In which we turn our homemade ricotta into a spinach-and-ricotta-filled lasagna with ground beef and a homemade tomato sauce. The recipe and method of which was created and carried out by the four kids in our family with some help from their mom.
“A light exists in spring
Not present on the year
At any other period.”
The beginning of spring marked more than just the vernal equinox in our house. New schedules are passed out during homeroom, and a new trimester calls for a fresh notebook full of warmly-scented pages and a crisp new folder, its edges not yet rounded and rubbed soft by daily use. Nightly swim practice has given way to exploring the leftover mountains of snow after school, clad in long-sleeved thermals, probing at the still frozen gardens with sticks, and waiting patiently for spring to hurry up and burst forth from the dirt.
Small hands are called to the kitchen. Scrubbed under a warm flow of water, rinsing the bits of mud from their pink skin with clear soap, the wafts of heady wet mud being replaced in the space with the crisp essence of ripe grapefruit that will soon be gone from the supermarket stands. A recipe is laid out, the steps divided. A meal is made.
There is something to this relinquished responsibility and turning over the reins to the kids. I stand back and watch and give direction only when necessary, allowing them to call the shots and finish the tasks. As the meat is browned, eggs are cracked and beaten, sauce is stirred, and slowly the layers become parts of a whole as an ownership over the outcome grows.
When the kitchen timer gives a chirping beep, the kids gather to see how dinner turned out, oohing and ahhing over the bubbling layers of sauce and pasta. Plates are set out, napkins folded under the silverware. Glasses are poured full to the brim, the wet liquid kissing the lip.
Each child recounts to their dad the part of the whole they touched, from the bottom up. From oldest to youngest they all had a hand in feeding us, and no part was more significant or important than another.
The air here still has a bit of a bite when the wind picks up, and by nightfall the coats come out again. Mixing a bit of spring spinach within a dish of warm, comforting lasagna seems only right. As the blustery winds whips outside, the kids head in with cold fingers and red little noses and rosy pink cheeks to the room-encompassing aroma of the slightly acerbic tomatoes mixing with creamy cheese and soft pasta layers as it bubbles away in the oven.
- I prefer to use no-boil lasagna sheets for this or to make my own. Lasagna is a process already, and getting a pot of water boiling as I have two other pans on the stove is just not something I enjoy doing in a small kitchen filled with kids. There are several varieties of no-boil lasagna ranging from basic to organic to whole wheat to rice. Try a few, pick a favorite, and let’s start layering.
- Stuffing homemade whole milk ricotta between layers of pasta and sauce is a perfectly acceptable and recommended way to consume both lasagna and the ricotta. Of course, I have a similar soft spot in my heart for ricotta gnocchi, which I’ll be sharing soon.
- I ended up using two 8×8 pans rather than a 9×13 because all four of my 9x13s were otherwise indisposed during the lasagna process. This worked out well. Our layers were a little less thick than they would have been to allow them to stretch across the both pans, but it made leftover storage easy with just a small pan to pop in the refrigerator, and it gave both Lene and Magnus their own lasagna to layer.
- I give a few approximations for the amount of salt I used below. Depending on the type of salt (kosher, sea, iodized) it will vary. Give your sauce and your meat a taste before you call it good.
- Lasagna is one of my favorite things to make ahead. Instead of putting it in the oven, cover and put it in the freezer instead. When it’s time to eat, remove from the freezer and thaw before baking or lower the temperature to 325º F and add an extra 20-25 minutes to the bake time.
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
56 ounces crushed tomatoes
12 ounces tomato paste
4 teaspoons dried basil
3 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 pound fresh spinach
1 pound ground beef
4 cups ricotta
2 eggs, beaten
10 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
8 ounces fresh grated Parmesan cheese
9 ounces no-boil lasagna sheets
In a medium saucepan heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 5 minutes or until soft. Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the crushed tomatoes and the tomato paste, and then mix in 2 teaspoons of the basil, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the oregano, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. Use a hand blender to break down the sauce if desired.
Preheat your oven to 375º F.
In a large sauté pan, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Add in the spinach and cook over medium heat until wilted. Remove to a large bowl. Add the ground beef to the same pan, along with the remaining 2 teaspoons basil, 1 1/2 teaspoons oregano, 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until browned and crumbled. Drain off any excess grease. Remove from heat.
Combine the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. To the spinach add the ricotta, eggs, and 2 cups of the cheese blend. Stir until thoroughly mixed.
To assemble the lasagna, spread 1 cup of sauce on the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking pan. Layer 4 sheets of lasagna, overlapping slightly. Spread 1/3 of the ricotta and spinach over the lasagna sheets. Sprinkle half of the meat mixture followed by 1 cup of cheese blend, and then 1 cup of sauce over the top.
Add another 4 sheets of lasagna followed by 1/3 of the ricotta and spinach, and 1 cup of sauce. Layer 4 sheets again, the rest of the ricotta and spinach, all the remaining meat, and 1 cup of sauce. For the final layer, layer 4 lasagna sheets, any remaining sauce, and all of the remaining cheese.
Tent a piece of foil over the top of the pan and bake for 55 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking an additional 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted and slightly browned. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 10-15 minutes before cutting.
Makes 12 servings.
Heather | Farmgirl Gourmet says
What a wonderful post Shaina. Beautiful writing darlin! Love that the kids made this. I need to be better at letting mine drive dinner now and then. Thanks for inspiring and the lasagna looks incredible.
Thanks, Heather. I think it’s natural for us to want to drive in the kitchen (especially if you’re Type A and can barely let your very adult husband in there to do his thing ::cough::). Still, there is beauty in letting go and watching them learn on their own, too. I can think of so many things I learned through trial and error, so I pry my fingers off the steering wheel in an attempt to give them the same opportunity.
This is fantastic! It looks delicious – and what incredible kids you have. I need to show this to my girls and I bet they’ll want to follow suit.
Aw, thanks. I do like them quite a bit.
Brian @ A Thought For Food says
Your kids look so incredibly happy! And why wouldn’t they? They’re making lasagna! And how delicious it looks! Great job!
Paula - bell'alimento says
I could use this right about now on this cold and rainy day (and thank goodness for no boil noodles!)
ok first that is one incredibly beautiful plated lasagna!!
Lasagna is a favorite at our house too, you want to know what recipe I use? The recipe I got and made in high school home ec class! I loved it and came home and made it for my family and it’s been the recipe we have used ever since.
I’ve never made it with homemade ricotta – I’m going to give this a try next time! can’t wait to try that.
and your kiddos……..ADORABLE!
Aw, thanks, Cheryl. If you know what you like and you have the recipe, hey, why mess with perfection?
Casey@Good. Food. Stories. says
Great minds, man – a vegetarian version of this lasagna appeared on my dinner table last week, though I didn’t have child labor to make it for me.
I carried them into this world, and now they shall carry me. -or- Now it’s my job to ensure they succeed here.
Norma Chang says
What a wonderful idea, having the kids make the whole dish. Looks fantastic and bet it tasted great. Congrats.
Love how your kids are so involved in the kitchen – it creates great memories!
Oh my word Shaina, your oldest looks JUST LIKE YOU, so pretty! And pretty dish!
Wow! Your kids are ver talented! this look soo good!!!
Your kids are too cute, and they have such a wonderful teacher, no wonder they’re such good little cooks!
Aimee @ Simple Bites says
Sweet post! Can’t wait to show this to Noah when he gets home from school.
SO happy I have fresh made ricotta in the fridge. Can’t wait to try your recipe – and include the kids.
Just printed this recipe and I think I will have my 18 yr old make it next week……after I make that luscious cheese of course!
Sandy @ RE says
Love this – and the look on your son’s face. I’m sure you know which one. Priceless!
I chose to post that one just because of the look. I love it!
Rachel @ Baked by Rachel says
I love that your kids made this. My husband would truly devour it! As for the pasta, I really need to experiment with no boil pasta sometime. It would be such a life saver!
I love how you get your kids in the kitchen and this lasagna looks amazing.
Bev @ Bev Cooks says
This is FABULOUS. I’m dying for 47 slices.
This is WONDERFUL. I wish more people would let their kids cook. IT’s becoming a lost art!
Whitney @ The Newlywed Chefs says
Great post! I love when kiddos help out in the kitchen!
I love how the photos say so much about the preparation and their personalities!! Too cute for words!
Russell van Kraayenburg says
Yum! I knew I should have had kids. Who knew they were so handy!
Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen says
Now that’s the best kind of meal, one that so much love went into.
This lasagna is brilliant. Your kids are very skilled – Love how they are in the kitchens, lovely kids.
I really love the idea of putting it in the freezer and bake it when eat.
Ali | Gimme Some Oven says
I adore that Emily Dickinson quote. And your kids are too sweet!! 🙂
This sounds like a wonderful dish to share with the family.
Tara @ Unsophisticook says
Oh, my tummy rumbled when I saw that pic — it’s been way too long since we’ve made lasagna! Can’t believe how big the kids are getting…
Wow! My daughter made this last night and it is a.maaaaazing! I think it will go down as our favorite lasagna recipe. I need a little more work with my HM ricotta. But that’s the fun of it!
I’m so happy to hear this, Jill! Let me know if you want any tips on the ricotta. I’m happy to help out wherever I can.
How freakin awesome is this? Not only does the lasagna sound delicious but I love that the kids helped make it!
This lasagna looks lovely…and what a fun project for the kids!
Oh man, this lasagna looks so great! What a great way to get all your kids cooking and prepping at the same time! Sounds like it was a delicious meal. 🙂
I love that you have you kids involved in the cooking process. I think dinner is an important family time, where we all sit down together and tell each other how ours day went.
Hi Shaina, I love your idea of domesticating kids, teaching them the skills to survive in this busy world, which will be much faster in few decades. We need to make them prepare to meet the demands of their lives grown up lives. I firmly believe it is as much important as giving them the formal education. The informal, domesticating education they get from mum will last long, life and relationship saving effort and shape up their growing personalities at adult life.
I saw one of your lasagna photos on Pinterest; it looks soo good! I’m going to give this recipe a whirl tomorrow. I just wish I could recruit little helpers like yours!
This lasagna looks lovely…and what a fun project for the kids!
This is wonderful! It looks delicious.I will show it to my kids .
Thank You ?
Great recipe, perfect for mixing up a picnic a little, it is nice to have something different to eat !!
Riya Ahuja says
Oh my gosh this looks so good! I am over here drooling over this dish right now. I am all over this. I can’t even stop starring !!
Kenneth E. Moore says
Your poor boy! I bet these smoothies put a smile on everyone’s face. I haven’t tried blueberry with ginger! We love smoothies at my house too!
Wow, really, I can’t get over that delicious taste! So simple and yet – sooo great. Thank you for this recipe – it’s a real keeper
Such a great idea. Love the flavors in these! My boys would devour them quickly.
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