Lasagna was always at the top of my mom’s dinner rotation when I was a kid. This recipe is my take on this traditional family meal. It’s one that I’ve been making for years, so when I’m craving a hearty pasta dish, this hits the oven. It’s laced with fennel-spiked ground venison, a rich homemade tomato sauce, and a creamy combo of ricotta and cottage cheeses. It’s all topped off with bubbling mozzarella, resulting in a perfectly indulgent dish.
I tend to make double the recipe so I can freeze a whole pan for a quick and easy meal. The same goes for the tomato sauce. I like to have a few jars lying around in case the need arises to whip up a quick spaghetti meal. Plain and simple, it’s pretty darn important to have a good tomato sauce recipe in your repertoire. Pack this one away and save it for a rainy day.
Time to make
Two 28 oz. cans of crushed tomato, puréed
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 medium yellow onions, chopped
1 bulb garlic, cloves crushed
2 tbsp. dried oregano (Mexican if possible)
2 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. smoked paprika
2 tsp. red chili flakes
2 tbsp. white sugar
1 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 lb. box of dry lasagna sheets
8 oz. mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated parmesan
6 cups homemade tomato sauce
2 lb. ground venison
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 bulb garlic, finely chopped
½ cup red wine
½ tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground fennel seed
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tbsp. vegetable or canola oil
For the cheese mixture
16 oz. cottage cheese
16 oz. ricotta cheese
1 tsp. each salt and pepper
Chopped basil and parsley (optional)
Also works with
- In a sauce pot over medium heat, add the olive oil, onion, and garlic. Simmer the onion and garlic in oil until they are translucent, or about 10 minutes. Add in the dry spices and cook for another five minutes.
- Purée the tomato in a blender or with a stick blender. Add the tomato purée and sugar to the vegetables and spices. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to low. Cook the sauce uncovered, stirring every 5-10 minutes for about two hours.
- With a stick blender or in a standing mixer, purée the cooked sauce with the fresh basil until it’s nice and smooth.
- In a large pan over medium-high heat, add the oil, onion, and garlic. Sauté the onion and garlic until slightly caramelized with golden brown around the edges. Now add the ground venison and all of the dry seasonings. Stir in the spices and vegetables until they are well combined. Continue cooking until the meat is browned, making sure to break up any large clumps of meat. Pour the wine into the pot and reduce the liquid until the meat has completely absorbed it. Remove the venison from the heat source and let cool.
- Combine all of the cheese mixture ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Stir with a mixing spoon until everything is just combined. You still want the curd from the cottage cheese to be visible. The eggs in the cheese mix help bind the lasagna, so when it’s cooked, the lasagna remains uniform when cutting and plating.
- Preheat an oven to 350 degrees and begin assembling the lasagna. For this recipe, I used a 10- x 13-inch, 2 ½-inch-deep ceramic baking dish. A tin baking pan around the same size purchased at your local supermarket would work just fine. Before you begin assembling, make sure your pan, lasagna sheets, tomato sauce, meat, and cheese mixture are ready and within reach.
- Start by adding around 4 ounces of tomato sauce to the bottom of the pan. Spread the sauce so it covers the entire base of the pan. This step will help keep the lasagna from sticking to the pan. Layer the pasta sheets so they slightly overlap and cover the entire bottom of the pan. Now add another layer of sauce, then a layer of meat and then the cheese mixture. Repeat this step; pasta sheets, sauce, meat and cheese mixture until there are 4 or 5 layers, or until you use all of the venison and cheese mixtures.
- Finish the lasagna with one last layer of pasta sheets. Add one last scoop of sauce and evenly cover the top with all of the mozzarella and parmesan. Bake the lasagna uncovered for 45 minutes to an hour. Remove and let stand for 15 minutes before cutting and serving. Serve with the leftover tomato sauce, grated parmesan cheese, and fresh chopped herbs.