, spinach, basil, 1/3 cup Parmesan, 1 cup mozzarella, egg, nutmeg, salt and pepper together in a bowl and mix well.
- Spread about 2 tablespoons of the filling along the center of each lasagna sheet. Beginning at one end, loosely roll each sheet and place, seam side down, into the baking dish. Fit the rolls snugly against one another.
- When all of the lasagna rolls are in place, ladle the rest of the marinara sauce, evenly, on top of them. Top with the rest of the mozzarella and Parmesan.
- Cover tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake, uncovered, for another 15 – 20 minutes, until browned and bubbly.
- Let sit for 5 – 10 minutes before serving.