I consider this at its core a classic red sauce and ricotta lasagna recipe, the kind you make for friends and family, the kind you make two of at once so you can freeze the other. If you like your lasagna on the very cheesy side (this is cheesy, but not heavily cheesy), you might increase the mozzarella to 1 1/2 pounds. I buy mozzarella that’s been packaged tightly in plastic, not the kind in water, for baked pastas. For the 4 cups of diced vegetables, use what you can get or what you love. I got about 2 cups from 8 ounces of sliced mushrooms (that I further diced) and 2 cups diced fennel (from a medium bulb). I’d definitely use peppers, zucchini, eggplant, or even broccoli here too.
VEGETABLE AND SAUCE
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large yellow onion, diced small
4 cups small-diced (about 1/2-inch pieces) vegetables (see Note above)
5 ounces baby spinach or another green you like, roughly chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
Handful chopped fresh basil (optional)
1 pound dried lasagna noodles (not no-boil type)
1 pound (2 cups) whole milk ricotta
1/4 cup heavy cream (optional)
1 pound coarsely shredded low-moisture mozzarella
1 cup (4 ounces) finely grated parmesan
Make your vegetable mixture: In a large frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat. The order you add your vegetables in has to do with what you’re using, but you’ll of course want to add the ones that take the longest to soften first. I cooked my onion and fennel together for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned at the edges, then added the mushrooms and cooked them for 5 minutes, until they’d softened and any liquid that was released had mostly cooked off. I added the spinach in the last minute, just letting it soften. Season each addition with salt and pepper for the best fully-developed flavor. Once vegetables are all tender and well-seasoned, scrape them into a bowl.
Make the sauce: In the same pan, heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add garlic, a couple pinches of red pepper flakes and up to a full teaspoon if you want it spicy, and oregano and cook together for 30 seconds to 1 minute, until the garlic is just barely golden. Add tomato paste (save the can) and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, don’t worry if it seems to be drying out. Add two tomato paste cans of water (a total of 1 1/4 cups) and stir up any stuck bits, cooking until smooth. Add canned tomatoes, 1 teaspoon salt and basil, if you’re using it. Simmer mixture together for 4 to 5 minutes; adjust seasonings to taste. You’ll have 4 cups of sauce.
Assemble lasagna: Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Place lasagna noodles in a large bowl or baking dish and cover with the hottest tap water you can get. Soak for 10 minutes. Mix mozzarella and parmesan. Mix ricotta with heavy cream, if you want to keep it as creamy as possible (skip cream if this doesn’t bother you) and season the ricotta with some salt and black pepper.
Coat a 9×13 baking dish at least 2.5 inches deep and ideally 3 inches deep lightly with oil or nonstick spray. Pour 1/3 sauce and spread it evenly. Shake water off noodles and arrange your first layer of noodles, slightly overlapping their edges.
Dollop 1/4 of the ricotta (about 1/2 cup) over noodles and spread it in an even layer with a spoon or spatula. Add 1/4 of vegetable mixture, then about 1/5 of mozzarella-parmesan mixture (just eyeball it). Pour a scant cup (more than 3/4 cup, less than 1 cup) of sauce evenly over cheese. Place next layer of noodles on top. Repeat this process (1/4 of ricotta, 1/4 of the vegetables, 1/5 of the mozzarella-parmesan, scant 1 cup of sauce) three times, using up all but the mozzarella-parmesan mixture and about 1/3 cup of the sauce.
Place final layer of noodles on top, spread the remaining sauce thinly over it and scatter the top with the remaining mozzarella-parmesan mixture.
Bake lasagna: Cover a large tray with foil (for easy cleanup) and place baking dish on top of it. Lightly coat a piece of foil with nonstick spray and tightly cover baking dish with foil, oil side down. Bake with the foil on for 30 minutes, or the pasta is tender — a knife should easily go through. Remove foil (carefully, so carefully) and bake for another 20 minutes, until lasagna is golden on top and bubbling like crazy. Keep it in the oven another 5 minutes for a darker color.
Wait, then serve: The best lasagna has time to settle before you eat it. When it comes out of the oven, it might seem like it’s a sloshy mess, but 45 minutes later (mine is always still very hot, but you might need less time in a cold kitchen) it will be glorious — the excess water absorbed into the noodles and filling, and ready for a relatively clean slice.
Serve in big squares.
Do ahead: Leftovers should stay in the pan. I like to reheat lasagna with the foil off because I like it when the top gets very dark.
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