My children motivate most of my meal planning; it needs to be fast, full of nutrition and tasty! Not much to go on, I know, but I find a way. This recipe blog catalogues some of my favourite solutions for the midweek freak out that can become the answer to “what’s for dinner?” As much as I love to cook, I’m an essentially lazy chef, so I need cheats like the “meatballs” my kids love. They don’t realise that traditional meatballs are huge, hand-shaped and time consuming, but they squeal with delight when they see my pasta with meatballs all the same.
I call this a lazy lasagna because using linguine instead of lasagne sheets saves so much time! I also use sausages for the meatballs; mild Italian pork is not spicy but flavourful. In the UK, I used to buy gluten-free sausages for their high meat content – I don’t need all of the bread fillers. I’ve been known to de-case the sausages for lovely ground pork, but in this recipe, I’ve left the sausages in their casing and slice them towards the end. I can usually have this meal on the table in about 45 minutes, but it can be even quicker if you’re super talented and have three pots on the stove going at once. It may create more dishes, but that’s not always a bad thing if it calms the starving hordes a bit sooner.
Don’t get me wrong, nothing can replace a true restaurant-style al forno lasagne, but this recipe has so much of the flavour without the fuss, it’s got to be tried. I don’t like the meal to be too rich or the kids won’t like it, so the addition of vegetables and ricotta help to keep it fresh and light. Most American-style lasagna is layered with ricotta and spinach, and egg even for the oven baking, and takes ages to layer and then bake. This method takes half the time but packs a powerful lasagna punch.
- 1lb (6 large) sausages (I use mild Italian or gluten-free)
- 1 tablespoon veg oil of choice for searing the sausages
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 cup chopped onion (I use frozen)
- 1 cup shredded carrot (I use pre-shredded/julienned)
- 2 x 8oz/400ml tins of chopped tomato (or 1 chopped and 1 sauce if you need less chunks)
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon fresh minced or dried garlic
- ½ teaspoon crushed fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon Italian spice mix of choice (mine has thyme, rosemary, basil and parsley)
- 1 cup of chopped spinach (I use frozen)
- 1 teaspoon chicken stock concentrate
- 2 cups of water for the sauce
- Linguine pasta (one handful dried pasta made enough for 4 people)
- 2 cups ricotta cheese
- ½ cup grated or shredded parmesan
- Salt and black pepper to taste
I try to have as many things going at once as possible to cut down on the time, but you can use the same pot for your sauce after searing the sausage if you have time and want fewer dishes.
If I know I’m going to sear meat for colour and flavour, I usually take it out of the fridge to allow it to come closer to room temperature before frying. This is usually about an hour before I get started – I just leave the packet on the sink.
Warm a pan and the veg oil to a medium-high heat before adding the sausages. Try not to move them for about 3 minutes before turning. The longer you can leave them sitting, the better colour they’ll get. Don’t worry about cooking them all the way, they’ll finish in the sauce.
While the sausages are browning, bring another pot to a medium-high temperature with the olive oil and onions. Once the onions begin to sizzle, add the carrot and dry spices and mix in well.
Once the onions and carrots have been coated with the spices and fried for a minute or two, add the tins of tomatoes.
Be sure to turn your sausages to get colour on as much of the casing as possible. I use a cast iron pan for this job.
You can get a medium-sized sauce pan started with boiling water for your pasta. I almost never use a huge pot of water as it seems a waste and takes ages. I break my handful of pasta in half before adding it to the boiling water with a splash of oil. As long as you stir once in a while, there’s plenty of space for the pasta to cook.
Add the chicken concentrate and water to your tomato sauce, then add the water and spinach and bring it all to the boil. I usually cover the sauce and only slightly reduce the heat to keep a rolling boil going without the splattering. This will help the sauce break down quickly.
Once the sausages have lovely colour on most sides, go ahead and add them to the sauce and the re-cover the pan. The sausages will finish cooking in the sauce after another 10 minutes or so, and their juices will flavour the sauce.
Once the pasta is cooked to your preferred texture – we go slightly softer than al dente – drain and lightly rinse your noodles.
Add the ricotta, parmesan, salt and pepper to a small bowl and mix well.
Toss it together to coat the pasta with the cheese and set aside.
Check your sauce is reducing and the carrots and tomatoes have softened. Go ahead and remove the sausages from the sauce, onto a plate for slicing.
Slice the sausages into equal pieces so they’re, you know, meatballs! Return the sausage and any juices from the plate back into the sauce and allow it to simmer for another 5 minutes uncovered.
When you’re ready to serve, add the pasta to the sauce and toss it all together. You don’t want to overdo it, or it’ll start to turn to mush, so a few quick turns to pull the sauce from the bottom should be fine. You can also serve the sauce ladled over the pasta if you prefer.
Once you’re happy with the temperature for serving, pile onto plates and enjoy! My kids are temperature adverse, so the cooled pasta with the hot sauce meets their requirements without really needing to reheat. It’s not the most beautiful meal in the world, but it’s got everything you need for a lazy lasagna experience. Hope you enjoy it!