Lasagne comes in so many variations, one could spend hours reading all of the different recipes. For me, this one is the classic. My inspiration is the way it is served in Bologna, Italy, with a savory ragu meat sauce and bechamel sauce. Any lasagne which features ricotta/spinach/or cottage cheese is most likely an American adaptation. This one is simple yet time consuming to make. In my opinion, it is worth every bit of the effort. So give yourself some time, pour yourself a glass of wine, and enjoy the lasagne making experience. Your diners will thank you, and the leftovers will be fabulous.
1 recipe ragu meat sauce (recipe to follow)
2 cups bechamel sauce (recipe to follow)
2 9oz. boxes of Barilla no boil lasagne (one might be enough depending on the size of your casserole dish, but better safe than sorry.
12-16 ounces shredded cheese (I recommend fontina)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
First you need to make the ragu. Here is the recipe:
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 onion finely chopped
1 carrot diced
1 celery stick chopped
1 clove garlic minced
4 strips bacon
1 1/2 pound ground beef (or mixture with ground veal or pork)
2/3 cup red wine
1/2 cup milk
14 oz. can crushed tomatoes in puree
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp fresh oregano, less if dried
salt to taste
1 lb pasta of choice, tagliatelle or spaghetti
grated parmesan cheese to taste
If you have a chopper, for me this is the easiest way to get started. In your chopper, put the carrot, celery, onion, garlic, and bacon. Cut the ingredients into uniform size pieces before putting in chopper. Then pulse the chopper until everything is pretty finely chopped. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, and when it is really hot, and the vegetable mixture. Saute over medium high heat until everything becomes nice and golden. Next add the ground meat, and stir occasionally until the meat is nicely browned.
Add the red wine to the meat mixture. Bring to a boil, and stir regularly until most of the wine has been absorbed by the meat mixture. Add salt to taste. Now add the milk, and a little bit of nutmeg. Continue cooking until most of the milk been absorbed. Next add the chopped tomatoes, sugar and oregano. Stir all the ingredients together, then reduce the heat and let simmer for 1-2 hours if you can. The sauce should take on a brick red color. Sauce should be quite thick, but if is too thick, you can add a little bit of canned tomato sauce (puree) until you get your desired consistency. If the sauce will be used for lasagne, you need it to be thicker. Your sauce is ready!
Next you need to make the bechamel (besciamella sauce):
For the besciamella (bechamel) sauce (makes 2 cups)
1/2 stick (4 tbsp butter)
1/2 cup flour
2 cups milk
1/4 tsp salt
dash of ground nutmeg
Melt the butter in a small heavy bottom sauce pan. Add the flour, and stir with a wooden spoon for about 3 minutes over medium heat. In another small sauce pan, heat the milk until almost boiling. Gradually add the milk to the butter/flour mixture, stirring constantly. A wire whisk is helpful to avoid lumps. Once all of the milk has been added, bring to a gentle boil, and cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring almost constantly. Sauce should be somewhat thick. Season with salt pepper and nutmeg, stir well, then remove from heat.
Once the ragu and bechamel sauce are made you can assemble your lasagne. First get our your baking dish. I prefer to make a smaller dish with more layers, say 8 x 10 inches. You can use a 9 X 13 baking dish and have fewer layers, or you can make a bigger recipe of sauce or bechamel. It will be delicious in any case. Grease your baking dish generously with butter. Then starting with meat sauce spread a layer at the bottom of the dish. Then place a layer of lasagne noodles on top of that, followed by a layer of bechamel. Top that with a nice sprinkling of the shredded fontina cheese. Continue the layering process, meat sauce, lasagne, bechamel cheese, until you run out of the ingredients, or your dish is full. End with a layer of bechamel, and give that a nice sprinkling of parmesan cheese on top. Your lasagne is now ready to go in the oven.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, and let the lasagne bake for about 40-45 minutes. Let it stand about 5 minutes before serving. You are now ready to enjoy, perhaps with a nice green salad and a glass of red wine to accompany. Buon Appetito!