The Best Church-Basement Lasagna Ever

From the Better Homes and Gardens 1953 New Cook Book. The best “church basement” Italian-American lasagna. Ever.

I interrupt this blog about French cooking and lifestyle to bring you one of the best American “church basement” recipes ever. And you can take my word for it: I’ve truly tested this one in a church basement. Over the weekend, in fact.

A little back-story: I recently co-chaired a committee to reunite a youth choir that I was a part of in the 70s; together, our group traveled to Europe to sing in churches both on the continent and in England. The reunion was in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the first of two 70s trips, and in spite of the fact that the former choir members had scattered across the country, about 50 of us reunited for the reunion.

The question was, what to feed everyone? We wanted something easy to pull off, yet gratifying, nourishing, and tasty. And while we initially considered catering the meal to make life easy, that just didn’t seem right. After all, we were also honoring the chaperones of the trip—the parents of the kids in the choir who sacrificed so much to get us to Europe (with the ulterior motive, I think, of keeping us focused through the turbulent years of adolescence).

These parents, many now in their 80s, had spent so much time cooking the meals we had so often shared together in the church basement; it was our turn to cook for them.

And so I remembered my mother’s lasagna recipe, her own “church basement” favorite. It’s from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book (the famous “red-plaid” cookbook), circa 1953. Long before I began to focus on French cooking, I learned to cook from this book. In subsequent years, I worked as a contributing editor of three editions of this cookbook.

This classic recipe comes from this classic book.

I’ve tasted numerous lasagnas in the BH&G stable of lasagna recipes, and I still think this one is the best. I’m not sure what it is about this particular recipes that bests many others in the church-basement realm. I will say that it holds its shape well, the ratios of meat to sauce to cheese are perfect, and it never fails to truly please the people you’ve gathered. It’s easy, and it’s easy to double, triple, quadruple, or in our case, take the recipe “times six.” You can also make it ahead and refrigerate (see instructions), which is what we did. Oh, and the entire meal cost about $4 per person (not including the pies).

Here’s the recipe. Remember it next time you have to feed a crowd. P.S: We served it with a mixed greens salad tossed with red and yellow pepper strips, sliced red onions, and a good vinaigrette. Garlic bread (yes, the irresistible squishy kind) was a must. And our wonderful church ladies all brought homemade pies.

“Church Basement” Lasagna
Slightly adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, 1953 edition

1          pound bulk Italian sausage (or use half Italian sausage, half ground beef)
1          large clove garlic, minced
1          tablespoon dried basil leaf, crushed
Salt to taste (go easy, as this can get salty)
2          15-ounce cans diced tomatoes, undrained
2          6-ounce cans tomato paste

*******
10       ounces lasagna noodles
3         cups fresh Ricotta or creamy cottage cheese
1/2      cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
1/4      cup snipped fresh parsley
2          beaten eggs
1          teaspoon salt
1/2      teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1          pound shredded Mozzarella cheese

1. Brown the meat; drain excess fat. Add the next 5 ingredients. Simmer, covered, 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Cook noodles according to package directions; drain and rinse.

3. Combine remaining ingredients, except the Mozzarella cheese.

4. Place half the noodles in a lightly greased 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish; spread with half the ricotta filling; add half the Mozzarella cheese and half the meat sauce. Repeat the layers.

5. Bake, uncovered, in a 375°F oven about 30 minutes or until thoroughly heated through. Let stand 10 minutes before cutting into squares (filling will set up slightly). Makes 12 serings.

Make-Ahead Directions: You can assemble as directed; cover and refrigerate up to 24 hours. Add about 15 minutes more to the bake time.

 

On the 70s Church Choir Trip, Trafalgar Square, London. I’m the pipsqueak in the yellow.

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9 comments to The Best Church-Basement Lasagna Ever

  • Betsy

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful recipe! I also love the pictue. I think I know the person in the red plaid pants with pigtails!

  • Jim Nelson

    Unsolicited testimony: I was at that dinner, and the lasagna was wonderful. I am the lasagna maker in our household, and this is the one I will try next.

    • Wini

      Thanks, Jim. Actually, you didn’t even have it on the first night, at its freshest best. You had the reheat at our potluck the next day. Try it fresh and you’ll like it even more. XXOO.

  • Kathy

    I saw the photo and immediately knew where it came from. My Mom gave me that cookbook back in the 70’s and I still refer to it although my favorite lasagna recipe comes from the small, very small town where I grew up.

  • Corbett

    Wini,

    I made this and my picky pre-teens loved it! They’ve asked for it again. I used half ground beef and half italian sausage and it was excellent! The meat sauce seemed insufficient when I put it all together, but it turned out fine after baking.

    • Wini

      Corbett–I’m so glad you liked this. I agree about the meat sauce seaming insufficient, but truly, when you put it all together, the ratio is just right.

      In fact, the other cooks in the kitchen at church were dubious, but I just stayed the course….

      Thanks for writing!

  • Ali

    Loved this recipe! I posted it over at my blog a few days ago with the small changes that I made. Thanks so much for the recipe 🙂

  • Brooke

    Thank you so much for sharing this recipe! I make it all the time and it is always hit. One of the best lasagnas I have ever had. 🙂

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