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Lasagna is one of my favorite Italian dishes. Although the traditional Italian Lasagnas are much more time consuming than most of us have time for, they are well worth the effort if you do have the time. Not all lasagnas are made with ricotta cheese that we are familiar with. In Florence, for example they use a Béchamel, or white sauce, in place of the ricotta. And some use no ricotta at all.

I wanted to give you some of my favorite lasagna recipes, today. The first is a quick and easy version for those busy weekdays when you need a hearty meal in a hurry. The second is a seafood lasagna that is also quite easy but is elegant enough for guests. The last recipe is a traditional lasagna made from scratch, including the meat sauce. If you have the time, make this it is simply wonderful. Although you may need to take a trip into Houston to someplace like Spec's to get the Italian salami and spiced lard. To get the full traditional taste you must not substitute for the lard. Since you won't be making this on a weekly basis, the extra calories and fat won't hurt you for a special occasion.

So, toss up a salad and toast some garlic bread and enjoy these wonderful lasagnas.

Easy Lasagna

Uncooked lasagna noodles
1 qt. meat sauce (any sauce you like will do)
1 lb. Ricotta
1 egg
1Tbls Italian Seasoning
1/2 lb. mozzarella
Grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup water

Mix ricotta with the egg and Italian seasoning. In a lasagna pan (13x9x2) spread some meat sauce. Place 3 lasagna noodles adjacent to each other -- allow space for them to expand as they cook. Place a layer of ricotta and mozzarella on top. Add some sauce. Continue with additional layers. Sprinkle the last layer of sauce with Parmesan cheese. Put the water into the sauce jar and shake in order to clean out jar. Carefully pour the water into the corners of the pan, not over the top. Cover the pan with foil and bake for 1 and 1/4 hours at 350 degrees. Uncover for the last few minutes. Let the lasagna sit for 15 minutes before you cut it.

Seafood Lasagna

1/2 c Butter
1/2 c Flour
1/2 t Salt
2 c Garlic; crushed
2 c Milk
2 c Chicken broth
1/4 t Pepper
1 t Basil
2 c Mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 c Green onions, chopped
15 ea Lasagna noodles: UNCOOKED
1 c ricotta cheese
2/3 c Cooked shrimp cut bite size
2/3 c Cooked bay scallops bite siz
2/3 c Crabmeat cut bite size
1/3 c Dry white wine

Heat butter in a large saucepan over low heat until melted. Add garlic. Stir in flour and salt. Cook, stirring constantly until bubbly. Remove from heat. Stir in milk, broth and white wine.  Return to stove and heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil for 1 minute. Add mozzarella cheese, onions, basil and pepper. Cook over low heat until cheese is melted, stirring constantly. Spread about 1 1/2 cups of the sauce in an ungreased 9X13 pan.
Top with UNCOOKED lasagna noodles, overlapping as needed. Spread the cheese over the noodles. Spread with another 1 1/2 cups of sauce and then top with another 5
lasagna noodles.
Spread seafood over this layer and top with another 1 1/2 cups of sauce. Cover with the last 5 lasagna noodles and top with all of the remaining sauce. If desired, top with 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Bake, uncovered at 350~F for 35 - 45 minutes or until the noodles are tender. Let stand for 15 minutes before cutting.

The Great Carnival Lasagna

This is a Neapolitan specialty, a spectacular sendoff before the privations of Lent

1 pound store-bought Lasagna
1/2 pound beef, in one piece
1/4 pound prosciutto, in a single fat slice
1/4 pound Italian salami, in 2 or three slices (Italian salami is raw -- no trichinosis here -- has fairly large chunks of fat, and is lightly spiced. If you cannot find it in your delicatessen use mild Italian sausage, not something cooked or spiced)
2 ounces lard (see your delicatessen; it should be lightly spiced)
1 medium onion, finely minced
1 cup broth
3/4 pound drained canned plum tomatoes
1 tablespoon minced parsley
An egg
Oil for frying
1 cup grated Parmigiano
1/3 pound mozzarella
1/4 pound ricotta -- optional, see note
Cook the sheets of pasta in abundant, slightly salted water until they're al dente, run them under cold water, and lay the sheets out on a cloth, covering them with a second cloth.

Sauté the onion in the lard, with the piece of meat. Turn the meat often, and when it has browned on all sides season it with salt and pepper, then add the tomatoes. Simmer over a moderate flame for about an hour, adding the broth a bit at a time. When the meat is done remove it from the pot (reserve the sauce), grind it, and combine it with an egg, the parsley, and half the grated cheese. Make small (1-inch diameter) meatballs from the mixture and dredge them in the flour. Heat the oil and fry the meatballs until golden, about 10 minutes, then remove them with a slotted spoon, place them on absorbent paper, and keep them warm.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Dice the prosciutto, salami and mozzarella. Butter a 13x9 pan. Lay down a first layer of pasta, and then a few meat balls, some of the sauce, some of the diced ingredients, and a dusting of Parmigiano. Continue until all is used up, then bake your lasagna for 25 minutes. Let it sit for five minutes before serving. This will serve 4-6 as a main course, or 6-8 as a first course. Note: Should the meatballs come out too soft, work some finely ground breadcrumbs into them to thicken them. Tradition calls for, and you can add, some ricotta to the mixture.