Gail’s Lasagna {a family tradition}

I got an email from the folks at Patience Brewster asking to participate in a Mother’s Day project. If you have never heard of Patience Brewster, you must check out her website. Ms. Brewster is an artist who makes unique ornaments (and other things). She also has a blog, where she recently paid tribute to her mother. You really have to read the blog post. It nearly made me cry, and I never even met the woman! The Mother’s Day project I am participating in involves blogging about a dish that’s been passed down from the mother’s in my  family. Sounds like an easy task, right? Maybe so. In your family. But my family is full of good cooks and favorite dishes. It’s hard to pick just one dish to highlight for Mother’s Day! Also, I should mention that things work a bit differently in my family. While there’s definitely passing down of recipes and sharing amongst sisters and cousins, etc., in my family we have food experts who are always tasked to make the same meal. My grandma (mom’s mom) is great at making roast beef and tuna croquettes, my other grandma (dad’s mom) makes the best slopped up spaghetti in the world. My aunt Linda will school anyone with her Texas cake recipe. My aunt Jeannie and Uncle Greg make phenomenal Polish sausage. (For real!) And my mom’s lasagna is a hit with the entire family. These recipes aren’t kept secret. They are freely shared with other family member’s. But no one else in the family can hold a candle to these food experts when attempting the recipes. I know. I’ve tried! I have failed at both the Texas cake and slopped-up spaghetti. I’ve done a decent beef roast (and so has my mom!), but honestly they aren’t as good as my grandma’s. I’ve never attempted the tuna croquettes – I’d need my grandma there to help me with that. Nor have I ever attempted to make my mom’s lasagna. Why would I when she makes it so well? While it’s all well and good right now, I’ve thought about the day some of these family members and expert food makers will no longer be with us – hopefully not any time soon. And it worries me to think that the expertise could go to the grave with them. And it’s not that they haven’t tried to teach us their techniques. I have watched my grandma make slopped-up spaghetti from start to finish. It’s not a tricky recipe. Yet somehow my slopped-up spaghetti doesn’t turn out nearly as good as hers. Even she doesn’t know what the secret is. (I suspect it’s the way she cans her tomato juice – gonna have to watch her can tomatoes and their juice sometime!)

At any rate, in honor of my mother, I decided to attempt to make her lasagna for Mother’s Day. It’s likely what she will be having halfway across the country! So I’m going to provide you with her recipe (as she writes it). Then I’ll do some explaining. A variation of this recipe was passed down to my mom by her Auntie Therese. She’s tweaked it a lot over the years. That’s the great thing about this recipe. It gets better and better with age.

meat sauce ingredients.

  • 1 lb hamburger, browned well with onion and drained
  • 1 lb Italian sausage (Or just use 2 lb. hamburger)
  • 1 12-oz can tomato paste
  • 1 qt tomatoes
  • 2 15-oz cans tomato sauce
  • 1 can pizza sauce (15 oz)
  • 2 T. parsley
  • 1 or 2 cloves garlic crushed and browned with hamburger (or ¼ tsp. garlic salt)
  • ½ T. basil
  • ½ T. oregano
  • ½ T. salt
  • fresh mushrooms, browned with onion and garlic (optional – I skipped this even though I love mushrooms)

meat sauce directions.

Brown hamburger, onions, garlic, and mushrooms; drain well. Add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a slight boil then turn the heat to low, cover and simmer at least 1 hour.

cheese sauce ingredients and directions.

  • 2 c. cottage cheese (or 1 c. cottage cheese and 1 c. ricotta cheese)
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 T. Parsley
  • ½  tsp. pepper
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese

Mix all above ingredients together.

remaining ingredients.

  • 1 box lasagna noodles, cooked and drained well (put on wax paper to keep from sticking
  • 2 or 3 lbs of grated mozzarella cheese (two worked fine for me – and I love cheese!)


  1. Makes two 8 x 10 pans (I like to use glass pans, or one 8 x 10 glass and two 8 x 8 glass pans).
  2. Spray pans with Pam or cooking spray, layer sauce on bottom pan, then noodles, cheese sauce, meat sauce and mozzarella cheese. Repeat layers. Cover with foil; Bake 350 45 minutes then take off foil and bake 10 to 15 minutes longer until the cheese melts.
  3. Remove from oven and let stand 10 minutes before serving. Can freeze unbaked. To do so, cover with Saran wrap, then foil.

 One of the things about my mom’s lasagna is that it comes out a bit soupy when you first dig into it. Tastes wonderful but the layers start to shift with each person who takes another piece. It kind of looks like a mess by the time everyone’s had their first serving. (I don’t know anyone who doesn’t take seconds.) That being said, my mom’s lasagna is always more firm the second day. I was pretty confident that the way around this soup catastrophe would be to bake the lasagna one night without cutting into it, pop it in the fridge and then reheat the following night. I also added an extra egg to the cheese mixture to ensure the cheese mixture would come out firm. Because I had ground turkey in my freezer I used that instead of ground beef. I also bought some Italian chicken sausage from Trader Joe’s since I was already healthifying the dish by using ground turkey (ha ha). By the way, my mom commended me on my healthy choices. So I guess this version would be dubbed the “healthy” version of Gail’s lasagna. Are you wondering how it turned out yet? Well, I was spot on by baking the lasagna the night before I ate it. I was able to cut into the lasagna and pull out one piece that was completely in tact. There was no shifting around when I reheated that baby in the oven! However, I was disappointed because it seemed almost dry to me and like it needed salt. I do not remember if I added salt to the meat sauce when I made it. Not a big deal. It’s not like you can’t salt a dish after it’s cooked. That being said, I was ready to crown my mom the reigning the Lasagna Queen. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to have another piece from the dish I made! A couple of days passed and I decided to try the lasagna again. I had garlic bread in the freezer that I needed to use, anyway. This time, instead of reheating the lasagna in the oven, I used the microwave. I brought it out piping hot and then sprinkled a bit of salt on top and … voila! It was a masterpiece! It wasn’t dry at all. The cheese was melty, the sauce oozy. I tore through that piece disappointed that I’d waited all week to try it again. While I’m not ready to crown myself the lasagna queen, I would proudly serve this lasagna to anyone. My family is full of people who love to cook and even more people who love to eat. Food is a part of every celebration, happy or sad. Food brings my family together even when there’s nothing to celebrate. I grew up with a mom who cooked everything from scratch. My mom grew up with a mom who made everything from scratch. I grew up not knowing there were boxed cakes or pancake mixes. (Until I went to my friends’ houses and ate food that came out of a box!) I learned at a young age how to cook and bake and that’s because of my upbringing. So this Mother’s Day weekend I pay tribute to all the mothers, cooks, and women in my family–as well as around the world. Thanks to my Mom, my grandmas and my aunts for introducing me to the wonderful world of cooking (from scratch!). You are my upbringing and my continued inspiration to cook and eat good food. You made me who I am today, Le Food Snob! Recipe rating: 

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