Once fall arrives, it’s time to look forward to comfort foods.
There are slow-cooker recipes for convenience. Baked casseroles with canned creamy soups and a few pantry ingredients topped with a mess of cheese. And soups? Well, they are just filling and hearty.
And then there’s lasagna.
While this classic Italian dish is pure comfort food, it also serves a purpose. A large pan of lasagna feeds a crowd. Lasagna is a dish that you bring to someone who needs comforting.
And let’s face it. A pan of lasagna baking in the oven makes the kitchen smell wonderful.
And there are times when you crave lasagna on a weeknight. But not too many lasagna recipes carry the quick-and-easy label. Some have a laundry list of ingredients and directions.
There are noodles to boil, cheeses to shred and meat to cook. When it comes to a sauce, you can make your own red sauce (or use jarred) or make a bechamel (white sauce). Or use both.
But if you’re looking for a few shortcuts that can ease some prep work, this “cheaters lasagna” is the answer.
Think of it as a quick dinner option to toss together for unexpected guests. It’s a dish you can have ready for kids after a sports practice or game. You can freeze it for up to 3 months.
This recipe is one that I’ve had squirreled away for some time. I first came across the recipe in the cookbook “Real Simple Meals Made Easy” from the editors of Real Simple Magazine.
What takes away much of the prep in this recipe is cheese ravioli. It eliminates the noodle boiling, while also taking care of a layer of ricotta cheese. The pillows of ravioli filled with cheese bake into an even layer that looks and tastes like a traditional lasagna.
You’ll want to use large or even jumbo frozen ravioli and partially thaw them — ensuring they heat all the way through in the oven. The only cooking involved is browning the sausage and, if you like, making your own tomato sauce. When buying the spinach, look for the chopped version in 16-ounce bags. If you can’t find chopped, use leaf spinach, breaking it up in the bag while it’s still frozen. Frozen spinach in the bag thaws quicker than the smaller block packages.
If you have all the ingredients ready, including cooking the sausage, it takes about 10 minutes to put the entire dish together. You can use the baking time to toss together a fresh salad.
This recipe can also be halved and made in an 8-by-8-inch baking dish. And it you want to make individual lasagnas, evenly divide the ingredients and layer them in mini loaf tins.
Cheaters lasagna with Italian sausage
1 jar (24 to 26 ounces) favorite pasta sauce or Quick Tomato Sauce (see note)
2 bags (24 ounces each) frozen large or jumbo cheese ravioli, partially thawed
1 to 1½ pounds sweet Italian sausage, cooked, drained and crumbled
1 package (16 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
8 ounces (2 cups) shredded mozzarella cheese or Italian blend shredded cheese
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Fresh torn basil for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spoon ⅓ of pasta sauce into a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Place half the ravioli on top of the sauce in a single layer — squeeze them in if necessary. Sprinkle with the cooked sausage, the spinach and half the mozzarella.
Layer on the remaining ravioli. Top with the remaining sauce, remaining mozzarella and Parmesan. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until bubbling, 5 to 10 minutes more.
Note: Here’s how to make a quick tomato sauce. In a large skillet heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Saute 2 minced garlic cloves for 1 minute. Add ¼ cup chopped onion and finely chopped carrot if you like. Add 28-ounce can diced tomatoes with all their juices. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 20-25 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and stir in some chopped fresh basil.Keeps in the refrigerator for three days or frozen for about one month.
Serves 8 to 10. Nutrition per serving: 581 calories (36 percent from fat), 23 grams fat (12 grams saturated fat), 51 grams carbohydrates, 40 grams protein, 457 milligrams sodium, 115 milligrams cholesterol, 551 milligrams calcium, 6 grams fiber.
— Adapted from “Real Simple Meals Made Easy” by Renee Schettler (Real Simple Book, $24.95).