Being vaguely Italian, I grew up having lasagne on special occasions— Christmas, Easter... even one year for Thanksgiving, oddly. So it was always a bit of a production. My mother would cook the noodles and hang them precariously on the sides of a colander, so they wouldn't stick together. Then we would work on the other components: the ricotta, meat, tomato sauce, etc. Assembly was a big deal. Multiple people were involved. Each of us crowded around the 8x12 dish, forming a clump of overlapping hands and elbows, just to have a role in the final product. (Reading this back, it sounds like I have a big family. Really, there are only four of us.)
My version is still comforting and delicious, but the "no cook" lasagne noodles and a simple tomato sauce make it infinitely more manageable— even for a weeknight dinner (hence the title). It's vegetarian, but you could easily incorporate a lighter meat into the sauce if you need a side of protein with all that pasta and cheese. Just brown 2/3 of a pound or so of ground chicken or turkey in olive oil (maybe deglaze with a dry white wine if you're fancy) before adding the garlic. Then carry on with the recipe.
Note: Quantities of all these ingredients are relative to your own preferences. I normally do four to five layers and I like the ricotta to play a prominent role, so this is what works for me.
12oz part-skim ricotta
1 cup freshly grated parmesan (preferably reggiano)
1/3 cup grated, dry mozzarella
1 package lasagne noodles, "no boil/cook"
1 28oz can San Marzano whole, peeled tomatoes
4 cloves garlic
2 sprigs fresh basil
2 sprigs fresh oregano + extra for garnish
olive oil (Quantity? I don't know... just... a lot.)
1 package baby spinach
1) Prep the veg
Mince the garlic. Finely chop the basil and most of the oregano, reserving a big pinch to garnish with later.
Give the spinach a rough chop, then sauté it quickly using only a thin layer of water in the bottom of your pan. Drain the leaves in a colander once they wilt, pressing out all the excess water.
2) Make the sauce
In a blender or food mill, puré the San Marzano tomatoes with their juices. Puré them smooth or leave them as chunky as you'd like.
Sauté the garlic in a large pot or saucepan with a generous pour of olive oil and a big pinch of kosher salt. Once it becomes fragrant and a little golden, pour your tomato puré into the saucepan. Add the basil and oregano and another pinch of kosher salt. Simmer for 30-50 minutes until the sauce thickens and the garlic/herb flavors come through. Use water to dilute the sauce if it thickens too quickly.
3) Prep the ricotta
Mix the ricotta with 1/3 cup parmesan, a big pinch of kosher salt, and a 4-6 turns from your pepper mill.
4) Layer it up
In a shallow dish large enough to accommodate a couple of lasagne noodles, soak the noodles until they're a bit softer (about 5 minutes). Annoyingly, you may need to rotate or use several dishes, so the noodles don't overlap (they stick). A cutting board makes a nice resting place for already soaked noodles.
Spoon a generous layer of sauce into the bottom of an 8x8 baking dish. Now begin your layering process in this order: 1) noodles, 2) ricotta, 3) spinach, 4) parmesan— just a light sprinkle, and 5) a super thin layer of sauce— so thin you can still see the cheese and spinach beneath. Repeat until you reach the top of your baking dish.
5) Finish and bake
For your last layer, put down the noodles and a spread a generous pour of sauce over the top. Then add a thick layer of mozzarella and parmesan in equal amounts. Sprinkle olive oil over the top, so the cheese can brown in the oven. Then bake! 20 minutes at 350 degrees is all you should need. It's done when the sauce bubbles and the top layer looks melted and golden around the edges.
6) Enjoy with wine— because you deserve it!
Garnish with fresh oregano leaves or chifonade of basil if you're so inclined. Snap a quick pic for Instagram. Pour the wine. Feel proud that you made lasagne on a weeknight— or at all. Buon appetito!