Before I dive into all the yummy details of this delicious lasagna, I must first tell you about my fabulous new commute to SF. You see -- yesterday, I got to ride in a Mercedes. The day before, a Prius. And last week, a series 5 BMW (although today was a Toyota minivan, bummer). I also don't have to deal with the ridiculous crowds of people on Muni (huge plus, in my book), I get to listen to NPR the whole ride like a true intellectual, and best of all, it's free. How is this possible??
Dun dun dun...enter casual carpool, a Bay Area phenomenon where strangers pick up other strangers on their way to work. I know, it sounds really random and sketchy. But it's legit -- just read this article.
It works as follows: every time you cross the Bay Bridge to get into the city, you have to pay a $4 toll. For people that commute every day, that really adds up. However, if you have at least 3 people in your car, you're allowed to drive in the coveted carpool lane (which is never congested and goes about 5x faster) and bypass the daily $4 toll. So there are designated "casual carpool spots" scattered around the Bay Area where drivers and pedestrians show up to carpool together. The passengers also benefit -- they get a free and comfortable ride with much more flexibility (don't have to wait a whole 15 minutes if you miss your train) -- so it's a win win situation for all.
Anyway, it's pretty systematic -- there's usually an orderly line of cars/pedestrians at the pickup spots, and the drop off location is always the same (Mission & Fremont). There are also rules to this arrangement:
1) No talking. People are usually reading the newspaper or listening to their headphones like they're on the subway
2) Play NPR. I had this one lady play soft background music once, and the other passenger kept glaring and sighing at her
3) Don't get in the car unless someone else is getting in with you or you feel comfortable/safe
If you didn't already notice, I loooove casual carpool. My commute is literally 30 minutes door-to-door (used to take 45-60 min depending on the bus). And yes...while it can sound a bit SF hippie and "save the planet"-ish, I can assure you that almost all of the participants are yuppie working professionals. What's funny is that I first learned about this at the urging of my parents (!!!) when I was a freshman in college and had to go into the city for my summer internship. Now if that doesn't convince you that this thing's for real, I don't know what will ;)
Anyway, back to this glorious lasagna (which btw, is one of our favorite and most dependable go-to recipes!). I mean, 5 out of 5 stars from 3,711 reviewers on allrecipes?? Yup, definitely a keeper. I think what makes this lasagna so amazing is its sauce, which simmers for almost two hours to really let all the flavors fully develop. And honestly, you can never go wrong with hot Italian sausage and ripe tomatoes. But when fennel is added to it for more depth, garlic for added kick, and basil, onion and sugar for just a hint of sweetness -- the tomato sauce base is completely transformed into this incredibly succulent and flavorful masterpiece.
Next dinner party, we're making this. So get ready :)
World's Best Lasagna
Adapted from All Recipes
1 pound hot Italian sausage
3/4 pound lean ground beef
1/2 cup minced onion
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
2 (6.5 ounce) cans canned tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
12 lasagna noodles
16 ounces ricotta cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound mozzarella cheese, sliced
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1. In a Dutch oven, cook sausage, ground beef, onion, and garlic over medium heat until well browned. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water. Season with sugar, basil, fennel seeds, Italian seasoning, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons parsley. Simmer, covered, for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
2. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook lasagna noodles in boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain noodles, and rinse with cold water. In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese with egg, remaining parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
4. To assemble, spread 1 1/2 cups of meat sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Arrange 6 noodles lengthwise over meat sauce. Spread with one third of the ricotta cheese mixture. Top with a third of mozzarella cheese slices. Spoon 1 1/2 cups meat sauce over mozzarella, and sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Repeat layers, and top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil: to prevent sticking, either spray foil with cooking spray, or make sure the foil does not touch the cheese.
5. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 25 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes before serving (note: AC and I could not wait).