Not Your Mom’s Lasagna

Okay, so my mom actually never made lasagna, I’m guessing Yuan’s mom didn’t either,  and granted, I’ve never had Little Miss Mother’s lasagna, but last week, Little Miss, hubby and I made the best lasagna I’ve ever eaten.  Little Miss spent a weekend with me for some r&r and as we sat around, she suggested that we make lasagna.

Back in April 2006, I found the most delicious looking lasagna on the cover of my Gourmet magazine.  This Italian Regional Cooking issue had an article entitled, “Mario’s Excellent Adventure: Five Days in Bologna, 62 courses” where on Day 4, Mario Batali and his crew ate a lasagna described as “ethereal” and so “dramatically redolent and melting in texture that the dish is just miraculous.”  (Oh, Gourmet, how I miss you for the very reasons you are now defunct.)

Lasagna Bolognese
(adapted from Enoteca LaCapannina and Mario Batali, Gourmet, April 2006)

All three squabbling asians have made this lasagna several times, but with its two hour ragu cooking time, besciamella and handmade spinach pasta making, it is definitely a project.  I also had never motivated to make my own pasta, cheating instead by using no-bake pasta sheets.  But Little Miss and I had a whole afternoon free and I have a Bjorn who is on a pasta-making kick with a great pasta maker from Aunt Betty.  I was curious to see if fresh pasta would make a difference compared to the no-bake sheets and it turns out that it does.  The recipe calls for a spinach pasta dough, but we made a plain pasta dough using 00 flour.

Little Miss and I started the ragu with the base for many delicious things – olive oil, butter, and finely diced carrot, onion and celery.

Ragu

  • 5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 celery rib, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 lb sliced pancetta, finely chopped or pulverized in a food processor
  • 1 lb ground veal (I use fatty ground beef)
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste (2 1/2 oz)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

Heat oil and butter over moderate heat until the butter melts, then cook carrot, onion, celery, and garlic, until tender but not browned, 10 to 15 min.  Increase the heat to high and stir in pancetta, beef, and pork until meat is starting to brown about 15 min.  Stir in tomato paste, milk, and wine and simmer over low heat stirring occasionally, until almost all liquid has evaporated, but ragu is still moist, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  Note, we actually cooked it about 1 1/2 hour then put the lid on the dutch oven and cooked it for another 30 min.  Add salt and pepper and remove from heat.  This ragu generally takes about 3 hours start to finish.  It does give you time to make besciamella, have it cool down to room temperature, and roll out pasta.

Besciamella

  • 5 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Melt butter over moderate heat and whisk in flour until smooth, then cook, whisking frequently, until pale golden brown, 4-6 min.  I always wonder, “is it pale golden? is it pale golden?”  You can actually tell when it starts to brown up, I find that it takes closer to 6 min.  Heat milk in a separate saucepan (or microwave) until just about to boil.  Add milk 1 cup at a time to butter mixture, whisking constantly until very smooth.  Bring sauce to a boil, whisking, then cook, whisking, for 30 seconds.  Remove from heat and whisk in salt and nutmeg.  Cover with a butter round of wax or parchment paper (buttered side down) and cool to room temperature.

Put oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees.  Boil water for pasta and have ready an ice bath with 2 tbsp of olive oil in it.  Cook pasta sheets in boiling water until just tender, about 1 min, and transfer to ice bath to chill.  Transfer pasta onto clean kitchen towels laying flat and pat dry.  (Yes, this is why I had never made the pasta before…)

With all the components finally ready, I layered 1 cup of ragu, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano to lightly cover the ragu (about 1-2 tbsp), cooked pasta (can overlap slightly), and 1/2 cup besciamella evenly over pasta (layer will be thin) to assemble my lasagna.  Repeat 4 more times with the final layer of besciamella being 1 cup.

Sprinkle the top with grated cheese and bake uncovered until top is pale golden in spots and sauces are bubbling, about 45 min.  Let stand 10 min before serving.  The recipe says that ragu and besciamella can be made two days ahead, cooled completely, chilled and covered.  Warm ragu over low heat until just stirrable before using.  Lasagna can also be assembled 4 hours ahead and kept chilled, covered.

Literally, 4 hours later, we were ready to eat.  It is probably a good thing you need an entire afternoon to make because I could not stop eating and this is not a low-calorie lasagna.  It is SOOO worth it though!!  Everything just complements each other so well and the homemade pasta really gives it a texture that cannot be achieved with those ready-made pasta sheets.

And yes, I did take a glamor shot of my leftover the next day (above).

2 thoughts on “Not Your Mom’s Lasagna

  1. Nice recipe – we do something similar but the above has sufficient differences to make us try this approach next time. We cook about three times the amount of ragu each time because it freezes so well.
    For the record – the biggest differences are
    – that we use more pancetta (home made using Ruhlman’s recipe) and render it first for the fat – so no olive oil or butter. That’s how I was taught!
    – we replace half the amount of wine with meat stock.
    As an aside – we’ve found that it’s not necessary to cook the sheets of pasta first – they do fine in the oven. Try it – it may save you a step!

  2. Pingback: Pasta Dough Method & Recipe | Michael Ruhlman

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