Italian

A Genius One-Pan Lasagna—for the Hurried and the Lazy

October 19, 2016

Lasagna is the dinner everyone wants, but no one thinks they have time to make. We save it for birthdays, for company, for only the barest of Sundays.

But we've got it all wrong. It turns out lasagna can happen anytime, if you’re smart about it—in fact, it can happen in the time it would take to make your average spaghetti with Marcella sauce. And in one fewer pot.

Before I realized this, in a more defeated frame of mind, I listed lasagna at #1 of the holy grail Genius Recipes I was seeking in 2016. Dozens of you generously sent in recipes that I plotted to find a good Sunday to make—someday. I’d do it right after repotting my weird molting cactus and finishing the thank you notes from my wedding. (It’s not the recipes, it’s me—please keep sending them.)

Those sweet lasagnas sat in my inbox through the rest of winter, while I tested other lower-hanging fruit, and scraped together eggs and leftover mishmash and surrealist fridge dives for dinners in between. I held tight to a defeatist assumption about lasagna, and I imagine I’m not alone here.

When I even thought about choosing a lasagna—then measuring ingredients for two sauces and chopping and boiling pasta and layering and baking and wondering how it was all going to taste—I quickly moved on to something else. Eggs. Pesto. Eggs again.

But a few months later, after I was again caught publicly wondering what a genius lasagna would look like on our Burnt Toast podcast (would somebody please get this woman some lasagna?), a kind listener named Jenny Meier wrote to me about a skillet-based recipe in Keepers, Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion’s 2013 cookbook about realistic, delicious weeknight dinners. Skillet I could do.

“The original idea came from a challenge Kathy and I gave ourselves to create one of our favorite dishes using just one pan, with no time in the oven, and minimal bowls,” Campion told me. "There was a lot of trial and error and funny lasagnas (which wasn't so bad since eating even a meh lasagna isn't the worst thing).”

When I tried their stovetop technique, I was stunned. Despite all my slowpoke tendencies, in 45 minutes, I had a phenomenally comforting bowlful of lasagna. All that was dirty was one pot, one small bowl, a cutting board, and a few handheld tools. That’s because everything is done right in the pan, from browning the sausage to mashing up the canned tomatoes, to poking in the noodles*, to simmering it all into a saucy, cheesy mass.

Their all-access technique also gave me chances to interact and taste as I cooked to ensure lasagna success, and just enough time to wash dishes, wipe up, and steam some broccoli on the side. And it wasn’t even 11 PM! I was living the promise of Keepers, the promise of what every weeknight cooking guru wants to help us do, but rarely succeeds.

Not only is this lasagna doable, it’s consistently one of the most satisfying ones I’ve had—with piles of everything I’m looking for: gooey strings of molten mozzarella, over a swirly pad of creamy tomato, over layers—real layers—of pasta melded with sausage ragu that hits every note of tomato and woodsy herb, umami and tang.

I’ve since tried other skillet lasagna recipes, just to be sure this wasn’t simply a genre awakening—but they’ve ended up more like pasta stews or required just as much work and dirty dishes as their longer-cooked counterparts.

This is the one that stuck. It’s a keeper.

*No-boil lasagna noodles are pre-cooked and dehydrated again—but that doesn’t mean that they’re a poor substitute. If you can’t find no-boil noodles, Brennan and Campion say you can substitute regular lasagna noodles—you’ll just have to cook them first (keep them very al dente because they’ll continue to cook in the sauce).

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thank you to Burnt Toast listener Jenny Meier for this one!

Photos by James Ransom

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41 Comments

Jan November 7, 2016
I made it using turkey sausage and it was delicious. The noodle were a bit of a hassle to try and slip in. If I wanted to use again I would pour the sauce into a bowl and then layer a bit better. But because it doesn't have much of a filling and won't come anywhere near a traditional lasagna I will just add very el dente penne instead. Much easier. Wondering if anyone has added veggies to this. <br />
 
Keesje November 7, 2016
Keen to make this recipe but just need to check a few bits of vocabulary as I am from the other side of the pond. What is Italian sausage? And what are lasagne noodles? Can any other Brits/Irish tell me the European version of these please? Looking forward to trying it.
 
Mitch W. November 7, 2016
Maybe I can help since I have spent a lot of time in the UK. There is no such thing as Italian sausage in Italyor the UK; its just sausage. In North America it is a basic pork sausage that is flavoured with Fennel, Red pepper flake, Basil & Oregano or some combination of these. It comes pre-made in most grocery stores. I would just tear apart some of your great British sausage and flavour with any of these spices (drain the fat off though). Lasagna noodles are just flat long noodles that allow you to layer a lasagna. You could use Pasta sheets an just tear them into pieces. Hope this helps.
 
Keesje November 8, 2016
Perfect thank you! I may try it with black pudding instead of the sausage, it makes an amazing ragu.<br />
 
Patricia November 5, 2016
I did not like this. It did not resemble anything like a lasagne at all. Only way to get the deliciousness that comes from delicate layers of meat cheese and sauce is to make the time to prepare the dish properly. This was just schlop.
 
Louisa November 1, 2016
I have made this lasagne, along with about half the recipes in Keepers. It's great, as has been everything else from the book. I own hundreds of cookbooks and turn to Keepers weekly--it's one of my favorites. Their Ma Po Tofu and Panzanella recipes are good examples of what they do so well--they provide a super reliable recipe that just slightly tweaks and improves on all of the other recipes out there I do not know the authors but am an experienced cook and really, really thank them for all of their tasty, easy and very reliable recipes.
 
Kathy B. November 1, 2016
Reading this was the best way to start our day--thank you so much, Louisa! And you know us now :)
 
MaryFrances21 October 29, 2016
I made this last night. I used regular lasagne noodles, because I had some, and fresh tomatoes (ditto). The timing turned out about the same. We liked it a lot, but next time I think I would just stir in some sturdy dried pasta, since you don't really get good layers that you can cut into neat servings. I think penne or the large shells would work well. Of course it won't be lasagne anymore then.
 
Kathy B. October 29, 2016
Glad you tried it and it worked. We are all about flexibility and using what you have/like. Have a great weekend!<br />
 
christine October 25, 2016
Fresh pasta works great. Just cook it al dente and it will be fine . Wonderful in fact.
 
mcs3000 October 25, 2016
Oooh, so looking forward to making this!
 
BetsyLynnS October 25, 2016
This genius recipe caught my eye yesterday, and I made it last night. It was very well received and excellent. I used the mascarpone, which added such a delightful creaminess and the fresh mozzarella made it nice and gooey. It is definitely an easy keeper.
 
Kathy B. October 25, 2016
Thank you--so glad to hear it. It's one of the most popular recipes from our KEEPERS cookbook!
 
Cheryl D. October 24, 2016
For those of you who want to make this vegetarian...you can get the sausage flavor by adding fennel seeds.
 
Kathy B. October 25, 2016
Smart!<br />
 
Shannon October 23, 2016
And...... it is delicious. And easy. The mascarpone is really is different and fantastic. I added mushrooms (but not ricotta!).
 
Kathy B. October 23, 2016
So glad to hear it! Mushrooms are a great idea, too.
 
Suzanne T. October 23, 2016
This was a favorite family recipe of ours in the 1970's that I believe my mother invented out of desperation as a working mom back before there was daycare. Who has time for lasagna ? Everyone!
 
Kathy B. October 23, 2016
She was ahead of the curve! Thanks for sharing.
 
Phyllis October 23, 2016
Could I do this for vegetarians without using substitute meat, with just vegetables? I never have found a fake meat I liked.
 
Kathy B. October 23, 2016
Yes, just play with the seasonings because the sausage lends a lot of flavor.
 
erin October 23, 2016
Is there anyway to do this without noodles? Gluten free but not using gluten free noodles or anything?
 
christine October 23, 2016
Instead of pasta, why no try to use very thinly sliced vegetables, like eggplant, carrots, or zucchini for layering...<br />
 
Paulaob October 23, 2016
Which cheese, mascarpone or cream cheese, did people who made this use? I think mascarpone might be a little too sweet.
 
Kathy B. October 23, 2016
I use cream cheese because it's usually on hand and isn't as pricey as mascarpone.<br />
 
Kathy B. October 23, 2016
Caroline and I are so excited about our Skillet Lasagna being declared a Genius Recipe, and reading these comments is the icing on the cake. Thanks to everyone for trying it. Hope it becomes a keeper in your home, too! --Kathy (half of the KEEPERS duo)<br /><br />P.S.--Thanks, too, to Kristen, Food52, and especially Jenny Meier for introducing the recipe to Kristen. We are very grateful!
 
herbalicious October 23, 2016
The commission of ricotta isn't a deal breaker at all. Sometimes I substitute cottage cheese for ricotta and blend with mozzarella. Can't wait to try this recipe!
 
christine October 23, 2016
The omission of ricotta does not bother me since I am trying to eat less dairy, but I could not possibly make this with re-constituted noodles. Yuck. If I am going to make this, I will be making my own noodles.
 
Billie L. October 23, 2016
Making this tonight!! Sounds awesome to me!<br />
 
Marcie October 23, 2016
Looks divine! Could this be made with fresh pasta lasagna noodles?
 
Kathy B. October 23, 2016
Hi. We haven't tried that, but it should work as long as you leave them al dente, pat them dry, then submerge them in layers in the sauce. Let us know how it turns out!
 
Marcie October 25, 2016
Hi Kathy, <br />Fresh pasta is soft and cooks in far less time than dry pasta (plus being even more delicious)! The whole point of this recipe is to use only one pa. It seems likely that fresh pasta would work since the cooking time is flexible and the pasta can be tested for done-ness. But since I live alone and cook family size batches to freeze and enjoy, 6 servings is a lot for one person if it goes wrong! No-boil noodles sound too odd. So if anybody has tried using fresh pasta please let us know!<br /> please let me know,
 
Edith K. October 23, 2016
How is ground beef substituted for the sausage? My family doesn't eat sausage :(<br />What about parmesan instead of the mascarpone?