Creating recipes isn't a pastime—it's a passion. And a lot of fun.

The rules are few: Use 99% fresh ingredients (or thereabouts); make the dish simple but flavorful; make the dish flavorful but simple; be creative, not silly.

With this blog, I want to share new recipes, along with tips on ingredients and preparation, and, hopefully, show new cooks (and non-cooks) the pleasure in setting the table with a delicious homemade meal. The Briny Lemon is about fresh, simple, flavorful ingredients and easy cooking methods that help you bring the best to your family table. Your comments are welcome!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Sausage and Mushroom Lasagna with Fresh Ricotta

Although there’s nothing uncommon about lasagna, it’s always an especially welcomed dish on the dinner table. Here, some sweet Italian sausage and earthy mushrooms make this lasagna very warm and savory, but the special part is in the cheese: fresh, homemade ricotta.

Don’t be daunted: Ricotta is super easy to make. Get some cheesecloth, milk, cream, salt, and a lemon, and you’re ready to go. Once you combine the ingredients, the cheese makes itself. In about an hour.

It’s lighter-textured than store bought ricotta, and the creamy, rich taste will make you (and your guests) glad you did it. Note: The amount of cheese you end up with depends on how extensive the curdling is when you add the lemon juice to the milk mixture. For this recipe, it’s usually about a cup, but it may be less. Turn the heat to its lowest point for best results.

For another recipe with fresh ricotta, see Veal Manicotti with Fresh Ricotta. And for a couple more lasagna recipes, check out Beef Lasagna with Fresh Mozzarella and Marinara and Easy Lasagna with Pepperoni.

Serves 8


For the Ricotta
  • 1 qrt whole milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1-1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice 
Ricotta Cheese Ingredients
For the Lasagna
  • 12 lasagna noodles
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, divided, plus more for oiling dish
  • 1 lb sweet Italian sausage
  • 12 oz crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped   
  • 2-1/2 cups crushed tomatoes (from a 28-oz can), divided
  • 1 tsp dried oregano, plus more for garnish
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper   
  • 8 oz fresh mozzarella balls (usually 2 large or 4 medium), thinly sliced
  • 8 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Crimini Mushrooms
Fresh Mozzarella

For the Ricotta
  1. Line a large sieve with a piece of cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl. (Be sure the piece of cheesecloth is large enough to drape over the bowl so that it won’t sink into the sieve when the liquid is poured in.)
  2. Place the milk, cream, and salt in a heavy, medium saucepan and slowly bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to keep it from scorching.
  3. Add the lemon juice, reduce the heat to low, and stir until curdles begin to form on top, 2-3 minutes.
  4. Carefully pour the mixture into the lined sieve and let it drain 1 hour.
  5. Use the ricotta right away or scrape into a container, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use (will keep for 2 days). Discard the liquid in the bowl.

Cheesecloth-Lined Sieve
Milk Mixture Beginning to Cook 
Curdled Milk Mixture 
Beginning to Drain
Fresh Ricotta
For the Lasagna
  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  2. Cook the lasagna noodles in boiling, salted water 8-9 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. Drain again.
  3. Heat a large skillet or saucepan over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the meat, until cooked through, 7-8 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
  4. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan and add the mushrooms, garlic, and onion. Cook until most of the liquid is absorbed, 8-9 minutes.
  5. Return the sausage to the pan and add 1 cup crushed tomatoes and 1 teaspoon dried oregano. Season with salt and pepper and cook until slightly thickened, 3-4 minutes. 
  6. Remove from the heat and let cool 10 minutes (or place in a sealable container and refrigerate until ready to use—in a few hours or overnight).

Sausage Beginning to Cook 
Cooked Sausage
Mushroom Mixture Beginning to Cook
Cooked Sausage Mixture
To Assemble and Bake
  1. Lightly oil a 13 X 9-inch baking dish. Spread 1/2 cup crushed tomatoes in the bottom of the dish and lay 4 noodles on top. Spoon 1/2 of the sausage mixture over the noodles, then scatter 1/3 of the mozzarella slices and 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese on top.
  2. Place 4 more lasagna noodles on top and spread with the ricotta cheese. Spoon the remaining 1/2 of the sausage mixture over the ricotta, then scatter another 1/3 of the mozzarella and 2 more tablespoons of Parmesan cheese on top.
  3. Lay the remaining 4 noodles on top and spread with the remaining 1 cup crushed tomatoes. Scatter the remaining 1/3 of the mozzarella and remaining 4 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese on top and sprinkle with dried oregano.
  4. Bake uncovered until the cheese is bubbly and the top begins to brown, 30-35 minutes. Remove and let rest 10 minutes.

Bottom Layer of Tomatoes 
First Sausage-Mushroom Layer 
Mozzarella and Parmesan Added
Ricotta Layer 
Ready to Bake
Baked Lasagna
Cut the lasagna into 8 pieces and serve.

Sausage and Mushroom Lasagna with Fresh Ricotta

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