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.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound sweet or hot Italian sausages, casings removed
- 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- Large pinch of hot red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 28-ounce cans whole, peeled tomatoes
- 1 sprig basil, plus a handful of basil leaves
- 1 pinch salt and pepper
- 1 9-ounce package no-boil lasagna noodles (they aren't all 9-ounce, so be sure to check!)
- 4 ounces mascarpone cheese or cream cheese (1/2 cup)
- 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced and patted dry
*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