“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are” — Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
Okay, we’re starting a new series here: “Essential cooking knowledge for dudes without dames.” You see, I posted my first attempt at an Instant Pot lasagna on social media (because, I swear, I thought I had invented the idea. Apparently, like lasagna, it’s pretty ubiquitous though). Instantly, I’m inundated with requests for the recipe, so I just replied, “Take your normal lasagna recipe, make it in a springform pan, and put it in the Instant Pot for 20 minutes with a 10-minute slow release.”
If that makes sense to you, then congratulations, you just saved yourself ten minutes of reading the rest of this post.
Apparently, a good number of my friends do not have a lasagna recipe?! What!? Everyone has a lasagna recipe! It’s like a thumbprint or a pizza preference or a favorite flavor of ice cream. You start with the basics as a kid, and gradually modify it as you get older … well … okay, maybe it’s not quite like a thumbprint.
I’ve been making “my lasagna” for decades now, usually for special occasions, as the non-Instant-Pot version is a very detailed production involving an intricately-made sauce, homemade garlic cheese bread, stuffed mushrooms, and an individually-tailored desert (usually clandestinely purchased from a local bakery and snuck in because nobody has time to stress out over the desert when they’re busy casting voodoo love spells on the pasta). I realize that most of my friends are somewhere in their 20’s, but hell, I could make a supernatural meal out of lasagna and stuffed mushrooms by the time I was 19. What’ wrong with kids today?
So, as a public service to all lonely guys out there, let me save you some trouble. Quit going through all these “Good Housewives” or “Home Gourmet” web sites looking through these meticulously detailed bomb diagrams passed off as lasagna recipes that perfectly replicate someone’s grandmother’s authentic old-world eastern Italian cuisine. You do not need to climb the slopes of a Sicilian village to collect the perfect oregano leaves and dry them under the solstice sun for three nights. Next to spaghetti and pizza, this is the most basic Italian dish that everyone makes. So, let’s start with the stupidest, easiest version you can do, and I’ll show you where to put in your own ideas.
Step 1: Go Buy This Stuff if You Don’t Have It
- Meat — I suggest a little hamburger and a little Italian sausage. Maybe a quarter pound of each. In a pinch, just take that Big Mac you didn’t eat, crumble up the patties, and think about sausage while you’re doing it. You’ll notice I never give exact amounts on any ingredients. Just do it to your own preferences. Personally, I more meat and less sauce; some people want more cheese; some people, who have very strong opinions about the philosophical axioms of right and wrong, think eggplant is meat. Whatever, just wing it.
- Lasagna Noodles — About six
- Sauce — Let’s keep it simple. Got any Prego or Ragu laying around that isn’t too fuzzy?
- Ricotta Cheese — You don’t have this. So, go buy the smallest container you can find. I’ll make a lot of concessions to convenience, but if you don’t put ricotta in lasagna, then it’s not really lasagna. It’s noodle/cheese pie or something they serve in grade schools.
- Mozarella Cheese — Probably a one-pound package or so will do you.
- Parmesan Cheese — Just enough to top a 7″ round lasagna. Steal a handful from the shaker at your favorite pizza joint.
(It goes without saying, that “Instant Pot Lasagna” implies you have an Instant Pot-like device and one of those cool 7″ spring-form pans — formerly used only by makers of the upper stories of wedding cakes.)
Step 2: Assemblage
- Assuming you didn’t take my Big Mac suggestion to heart (very wise), drop that meat in your instant pot, hit the magic sautee button, and Mustafar that stuff.
- Dollop a couple of spoons of sauce in the bottom of your pan and swirl it around to make a thin layer. This will save you scrubbing stuck-on stuff later and will help cook your noodles.
- Figure out the precise means to inscribe two 14″ pieces of rectangular pasta within a circle, using the pan’s 3.5″ radius as a constant in the hypotenuse of a right triangle with the other sides being 1/2 the width (x) and 1/2 the height (y) of the rectangular pasta. Note the relationships x = w/7; y = h/y; and x2 + y2 = (3.5)2. Trust me I’m good at math and bad at breaking dried pasta. Whatever you do, it will end up looking like this …
- Completely cover that layer of noodle mess with a generous amount of sauce. Most recipes will give you an opinion on the exact amount. I say just enough that you can still tell there’s lasagna under that. But, maybe I like sauce more than you do, so just use the Force here, padawan.
- Now, here’s the trickiest part: dollop little bits of ricotta cheese around that delicately constructed layer of sauce over pasta, but keep it even. Then carefully mush your dollops down with a spoon so it looks like you just laid that stuff out smoother than Shaft, dig? Then grab a handful of the meat (wait … make sure it’s done browning and has cooled off first … I always forget to tell people that) and use meat to cover up the mess you made out of the bottom third of your lasagna.
- Okay, we’re home free now. It’s just rinse and repeat from here. Just start stacking layers of noodles, sauce, meat, and a handful and a half of mozarella (maybe less if you’re like me and too much cheese messes with your throne time), then one more time, noodles, sauce, meat, mozzarella. Finally, top the whole thing off with a nice coating of parmesan cheese. Oh, and my little trade secret … sprinkle some oregano on the very top to make this whole thing seem fancier than it is.
- Now you are mighty. Stand proud over your creation and begin chanting, “I do not require a female — for I have assembled a fast-food quality lasagna without adult assistance!” Then pour a cup of water in your Instant pot, throw in your little wire trivet, and pop this bad boy in there for 20 minutes with a 10-minute natural pressure release.
- Now, if you’re really fancy, like me, and you require any cooked cheese to be on the perfect edge between melted and burned up (you know, like Zac Efron), then once it’s done, you’ll need to pop it in the oven on broil for a few minutes, or maybe take your cigarette lighter to the top to brown it up a bit. Personally, I just pop on my Mealthy attachment for two minutes at 450 degrees.
Step 3: Next Level Stuff
If you’re trying to impress a date, don’t feed her this. Go with a real lasagna pan and use that cookbox thing under your stove. Well, unless she’s Irish or something and doesn’t know what real lasagna tastes like outside of Olive Garden. You can start with this stupidly basic recipe and move up from there. Basically, though, the keys are going to be your choice of sauces and cheese blends. My “real lasagna” uses a bolognese-style sauce based on my Great Uncle Occi’s old-world Italian recipe, to which I add a bit of red wine reduction in honor of Great Grandpa LaCout a Frenchman who was married to Occi’s sister. Basically, from this recipe, just take out the Ragu and add some diced tomatoes, wine, and a bunch of Italian-sounding spices to the meat and you can approximate it.
My final lesson to you, grasshoppah, is that, should you ever get lucky enough to cook this for a potential provider of physical pleasure, never let on that you’re just flinging a half-dozen ingredients together. My favorite story I like to share is of a female friend who claimed to know intricate secrets to making Italian red sauces as taught to her by a “sexy Italian man” she once dated. It involved hours of preparation and temperature checking, floating each spice in a particular order on its own bed of olive oil on top of the sauce for a few moments to release its aromatic potential, then stirring it into the rest of the melange where it will then blend seamlessly and compliment the others. Basically, I asked a friend of mine who had a culinary degree about this technique, and he said that it’s crap Eurotrash guys tell girls to impress them and get them into bed. Point being: “Elaborate, unnecessary showmanship.” It worked for them; it can work for you, too!