Friday, October 15, 2010

Not Your Grandmother's Lasagna...

So recently, I was staring at the huge basil TREE plant in my front yard and realized I needed to make something Italiano! So.... lasagna??!?!! Why not? I had never made it before, and I know, I'm half Italian, please forgive me Mimi. :) My sweet grandmother (Mimi) is the reason I put fresh basil in and on everything. Check out my recipe for homemade pizza and pizza crust... topped with lots of fresh basil! Mimi has shared plenty of her recipes with me over the years, like her famous meatballs, marinara sauce from scratch, etc etc etc... which is never complete without a glass of red wine. I love her, she's fabulous. And she's always my #1 fan in everything... so here's a little shout out to her!

My adorable Italian grandmother, Mimi, and I last summer in NJ.

I looked up a good recipe on the always trusty (the google of recipe search engines.) I found THIS one, World's Best Lasagna. Ok, how can you argue with nearly 4,500 reviews? No literally, that's not an exaggeration... 4,484 as of today.

Of course, I never leave a recipe as is... I always find something to change/alter/substitute, and what have you. This time... the victim ingredient was the meat sauce, which called for lean ground beef (Laura's ground beef pictured below is my preferred choice) and Italian sausage. I decided to use ground bison instead of the sausage. "Bison?!?!" you say... yes, bison. I was first introduced to bison about a year ago. It's a little more expensive than ground beef... but if you're purchasing lean ground beef anyways, there's not too much of a cost difference.

Check out the nutrition info about bison over on the USDA's website.... there's a reason that bison was the main source of EVERYTHING for the Native Americans back in the day. Here's why I was so impressed with bison vs. beef:
1. Antibiotics and growth hormones are NOT given to bison... across the board. Wish we could say the same for cows.
2. Because bison are much leaner, you won't find that white marbling that is very evident in beef.
3. Bison roam freely, and are grass-fed for most of their lives. They are only fed grain during the last 3 - 4 months of their life. Here's why... the fat of grass-fed animals is yellow due to the high content of beta carotene. That's good though! Beta carotene is the nutrient that makes carrots and sweet potatoes orange. Consumers tend to prefer the fat to be white, which is why they get the grain at the end. I guess people don't understand that the yellow fat is a good thing.
4. I personally prefer the taste of bison to beef, it's more tender and some say it tastes slightly sweeter... you be the judge. Throw some bison burgers on the grill next time you fire it up... awesome! Oh! And the picture of the crock pot just got me thinking that I may give bison chili a try soon! I love making a big ol' pot of chili in the fall! Mmmm...

Refer to the USDA link I provided to learn more about prep and storage of bison.

Bison Lasagna (my modifications are in purple)
1 pound sweet Italian sausage (1 Ground Bison)
3/4 pound lean ground beef (1 lb. Laura's Lean Ground Beef)
1/2 cup minced onion
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
2 (6.5 ounce) cans canned tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons white sugar (Didn't add sugar, didn't need it.)
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil leaves (I used LOTS of fresh chopped basil!)
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
12 lasagna noodles
16 ounces ricotta cheese (I used part-skim, low fat)
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 pound mozzarella cheese, sliced (I started with a black of mozzarella cheese, then ran out before I got to the top, so I went and I also used a package of sliced mozzarella just for the topping)
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Stroke of GENIUS! Let the sauce simmer in a crock pot!
  1. In a Dutch oven, cook sausage bison, ground beef, onion, and garlic over medium heat until well browned. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water. Season with sugar, basil, fennel seeds, Italian seasoning, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons parsley. Simmer, covered, for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. (I didn't read the recipe through and didn't realize that I had to let simmer for almost 2 hours... cause I had to be somewhere the afternoon I made it. Then I had stroke of GENIUS! I threw it in a crock pot on low and let it cook while I was gone! Brilliant!)
  2. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook lasagna noodles in boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain noodles, and rinse with cold water. (The Bariella lasagna noodles I bought are AWESOME! No need to boil... the directions say to let them set in a dish of hot water for a minute or so before layering! These are a life saver!) In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese with egg, remaining parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
  3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
  4. To assemble, spread 1 1/2 cups of meat sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Arrange 6 noodles lengthwise over meat sauce. Spread with one half of the ricotta cheese mixture. Top with a third of mozzarella cheese slices. Spoon 1 1/2 cups meat sauce over mozzarella, and sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Repeat layers, and top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil: to prevent sticking, either spray foil with cooking spray, or make sure the foil does not touch the cheese.
  5. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 25 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes before serving.
Ricotta cheese and herbs mixture

Here's my assembly line...
notice the lasagna noodles soaking in the square dish > boiling noodles.

Then the ricotta...
... then some sliced mozzarella

... a few more layers and then into the oven! Pretty!
Success! Mama Mia! Papa Pia!
And it was oh-so-freaking-good!


  1. I love your lasagna. It is not easy to find bison here in Greece at least not until Christmas time, but I am bookmarking this to make during that time. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I want lasagna like nobody's business

  3. I'll take your lasagna any way you want to make it! Next time you come to NJ, let's do it! Your lil ole Italian grandmother is getting older and shrinking, but I can still reach the stove and the table. Loveyou, Mimi