When I make lasagna, I go all the way.  If you’re going to go through all the trouble of making it, it might as well be a showstopper.  Go big or go home is my motto when making lasagna.  I like my lasagna five-layers high, with lots of cheese and smothered in a thick, flavorful meat sauce.  What makes this lasagna different from any other – it’s the peas.  Yep, Sicilians put peas in their meat sauce.  It adds just a touch of sweetness.  But the real secret to making a fantastic lasagna is using quality ingredients. 

To start off, use the best quality ricotta and grated cheese you can get for making the filling.  I know that’s not easy in some parts of the country.  The same is true for the tomato sauce.  Not all canned tomatoes are alike.  Some canned tomatoes are more acidic than others.  The Cento brand is consistent on quality and is available in most supermarkets.  That’s not to say there aren’t other good brands out there.  I never have to add sugar to the sauce if I use Cento brand canned tomatoes.  If your sauce does come out a little on the acidic side, add a teaspoon or more of sugar to balance it.

3 pounds (48-ounces) ricotta cheese
1 1/2 pounds shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1 to 1 1/4 cups Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese, divided
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley leaves, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef
2 Italian sausage links, casings removed
2-ounces pancetta, diced
1 can (6-ounces) tomato paste
1 can (28-ounces) crushed tomatoes
1 can (28-ounces) tomato puree
1/2 cup frozen peas (optional)
6 to 8 large fresh basil leaves
1 pound (16-ounces) dry lasagna noodles
Salt and pepper
Minced parsley for garnish (optional)

EQUIPMENT NEEDED:  9-inch by 13-inch by 3.5 to 4-inch deep rectangular baking dish.

MAKE THE SAUCE:  Heat olive oil in a 6-quart covered sauce pot over medium heat. 

Add onion, celery, and carrot, cook until vegetables are soft, about 6 minutes.  Add garlic and cook 1 minute longer.  Raise heat to medium-high, add the ground beef, sausage and pancetta, cook until browned.  Stir in tomato paste and cook for 1 minute.

Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato puree, and basil.  Add 1 to 1 ¼ cups water, depending on how thick the sauce is.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add more water as needed for desired consistency. 

Stir in peas and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Cook an additional 15 minutes.  Taste the sauce, if acidic add 1 teaspoon of sugar at a time, until balanced.

COOK THE LASAGNA NOODLES:  While the sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to boil with a small amount of vegetable oil.  Add lasagna noodles and cook until just tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain noodles in a colander. 

Separate each noodle and layer on a lightly greased baking sheet.

MAKE THE RICOTTA FILLING:  Line a colander with a clean, lint-free kitchen towel and place over a shallow bowl or large plate. 

Place the ricotta in the colander and allow to drain for 1 to 2 hours in the refrigerator.   

Place the ricotta in a large bowl, stir in 1 1/2 cups of the mozzarella cheese, 1/2 cup of the grated cheese, eggs, and parsley.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to assemble.

ASSEMBLE THE LASAGNA:  Coat the bottom of lasagna dish with some sauce. 

Place a layer of noodles on top, slightly overlapping.  Cut to fit with kitchen shears if necessary. 

Spread an even layer of the ricotta filling on top. 

Add a layer of tomato sauce, top with some of the grated cheese and mozzarella. 

Repeat with adding a layer of noodles, sauce, grated cheese and mozzarella.  Alternate the direction of each noodle layer.  You should have 5 layers. Top the last layer generously with mozzarella cheese. Save any remaining sauce to serve. 

BAKE THE LASAGNA: Loosely cover the top of the lasagna with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake 30 to 40 minutes longer, until bubbly. Remove from oven and let stand 15 minutes before serving.  Garnish with parsley.

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