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Freezing lasagne for wedding buffet - how to stop it from being sloppy

Hi there

I will be cooking some of the food for our wedding (caterer is doing the rest) and I have basically committed to making lasagne so the kids at the wedding have something they can eat. Because I don't want to be cooking on the day (duh), the recipe needs to be made ahead and frozen.

I have made lasagne several times before and frozen it before, but it's a different situation making it for a wedding. When it's just for us I don't particularly care what it looks like, but for the wedding I want it to hold together when cooked and not just ooze everywhere. I want it to look somewhat professional.

So, my questions are:
1. Should I cook the meat sauce right down so there's minimal liquid in it? Will that make it too dry, considering the dish has to be frozen?
2. Is it better to use dry or fresh lasagne noodles? I usually use fresh (not home-made though, from a packet).
3. Should I add more noodle layers? I normally have three, and our dish is quite deep.
4. Would it help to just put a single layer of béchamel on the top?
5. Would it be better to freeze it baked or unbaked?
6. Would it be better to cook it frozen or thawed?
7. If I freeze it unbaked, would it be better to cook it the day before, let it settle and then reheat on the day? Or cook for the first time on the day?

I know there are a few threads on this, but none on the specific question of avoiding sloppiness when you're freezing the dish, so hope you can help!

Thanks in advance!

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  1. Why not just cook it the day before, refrigerate then heat up for the big day.

    1 Reply
    1. re: cstr

      I don't really have that option, since I'll be doing other things the day before.

    2. I can appreciate the stress of doing this for your wedding, so I'll keep my advice relatively short.

      If you have made and frozen lasagna before and liked how it tasted then this isn't the time to be trying new recipes and messing around with things. It will only create more unnecessary stress. Do what you have done in the past and have liked.

      Two things, regardless of recipe, that can help with decreasing "sloppiness" of lasagna:

      1) less filling between layers. If you normally have just 3 pasta layers, keep everything the same but do 4 layers.

      2) serve warm instead of hot, right out of the oven. Allowing the lasagna to cool a little will help firm things up and keep the layers together better. this shouldn't be a huge problem if you're doing it for a wedding as I'd imagine it will be held for a while in a warm oven or in a chaffing dish.

      Those would be my two things in this situation for sure.

      Enjoy the big day!

      1 Reply
      1. re: thimes

        Thanks! I will try that. I think I am going to need to do a couple more test runs (just as well that my stepchildren love lasagne!)

      2. Here's what I do:

        I have everything ready to go for my lasagna. Then I line the baking pan with plastic wrap, using plenty of it, because you're going to wrap the entire lasagna in it. Once the baking pan is ready, I layer the lasagna in it, directly on the plastic wrap.

        When your lasagna is layered, and you would normally now put it in the oven, put it instead in the freezer *in the baking pan*.

        When it is frozen, remove lasagna from pan. Keep it wrapped until it is time to cook it to be served. Then peel off the plastic wrap, put the frozen lasagna in the baking dish, and bake it.

        I usually defrost it after I put it back in the pan, then cook it at its regular temperature until it's cooked through.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Jay F

          Yes - that is basically what I was planning to do. I think I will hold off putting the cheese on top though, and just add that once the lasagne is thawed.

          Any advice on whether to cook the day before then reheat? I generally prefer the taste of "twice-baked" lasagne, when you have it the next day.

          1. re: clairebbbear

            I don't bake it twice when I do this, as I'm doing it this way to save time. But if twice-baked is what you like, I can't see that there'd be any harm.

        2. another option I used to use is: spread the filling on the sheets and roll them into more or less individual servings, bake, freeze, later re-heat and (have someone) ladle the sauce on after.

          1 Reply
          1. re: hill food

            <edit> but that was in back college if I had a few hours on a Sunday afternoon. Jay's method of baking once sounds better. I was going for the time issue then. and the individual rolls were easy to hide in the freezer's permafrost from lazy roommates.

          2. What I've done is cook it through when you initially make it. Let it cool and wrap with plastic and freeze. I've found that the freezing and reheating allows for the pasta to absorb the "wetness" and reduces the sauce oozing everywhere. I'd also use dry lasagna sheets. I've done the Barefoot Contessa style where you put the sheets in the hottest tap water that comes out of your faucet, let them soak for about 20 minutes until pliable and then use them. They are still undercooked and will absorb liquid as the lasagna bakes.

            1. This doesn't address your freezing issue, but if you are making lasagna for kids, it may be better to serve a pasta dish like penne or rotini. Depending in the age of the kids, they may not be able to wield a knife and fork needed to cut the lasagna to eat. Penne can be stabbed with a fork and is manageable for kids of all ages.

              13 Replies
              1. re: boogiebaby

                Good point - but I think it should be okay. The youngest kid is 4 and the oldest is 42 (adult with very picky food tastes LOL). Most of the kids are between 7 and 12.

                I still might have a separate dish of penne and meatballs set aside though for the kids only in case someone has an extra fussy outburst and refuse to eat cheese or something (whiich is possible with my fiarly particular stepson).

                1. re: boogiebaby

                  I was also going to suggest a baked ziti, which would have all the same elements but be easier to serve and eat. And it wouldn't look "sloppy," it would be a "rustic presentation."
                  Congratulations!

                  1. re: ohmyyum

                    in the city of my childhood, a wedding isn't considered even legal unless 'mostaccioli' (sp. and pronounciation varies) is served on the buffet. essentially a tray of baked ziti or penne in meat sauce.

                    1. re: hill food

                      Your childhood sounds like it was wonderful! You wouldn't be able to recommend a nice recipe for either of the above would you?

                      1. re: clairebbbear

                        Claire, I make baked mostaccioli (or ziti or shells or cavatappi) the same way Marcella Hazan makes lasagna, with Bolognese, besciamella, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. It's *so* much easier to do than lasagna.

                        1. re: Jay F

                          Jay F - now that's all fancified...

                          but yeah, just take your favorite lasagna recipe and swap out the pasta, stir it up and bake it. it's easy but it's not something you usually make at home because if there's any sort of reception to attend in your future, it's going to be there. I think the ones I've had used a lot of mozzarella and maybe a sprinkling of Parm-Reg on top, maybe. it seems to have gained popularity in the 40's and 50's when Italian (pronounced 'Eye-talian') was still considered exotic.

                          1. re: hill food

                            I used to eat baked pasta with sausage in it that my grandmother's next door neighbor would make throughout my childhood. Lina was from southern Italy--Naples?--so it wasn't the two sauce thing I discovered in Marcella Hazan's book twenty years later. It was more like you describe, though there was very little mozzarella--on top, only.

                            I like doing it the Marcella way a lot better, I discovered when I started cooking on my own, and I recommend it to anyone and everyone who wants to make Italian food, "fancified" though you may find it.

                            1. re: Jay F

                              aww you know I was just kidding with "fancified" right?

                              Marcella's does sound far better.

                          2. re: Jay F

                            Thanks Jay F! I'm assuming I could freeze this recipe? That bit is non-negotiable due to time constraints.

                            I also like the idea of making it with meatballs and perhaps also quality sausages - mainly because I think that would look better than just mince. Would that be in any way authentic, or not?

                            1. re: clairebbbear

                              there's no consideration of authentic to be made in this dish. if you want to be all Midwest white-trashy about it, then ground meat is authentic. meatballs would have to be very, very small. pearl onion size.

                              but it's really one of those Zelig dishes you can morph 6 ways from Sunday. so meatballs? sausage? why not? fresh basil? a tomato sauce painstakingly reduced and strained from heirloom tomatoes flown specially from Argentina where they're in season at the moment? sure. just don't add something weird like mandarin oranges or Mallowmars.

                              it should freeze just fine, but you may consider reserving half the sauce for adding (heated) at serving.

                              1. re: hill food

                                "a tomato sauce painstakingly reduced and strained from heirloom tomatoes flown specially from Argentina where they're in season at the moment?"

                                LOL.

                                So meatballs about 1-inch in size? I'm starting to like this idea more and more. I could make the meatballs in advance and freeze them, and make the sauce closer to the day. I think it would be better portion-wise too because it would be easier for people to serve themselves too, unlike with lasagne, which they'd have to scoop out.

                                Thanks for the tip on the extra sauce.

                                1. re: clairebbbear

                                  1" would be OK, but if you're up to the chore, I'd go even smaller, like 1/2" to 3/4" dia.

                              2. re: clairebbbear

                                Oh, yeah. It's totally freezable. I figured we were talking in general about things you can freeze.

                                I'm going to leave the meatball decision up to you, as the sauce I've suggested is a meat sauce. I can't see that a baked pasta dish with sausage or meatballs would turn out wrong if frozen, though.

                                hill food is right about the size: they should be small, like the meatballs in Wedding Soup. I also agree with him that extra sauce would be nice to serve with the pasta.

                                I would make extra sauce, though, rather than only using half to freeze with first time around.

                                It sounds like a nice wedding dinner you're putting together.