Cooking: Lasagna Rolls

I've posted notes on making this particular dish before, but it's so easy (and popular) that I thought I'd put a how-to here. Most recently I made this for some new parents - it's great for make-and-take events, because it's easy, and stays warm for a long time.

Credit goes to the Neely's at Food Network for the sauce - I started with their tomato sauce recipe and made a few adjustments. I first saw lasagna rolls on the blogchef.net site, but there are many out there if you google it.

I think all good pasta sauces start the same way -- olive oil, chopped onion and garlic. Saute the onion until it is tender. I usually add a little salt and some black pepper at this point, too.

Depending on how much sauce you need, add one 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes. I prefer the Contadina brand -- I've tried the generic brands and they just don't taste right. Add some basil - dried is fine, just be sure to rub it in your hands first to release the flavor -- and a little bit of cayenne pepper. I'd go easy on the salt at this stage, even though it's pretty certain you'll want more. It's just hard to take it out once you've added it.

Lower the heat, put the lid on, and walk away for at least 30 minutes. Taste the sauce and add salt if it seems bland. If you do add more salt, give it another 15 minutes to simmer on low and absorb that flavor.

Here's where the variations start. I've made this several times as a vegetarian lasagna/sauce just by leaving the sauce alone. But if you absolutely want a meat sauce, just brown about 1/2 pound of lean ground beef or turkey or whatever you like. Be sure you flavor the meat separately - salt, pepper, garlic if you want -- so that it adds to the flavor of the tomato sauce instead of diluting it. The finished sauce can stay on low heat while you prep the other parts of the lasagna rolls. [By the way, you could absolutely use jarred sauce with this recipe - rev it up by putting a little oil and garlic in the pan first, then add the sauce. It'll disguise a little of the processed taste.]

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat water for the lasagna noodles according to package directions. The filling recipe here will use approximately 10 noodles. I cook a couple extra just in case one tears. You need full-size lasagna noodles to make the rolls.

Filling -- combine all in a bowl:
1 12 oz container ricotta cheese
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp onion powder
1 Tbsp fresh parsley, minced (optional, but it's pretty)

Cook noodles to al dente - even if you usually like your noodles soft, don't let them cook too long or you won't be able to roll them without tearing. I promise they won't be tough when you're done.
I drain the noodles and lay them out side by side on pieces of foil -- this allows them to cool a little so I can handle them. Spread the cheese mixture over each noodle -- it doesn't have to be very thick, as the noodle will roll and make layers. Vary the amount when you do this the first time so you'll get a feel for how much cheese you like in yours.
In the baking dish, cover the bottom with your tomato (or meat) sauce. Roll each noodle and place seam side down in rows in the dish. Top with the remaining sauce.

Bake at 375 for about 30 minutes, then top with about 1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese, or a blend of mozzarella and parmesan. Put it back in the oven for about 5 minutes to melt the cheese. Makes great leftovers and reheats well.

Other variations for the filling:
  • chopped cooked chicken
  • spinach (fresh chopped or thawed from frozen)
  • mushrooms
  • tofu
Full disclosure: I cannot use cottage cheese in recipes - I like the stuff, but it doesn't belong in lasagna in my opinion. BUT many people swear by it and I've seen variations of this recipe that use it instead of ricotta.

So there you have it -- a pretty foolproof pasta sauce and one way to use it with lasagna rolls. Serve it with some crusty bread and a salad, and you'll have a go-to or take-with meal whenever you need it. Enjoy.

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