I love lasagna. What I don’t love is wasting food. And most lasagna recipes are designed to feed an army. There’s no doubt that it’s the perfect potluck supper option. But what if I don’t want to wait for the next church potluck or waste a giant pan of lasagna for just myself? Of course, eating out is always an option. I’m not afraid to take my Single Girl self out to dinner. But maybe there’s another option. How about making individual lasagnas that are perfect for a night of dining a la carte.
The best part of this recipe is that many of the ingredients can be used from leftover components, or can be used for future meals. I’ll outline those as we go.
But before I begin, let me give you this word of caution. The amounts here are approximate. Lasagna is one of those dishes where you can adjust the ingredients to your liking. Love cheese? Add some extra. Don’t like meat? Leave it out. Live for veggies? Pile them on. Don’t have ricotta cheese but you do have cottage cheese? Use it. Lasagna is a personal art, and the lasagna pan is your canvas.
Speaking of pans, here is one of my favorite Single Girl secrets: Tiny aluminum loaf pans. these puppies are the perfect size for all kinds of meals. And, they’re disposable, which means less cleanup. If you’d prefer to be a good citizen of the earth and buy the non-disposable kind, you can do that too. Most craft retailers sell the mini ceramic loaf pans for about $1 each. I assuage my disposable-pan guilt by using 100% recycled made-in-the-USA pans. You can also see my choice of jarred sauce. I eat all-organic, and I prefer companies that also give back to society. Win-win.
Start with the ground beef. I used the leftover meat from the Meatloaf For One recipe I made last week. Brown the ground beef. If you used the very lean ground beef and turkey sausage used in the meatloaf recipe, you may need to add a little oil to get things going. If you’re using a higher-fat percentage ground beef, you won’t need to add any oil. Season the beef with salt and pepper, and any other seasoning you’d like.
I hate runny lasagna. There’s almost nothing worse in the lasagna world that a sloppy mess of noodles, sauce, and cheese that have lost their layer integrity. The culprit of this saucy mess is, you guessed it, the sauce. There are a couple things I do to combat this problem. First, I sprinkle about a tablespoon of flour over the beef when it’s almost done cooking. The flour will mix with the oil in the beef and create a sort of roux. This will then combine with the water in the sauce as it bakes, and will thicken the sauce.
Now for the noodles. For individual lasagnas I use no-boil noodles. These come in flat sheets (no ruffles) that are much shorter than the traditional long noodles. Despite their diminutive size, you’ll still need to do a bit of surgery so they’ll fit the mini pans. This is easily done by soaking the noodles in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes until they’re just pliable. This will allow for easy cutting.
Cut noodles to fit pan. I’ve only pictured a stack of two noodles here, just to show the process. But if the noodles are pliable enough, you can cut the entire stack of 15 noodles without shattering them.
Time to start assembly. I set up an assembly line of items in the order I’ll add them. (Oh, while the beef was cooking and noodles were soaking, I shredded some mozzarella cheese.)
I start with a layer of sauce on the bottom. A tablespoon of sauce is all you need per layer. It may not look like enough – but trust me, it is. Don’t over-fill your layers. Each layer should look scant – even a bit bare. But when combined with all the other layers, the combined result is a full, thick, rich feast of flavor.
Start by laying one noodle in the bottom of each pan.
Then add another tablespoon of sauce and spread evenly over noodle. This is the second way we’re going to prevent runny lasagna. The no-boil noodles rely on the water in the sauce when they cook. So, by having the sauce next to the noodles, the noodles will absorb the water in the sauce.
Sprinkle a sparse layer of beef on the sauce. Remember the roux we created when we cooked the beef? This is where the action happens. The roux in the beef combines with the water in the sauce and thickens it. Viola! Just say NO to runny sauce!
I laugh when I read lasagna recipes that say “spread ricotta in an even layer.” Trying to “spread” ricotta cheese on a lasagna layer is like trying to bathe a cat: it’s not necessary and you’re only going to end up frustrated and in pain. Instead, I drop little bits of the cheesy goodness randomly. The randomness of the layers combines to form a remarkably consistent cheese experience.
Sprinkle mozzarella cheese over the ricotta/meet/sauce layer. Now, I’m the first to say there can never be too much cheese. But in this case, I can honestly say *gasp* don’t add too much cheese.
Just a moment. I need a second to collect myself.
OK – I’m recovered now.
But, really – too much cheese will make your lasagna unbalanced and gooey.
I still love you, cheese. I promise I do.
Repeat the noodle/sauce/meet/ricotta/mozzarella layering two more times. Three layers should fill your mini loaf pan almost to the top. To finish each dish, I add a final tablespoon of sauce and smoosh it all over the top, making sure any unexposed noodles get covered with sauce. (If not, they’ll get crunchy and hard when they bake.) You may have a tablespoon or two of sauce leftover. Save it in a little container in the fridge. You’ll see why in this article. Then sprinkle a final layer of cheese garnish.
See, cheese? I told you I still love you.
To store these little pans of heaven, I cover with aluminum foil. But before I cover the pans, I write “Lasagna – Made x/xx/xx” on the foil. I use the “made on” date so I don’t get confused if the date is the made date, the frozen date, or the expiration date.
I’m easily confused. And my memory is short.
Pop finished, covered pans into the freezer. When you’re ready to eat, heat oven to 375 degrees. Cook frozen lasagna for 30-45 minutes still covered with foil until heated through. Remove foil and cook another 15-20 minutes uncovered, until hot and bubbly and the cheese topping is brown and irresistibly yummy.
Let stand for 5-10 minutes to let the sauce cool and solidify a bit. This is the time to repress your instant gratification tendencies. If you bit into this now, it will be like biting into a bowl of hot lava. Have patience, young one. You will be rewarded.
Here’s the complete recipe. Enjoy!
Ingredients (Remember, amounts here are approximate. Use what you have on hand.)
1 package no-boil lasagna noodles
1 jar marinara sauce
1/2 pound ground beef
1 small container ricotta cheese
1-2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1) Brown ground beef.
2) When beef is almost done, sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of flour
3) Soak noodles in bowl of hot water for 4-5 minutes until just pliable
4) Cut noodles to fit pan
5) Coat bottom of mini-loaf pans with 1 tablespoon of sauce
6) Start building lasagna layers with 1 noodle, 1 tablespoon of sauce, 1 tablespoon of beef, dollops of ricotta cheese, and a sprinkle of mozzarella cheese
7) Bake frozen, covered lasagna at 375 for 30-45 minutes, or until heated through
8) Uncover and bake another 15-20 minutes until hot and bubbling and cheese is golden brown.
9) Let stand 5-10 minutes to let sauce cool and thicken.