I am mad for Lasagna. Those layers and layers of pasta and cheese and luscious fillings with hints of rich tomato sauce are some of my favorite things to eat. That explains why there are no less than four recipes on the subject, links which you will find after today’s recipe. But aside from something called Lazy Man’s Lasagna, the others are all-afternoon affairs that generally require a complete takeover of every inch of space in an apartment kitchen the size of ours. So I have to admit to being drawn to an increasing number of recipes calling themselves “Skillet Lasagna” mostly because they all eliminate a surprising number of steps. But I’ve steered clear of them out of a certain food snobbery–feeling that a great lasagna ought to take time. After all, it’s a very ancient dish.
Lasagna may belong firmly in the Italian food lexicon today but it did not originate in Italy. It goes all the way back to Ancient Greece. The first known form of pasta itself, Laganon, gives lasagna its name. The Greeks prepared Laganon by using layers of it with sauce in between. So it’s really the method that dictated its name, not its ingredients. Now for one truly amazing piece of information. While the Italians, particularly the Neapolitans, debuted the richly made dish swimming in tomato sauce in the Middle Ages, researchers in Great Britain found a cookbook with a lasagna recipe dating from the 1390s. So Lasagna has its name thanks to Greece, its recipe thanks to the British and its perfection to Italy. And then there’s Justin Chapple’s version. This stovetop lasagna is stoked with Harissa, a North African Chile paste and ground lamb which gives the whole thing a distinctly Middle Eastern taste.
Justin Chapple, in case you didn’t know, is positioned as Food and Wine’s “Mad Genius”. For good reason. He graduated from the French Culinary Institute but his real introduction to food was through his grandmother, famous in his large family for “making do” with whatever was on hand and making it delicious. He first came to Food and Wine’s attention at their annual Aspen event in 2010. Today he is Culinary Director of the magazine and frankly, he is just a genius. Part of his job is to take Restaurant Chef’s recipes make sense for home cooks. He makes their recipes super easy for home cooks. But the genius is not only about ease, it’s also about ingredient parings and twists that make his meals wonderful surprises like this one.
Harissa is the base of this recipe. You can find it at Trader Joe’s if you are near one. But you can make a very passable substitute if you can’t. If you have Sriracha on hand, you can take a tablespoon of it and add 1 teaspoon each of cumin, coriander and caraway. No sriracha?
Sambal Oelek, the Asian Garlic Chili paste can be used but it won’t have quite the punch of either Harissa or the Sriracha substitute. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Harissa is hot so if you’re not mad for spice, you’ll like enjoy the Sambal Oelek version. Then there’s the skillet. Chapple used a 12 – 14-inch skillet. I wanted to pull back on the quantity to go from 6 portions to 4, so I used my 10-inch cast iron. I pulled back on both the Marinara sauce and the pasta, using about half the recipe amount. About the pasta…I have a personal objection to the curly-edged version. I much prefer the Flat sheets of No-Boil lasagna. These worked perfectly. Finally, do not expect perfection on a plate. The dish will not turn out in perfectly manicured squares. Never mind. Just dig into the mess on the plate and with one bite, you’ll be in love. Here is the recipe.
Harissa Lamb Skillet Lasagna
A fresh take on Lasagna with a decidedly Middle Eastern flavor--a one pot meal in very little time.
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 pound ground lamb
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
- 3/4 teaspoon black pepper, divided
- 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons harissa paste (such as Dea Harissa)
- 3 medium garlic cloves, sliced
- 6 cups fresh spinach leaves
- 1 pound uncooked dried lasagna noodles, broken into 1- to 2-inch pieces
- 3 cups jarred marinara sauce
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 1/4 cups whole-milk ricotta cheese
- 3/4 ounce Parmesan cheese, finely grated (about 1/2 cup), plus more for serving
- Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- Step 1 Heat oil in a deep 12- to 14-inch skillet over medium-high until shimmering. Add lamb, and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Cook, breaking up meat with a spoon, until fat has rendered and meat is browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer lamb to a bowl, and set aside. Spoon off and discard all but 1 tablespoon rendered drippings from skillet.
- Step 2 Reduce heat to medium, and add onion, harissa, garlic, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and remaining ¼ teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 8 minutes. Stir in spinach until just wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in lasagna noodles, marinara, stock, and reserved lamb (it’s OK if noodles aren’t completely submerged). Bring to a simmer over high heat then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook until pasta is al dente and most of sauce is absorbed, 20 to 25 minutes, stirring once after 10 minutes.
- Step 3 Dollop ricotta over lasagna, and sprinkle with Parmesan. Cover and cook over medium-low until cheese is hot and melted, about 5 minutes. Garnish with parsley and additional Parmesan. Serve with a big green salad and garlic bread.
Here are some alternate Lasagna Recipes…