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1lb. ruffled lasagna noodles
Extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
1.5 lbs. ground beef
1 lb. ground pork
1 tbsp. fennel seeds
.5 tbsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. brown sugar
.5 tbsp. dried oregano
1 6-oz. can tomato paste
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
2 lbs. ricotta cheese
.5cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (it doesn’t come in a green can)
.25 cup finely chopped fresh flat Italian parsley
.25 cup finely chopped fresh basil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 lbs. shredded mozzarella cheese
4 cups marinara sauce (no jarred stuff)

(see below for simple recipe)

Additional Parmigiano-Reggiano for serving.

Fill large pasta pot with water and place over high heat. Add generous amount of sea salt and bring to boil. Cook noodles for only 8 minutes (the noodles will be finished when you bake them). Drain noodles in a colander and rinse them quickly under cool water to stop the cooking process. Drizzle with olive oil to avoid sticking.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and drizzle with a 3-count of olive oil. Sauté the onion, garlic, and bay leaf for a couple of minutes until the onions are translucent and smell sweet. Add the ground beef and pork, stirring to break it up, and cook until brown, about 10 minutes. Drain the excess fat/remove bay leaf. In a spice mill or coffee grinder, combine the fennel, pepper flakes, brown sugar, and oregano. Give it a whirl and then sprinkle on the browned meat. Stir in the tomato paste; season with salt and pepper. Take the pan off the heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the ricotta and Parmigiano. Fold in the parsley, basil, and eggs, and then season with salt and pepper; mix well.

Preheat the oven to 350° and let the layering begin. In a 13 x 9-inc glass or ceramic baking dish, start by ladling enough marinara sauce to cover the bottom. This will help prevent sticking.

Layer 1–The noodles: Slightly overlap four lasagna noodles lengthwise so they completely cover the bottom with no gaps. Layer 2–The meat: Spread half the meat mixture on the top of the noodles with a spatula. Layer 3–The cheese: Spread half the ricotta cheese mixture over the meat, smooth out with a spatula, and then sprinkle a third of the shredded mozzarella evenly over the ricotta mixture. Layer 4–The sauce: Top with a full ladle of tomato sauce; smooth it with a spatula.

Go on to repeat layers 1 through 4. Finish with a final layer of noodles, sauce, and the remaining mozzarella. Bake for 1 1/2 hours until golden and bubbling. Allow to sit 20 minutes before serving. Pass tomato sauce and Parmigiano around the table.

Simple Marinara Sauce (1 hour–makes 5 cups)

Extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 (28 oz.) cans whole plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
5 fresh basil leaves cut in fine ribbons
2 tbsp. chopped fresh flat ribbons
2 bay leaves
Pinch of red pepper flakes
.5 tsp. sugar
Pinch of cinnamon
Sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper

In a large pot over medium heat, heat a 3-count drizzle of olive oil until hot. Add the onion and garlic, and sauté for 5 minutes or until onions appear translucent. Hand-crush the tomatoes and add them, along with their liquid. Toss in the herbs, red pepper flakes, sugar, cinnamon, and season with salt and pepper. Lower the heat and simmer for 45 minutes, uncovered. Stir occasionally.