“When I started making it, my family liked it, so we made it our favorite,” Ma Vicky told us about her famous lasagna. Her signature dish includes a couple key elements. One is a highly seasoned spinach mixture that makes up two layers of the lasagna, and the other is a thick layer of tomato sauce she puts on top of the lasagna. While we were curious if Ma Vicky would have Tanzanian-inspired spices in her sauce or in the lasagna layers, we found that it’s really a classic Italian American lasagna, the kind of lasagna any grandmother in America might make on a Sunday afternoon. Which is exactly who Ma Vicky is: a woman living in America who cooks regularly for her family. She’s also East African, which means her cooking is influenced by a long history of Italian colonization throughout the region, making dishes like lasagna just as familiar as dishes with plantains. Ma Vicky’s lasagna is so beloved in her large family that she makes two at a time; this recipe reflects that, but feel free to cut the amounts in half and make just one. But honestly, if you’re going to expend the energy, it’s best to go ahead and make two. You can always freeze one for later (either freeze it unbaked and bake it directly from the freezer, adding an extra 45 minutes to the baking time, or freeze it baked, defrost in the refrigerator, and then just warm it up in the oven).
- Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it generously. Add the lasagna noodles and cook, stirring occasionally to keep them separated, until they’re just al dente, about 9 minutes. Drain the noodles in a colander, toss them with 1 tablespoon of the oil to keep them from sticking to each other, and set them aside.
- Meanwhile, warm the remaining 3 tablespoons oil in a large heavy pot set over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes.
- Stir in the spinach (with whatever liquid is in the packages), bouillon, cream, and adobo. Bring the mixture to a boil, decrease the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook for just a minute to really imbue the spinach with all the seasoning. Season the spinach to taste with salt. When you taste it to season it, Ma Vicky insists that you transfer a little bit of the mixture from your mixing spoon to your hand rather than taste directly from the spoon (“Only in America!” she says). Set aside the spinach mixture.
- Place two 9 by 13-inch pans on your work surface. Place 1½ cups of the tomato sauce in each pan and spread the sauce with a spoon to cover the bottoms. Place a single, even layer of noodles over the sauce in each pan (each should take about one-sixth of the noodles—you will be making a total of three layers of noodles per pan).
- Sprinkle the noodles in each pan evenly with a light layer of the Parmesan cheese (about 2 to 3 tablespoons on each lasagna). Place a quarter of the spinach mixture in each pan (you will have two layers of spinach in each lasagna) and, using a spoon, spread to cover. Place a quarter of the ricotta in each pan (you will have two layers of ricotta in each lasagna) and, using a spoon, spread to cover. Add another layer of noodles over the ricotta and sprinkle them with another light layer of Parmesan cheese (about 2 to 3 tablespoons on each lasagna). Sprinkle each lasagna evenly with ½ cup of the mozzarella, then divide the remaining spinach mixture between the pans and spread to cover. Dollop the remaining ricotta over the spinach layer and sprinkle with a light layer of Parmesan cheese. Top each lasagna with a final layer of noodles and divide the remaining tomato sauce between the lasagnas (it will be a thick layer).
- Cover each pan tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes. Uncover the lasagnas and evenly sprinkle the tops with the remaining Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses. Return the lasagnas to the oven and bake, uncovered, until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese has melted, another 25 minutes or so. Turn your oven from bake to broil and broil the top of the lasagnas, until the cheese is browned, about 1 minute. Watch carefully to make sure it does not burn.
- Let the lasagnas rest at room temperature for 15 minutes, then slice and serve. This lets all the layers set a bit so you don’t end up with too-messy slices. Serve immediately. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a few days and rewarmed uncovered in a 350ºF oven for about 20 minutes
Reprinted with permission from In Bibi’s Kitchen by Hawa Hassan with Julia Turshen, copyright © 2020. Photographs by Khadija M. Farah & Jennifer May. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.