I love lasagna. It's one of those comfort foods, to me, that will always warm you up inside and make you feel great all over. However, I just can't make it the way my mom does. I've tried, unsuccessfully, to duplicate her recipe. I've tried to make it other ways, in the hopes that I could find the next great lasagna. No luck. So I decided to try something completely different, something that would still be a lasagna, but with a fun, new twist. That's right: Cajun Lasagna.
Sure, it sounds a little weird, but I thought it sounded really promising, too. Originally, the idea came from a recipe over on trusty ol' Recipezaar with the same name. A quick perusal of the ingredient list turned me off a little, though. The "sauce" they used was 20 oz. of white alfredo sauce. No. Just, no. I wasn't going to dump 2 1/2 cups of store-bought, preservative-laden cheese sauce all over my lovely lasagna (no matter how yummy alfredo can be, under the right circumstances). I decided to modify the recipe I had found, make it my own. It's more fun that way.
Instead of both chicken and andouille sausage in the filling, I went with lean Italian turkey sausage because it's what I had readily available. I used celery, onions, and red bell peppers as the nice cajun veggie base, then some garlic, then some cajun seasoning. I simmered everything in a can of crushed tomatoes, then mixed the sauce with 1 cup of part-skim ricotta cheese to give it the creaminess that I have come to expect in my lasagna. Plus, I had to do something to sort of replace the white sauce I had omitted.
I used a little over a half pound of lasagna noodles, and I think I probably used one too many layers worth of noodles. In the future, I would scale back, maybe do three layers of four noodles each instead of four layers of four. It just seemed like an improper ratio of filling to pasta. I never thought anything could be too noodle-y, until this lasagna. But I digress.
I could easily have loaded each filling layer with tons of gooey cheese, but I used restraint. It was hard. Instead, I sprinkled a healthy dose of mozzarella and parmesan, freshly grated, across the top once the layers were in place. I thought it was just perfect this way, but I'm sure it would be heaven with extra inside, too!
So, how was the cajun creation? It was very good! There was only one problem: besides the noodliness (invented word alert!), this lasagna just didn't taste very, well, cajuny. I had used the base recipe I had found as a guideline, and they had you use 2 tsp. of Cajun seasoning. This sounded like it would almost be too much, but I used what they had prescribed. Now, looking back, I would have at least doubled it. Or maybe it would have been good with some Tabasco mixed into the tomato sauce. Either way, it definitely lacked that nice burn that I always associate with Cajun food. It was yummy, though! When I give the recipe for this lasagna below, I will suggest how much Cajun seasoning I think it should have, not how much I actually used. The original, and ultimately nothing like my own, recipe can be found here.
adapted from Recipezaar
8 oz. lasagna noodles, uncooked
2 tsp. olive oil, divided
1 lb. lean Italian turkey sausage
4-5 tsp. Cajun seasoning (plus, optionally, 4-5 shakes from the Tabasco bottle)
1 tsp. dried sage
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 small onion, diced
3-4 stalks celery, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
8 oz. part-skim ricotta cheese
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (part-skim is great)
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1. Heat a pot of water to boil, add uncooked lasagna noodles, and cook for about 8-10 minutes, until al dente. Set aside.
2. Meanwhile, heat a deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tsp. of the olive oil, then the sausages. Cook for about 10 minutes, turning occasionally, until cooked through. Reserve sausages on a plate, then add the other 1 tsp. oil and the onion, celery, and pepper to the skillet.
3. Cook veggies until soft, about 5 minutes, then add the garlic, sage, thyme, and Cajun seasoning. Cook for another minute, then add the crushed tomatoes. Once it is bubbling, turn the heat down to a simmer. Slice the sausages on the diagonal (about 8-10 slices per link) and add them back to the skillet. Simmer for at least 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Coat a 9x13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Using the 8 oz. can of tomato sauce (which you can doctor/season to your discretion), cover bottom of pan with enough sauce to just coat the entire surface, to prevent sticking.
5. Remove sauce from heat, then gently stir in the 8 oz. ricotta cheese. Layer 4 lasagna noodles on the bottom of the dish, then 1/2 of the sauce mixture. Add 4 more noodles, then the other 1/2 of the sauce. Add 4 more noodles, then top the surface generously with the plain tomato sauce. Sprinkle the shredded cheeses all over the top.
6. Bake in the 325 degree oven for 50-60 minutes, covered with foil. Remove foil, then bake another 10-15 minutes, until the lasagna is bubbly and the cheese is melted. Let stand at least 15 minutes before slicing.