I think I could have pasta every day and never get sick of it. Just about any type of noodle dish is fine with me, but when I want the ultimate in pasta, I have to say my lasagna is my favorite. It is easy to make, but does take some time. However, you can make this dish ahead and then simply bake it when you’re ready. There’s a tasty cheesy filling and even more cheese layered throughout. A combination of fresh veggies and both ground beef and Italian sausage along with spices, all slow simmered, is what really sets this dish apart — none of that bottled sauce will do. This lasagna is even better the next day — but it’s often gone in one sitting.

Belle’s Best Lasagna

½ pound sweet Italian sausage

½ pound lean ground beef

½ cup minced onion

½ cup minced bell pepper

1 stalk celery, minced

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes in puree

1 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste

1 (6.5 ounce) cans canned tomato sauce

½ cup water

1 tablespoon sugar

½ tablespoon + 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (divided)

1 ½ teaspoons salt (divided)

1 teaspoon black pepper

12 lasagna noodles

16 ounces ricotta cheese

1 egg

2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a Dutch oven, brown the sausage and ground beef. Add the onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic and cook under tender. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water. Stir in the sugar, ½ tablespoon Italian seasoning, 1 teaspoon of salt, and the pepper. Simmer, covered, for about 1 ½ to 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook lasagna noodles in boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain noodles, and rinse with cold water. In a mixing bowl, combine the ricotta cheese with egg, remaining Italian seasoning, the parmesan cheese and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

To assemble, spread half of meat sauce in the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking dish. Arrange 6 noodles lengthwise over meat sauce. Spread with one half of the ricotta cheese mixture. Top with a third of mozzarella cheese. Spoon the rest of the meat sauce over mozzarella. Repeat layers, and top with remaining mozzarella. Cover with foil: to prevent sticking, either spray foil with cooking spray, or make sure the foil does not touch the cheese.

Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 25 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes before serving.

Brenda Stanley is the mother of five children, including two sets of twins and a grandmother of eight. She is a cookbook author and novelist. For more recipes and information, visit her website www.talesofthedinnerbelle.com.