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Part of the fun of lasagna is that it can be a little bit of a project. It’s something to do on a relaxed weekend afternoon, listening to your favorite podcast or chatting with dinner guests over glasses of wine while you recruit them to help build layers.
But, as I learned while writing "Lasagna: A Baked Pasta Cookbook," it doesn’t always have to be a project. If you don’t have a whole afternoon or evening to spend on a freshly baked dish of cheesy, saucy pasta, that’s completely fine. With a bit of smart grocery shopping and a few tricks up your sleeves, homemade lasagna can be yours in no time.
1. Three cheers for kitchen shears!
Need to cut up some canned tomatoes in a flash? Stick your kitchen shears right into the can and get the job done without getting a single cutting board dirty. Need to snip some basil and rosemary into a sauce? Kitchen shears complete that task in a matter of seconds. You can even use 'em to cut lasagna noodles to fit your favorite baking dish.
2. Shredded mozzarella is here for you.
It may not have the same charm as picking up a tub of fresh mozzarella balls at an Italian market, but there are several reasons to take the shredded stuff from the grocery store seriously. Firstly, for sprinkling onto the top of lasagna, you want something with low levels of moisture. While fresh mozzarella has a soft, milky sweetness to it, the moisture can seep out and make the lasagna soggy. Using a pre-shredded variety means that you can distribute the cheese evenly across the surface, and it will melt and brown without waterlogging the whole lasagna. Even better: It’s ready to go at a moment’s notice.
3. Keep some red sauce in the freezer.
Having some red sauce in the freezer is like having money in the bank. Invest a little bit of time into it on a quiet weekend afternoon, and you’ll reap the benefit tenfold on a frantic weeknight when you’re desperate to get something warm and delicious on the table. Whether this is a homemade version of your favorite classic spaghetti sauce from a jar or a rich meat sauce scented with Italian sausage, pork shoulder and meatballs (like the Sunday Sauce from my book), you will be grateful when you find this treasure in your freezer later.
4. Don’t fear the no-boil noodles.
A number of pasta companies (like Barilla and Ronzoni) make oven-ready lasagna noodles. These consist of real pasta sheets that have been cooked and dehydrated. This means that for lasagna purposes, they just need to be stacked between layers of sauce and fillings, and the noodles will hydrate and become tender in the oven. Not only do they taste pretty good — they’re also generally thinner and more delicate than the store-bought noodles you have to boil beforehand.
5. Buy a bag of frozen ravioli.
For the fastest lasagna you’ll ever make, just pick up a bag of frozen cheese ravioli. Since these combine a ricotta layer and a pasta layer in one, turning them into lasagna is as simple as simmering them in a fruity tomato sauce, sprinkling with some mozzarella and throwing the whole thing in the oven in a skillet to turn toasty and bubbly on top.