I do realize that a dish that needs an hour in the oven, might not, at first glance, seem to qualify for the epithet “quick,” but I’m not trying to pull a fast one. All things are relative, and what makes this recipe feel so speedy is that there is no béchamel sauce—with its roux and patient stirring—involved, the meat sauce takes around 5 minutes, and the lasagna sheets are used straight from the package (no pre-boiling) and cook in the exaggeratedly liquid meat and tomato sauce. The recipe comes courtesy of an Italian informant of mine from Calabria, where sliced cooked ham and hard-boiled eggs are part of the local lasagna, and is known in Casa Mia as Lisa’s Lasagna. This recipe comes courtesy of an Italian informant from Calabria, where sliced cooked ham and hard-boiled eggs are part of the local lasagna.
True, this is not as meltingly light a dish as it would be if you made the pasta yourself and rolled it out so thin you could read a newspaper through it, but it is reassuringly homespun and feels like cozy, safe-making food. The high carb content—you really can taste all the pasta layers wodged together—means it’s a firm family favorite in my house: a tableful of teenagers make alarmingly light work of it. For the same reason, it is very good party food: I can’t think of anything better to absorb excess alcohol. (It’s also wonderful cold the next day as a hangover cure.) Should you wish to provide a vegetarian version, boost the number of hard-boiled eggs to 6, the mozzarella balls to a full pound, and dispense with the meat, stirring a couple of canfuls of diced tomatoes into the passata instead. Without the meat to bulk up the non-pasta part, it is certainly on the stodgy side, though that is not necessarily unwelcome. But you could certainly increase the cheese content—perhaps adding a stronger-tasting cheese, too. Don’t be tempted to use buffalo mozzarella: not only would it be a waste of money, but the less expensive regular mozzarella seems to melt less stringily.
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Put the whole eggs into a saucepan of water, bring to a boil and let it boil for 7 minutes, then pour off the water and sit the pan under an abundantly flowing cold tap; turn it off and leave the pan filled with cold water in the sink until the eggs are cool enough to peel.
2. Warm the oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan (that comes with a lid), then add the onion, sprinkle with salt, and let it cook for a few minutes, until it begins to soften.
3. Add the meat and turn it in the pan just long enough for the raw red color to turn brown.
4. Add the wine or vermouth, then the passata, pouring the water into the empty passata can or carton and swilling it out into the pan. Bring to a bubble, then put the lid on the pan and cook at a robust simmer for 5 minutes.
5. Peel and thinly slice the eggs (which will crumble into a mess), and thinly slice the mozzarella; then put a deep, greased lasagna dish, measuring approx. 9 x 13 x 2 inches, onto a baking sheet and get ready for the grand assembly.
6. First, put a ladleful or so of very runny meat sauce into the bottom of the lasagna dish, to line the base, then arrange a layer of lasagna sheets—using about a quarter of them—on top, to cover the sauce—don’t worry about a bit of overlapping.
7. Add another ladleful of sauce, just to wet the sheets, then add a layer of ham slices, using up a third of them, before dotting with a third of the egg and of the mozzarella slices.
8. Now add a second layer of lasagna sheets, then a couple of ladlefuls of sauce, followed again by a third of the ham, then egg, then mozzarella slices.
9. Repeat with a further layer of lasagna sheets, another 2 ladlefuls of meat sauce, then the remaining ham, egg, and mozzarella slices, before topping with a final layer of lasagna sheets.
10. Pour the remaining sauce over the top, sprinkle with the Parmesan and cover with aluminum foil—making sure the edges are sealed—and put in the oven still on the baking sheet, for 1 hour.
11. When the hour is up, remove the foil, to reveal the top layer runkled like a shar-pei made of pasta, and push a knife point through the lasagna to check it is soft—if not, re-cover it and return to the oven for about 10 minutes—then let it stand uncovered, out of the oven, for 15–20 minutes (although I love this barely above room temperature if I can bear, or have time, to wait—for up to 2 hours) before slicing into hearty slabs and serving.