A Nice Lasagna by Julia Turshen
January 14, 2018
Julia Turshen, y’all. Julia Turshen! She’s a rock star. I might venture to say she’s my favorite chef around today. She cowrote It’s All Good with Gwyneth Paltrow, which is my bible for healthy eating. Her cookbook, Small Victories, is equally brilliant, albeit not quite as clean living oriented. There’s something so comforting and simple about her recipes. They feel and taste like classics, yet you won’t find them anywhere else. This lasagna is no exception. It’s at once everything you want a lasagna to be and totally unlike any other lasagna you’ve experienced.
I’ve been asked for the recipe countless times. My friend just made it for her cookbook club and it was everyone’s favorite dish.
What makes this lasagna special is the lack of ingredients. Usually, a lasagna is thick and packed full of cheese, meat, veggies, etc. This lasagna is minimalist. I liken the taste to that slightly crispy part of the pizza slice where the cheese meets the crust; my favorite part. Yum. (There is a “spin off” version at the end that gives instructions for adding meat and veggies, if you wish.)
Julia encourages cooks to make their own pasta and includes instructions. I always say I’m going to try, but never end up having the time. She says it’s perfectly fine to substitute store bought pasta sheets or a box of no-cook lasagna noodles. That’s what I’ve been doing for ages and I’ve never once been disappointed.
A Nice Lasagna, Serves 6 to 8
Two 28oz cans whole peeled tomatoes
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 cup creme fraiche
Store bought pasta sheets or one box of no-cook lasagna noodles
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup coarsely grated whole-milk mozzarella cheese
2 large handfuls fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces if large
To Make the Sauce
- In a large bowl, crush the tomatoes with your hands (this is a messy but fun job-it’s a very good one for children) until they are in bite-size pieces.
- In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil, add the garlic, and cook, stirring, until it begins to sizzle, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and 1 tsp salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and let the sauce simmer, stirring every so often, until it is slightly reduced, about 30 minutes.
- Whisk the creme fraiche into the sauce and season to taste with salt. Set the sauce aside to coo to room temperature.
- Preheat oven to 400F.
- Ladle a thin layer of room-temperature sauce onto the bottom of a 9×13-in baking dish. Spread the sauce with a spoon to cover the surface of the dish. Add a layer of pasta, cutting the pasta and arranging it as needed to form an even single layer. Spoon over just enough tomato sauce to cover the pasta and then scatter over some of the Parmesan, mozzarella, and basil. Repeat the layering process until you’ve used up all of your components, ending with sauce and cheese (not naked pasta or basil, both of which would burn if exposed).
- Bake the lasagna, uncovered, until it’s gorgeously browned and the edges are bubbling, 35 to 40 minutes. Let it rest at room temperature for 15 minutes, just like you would a steak, before slicing and serving. This lets the pasta fully absorb all of the bubbling sauce, so you don’t end up with soupy slices.
- FOR A MEAT LASAGNA, brown 8oz each ground beef and Italian sausage meat in the oil with the garlic and then add the tomatoes. Continue as directed. This simple meat sauce is also great on its own pasta, especially rigatoni. Serve dotted with ricotta and with plenty of grated Parmesan. Yum.
- FOR A MORE SUBSTANTIAL VEGETARIAN LASAGNA, add cooked spinach, broccoli rabe, mushrooms or cubes of butternut squash (or a combination of vegetables) to each layer.