lasagna; hold the noodle

The thing to remember about cooking for a party is people are just happy to have someone else cook.  You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, and you can panic that you might make something that somebody isn’t going to like but you don’t have to.  My goals are look clean, be friendly and have a lot to offer.

I love lasagna.  You can serve it the same day, you can freeze it, you can reheat it, you could even serve it room temperature, as long as you initially cooked it to “hot”, and it will always be good.  In the past few years I have taken to using homemade pasta for the lasagna, but instead of hauling out your machine, you could just make crepes or “crespelle” instead.  Start with a batter of 1 2/3 cups of flour, 4 eggs, 2 cups of milk, and 1 teaspoon of sugar.  Be sure all of your ingredients are room temperature.  (throw the milk in the microwave for 10 seconds, and put the eggs in their shells, in a bowl of warm water). Make a well with the flour in a bowl, and crack in the eggs, whisking gently after each one, to incorporate.  Add the milk in a steady stream, while whisking, and then the salt. Pour through a sieve to remove any lumps then mix in 3 tablespoons of melted warm (not hot) butter, and let rest for 15 minutes, or refrigerate for up to 12 hours.

Heat up a frying pan with low sides.  Brush with butter.  Be ready to throw the first crepe away.  Ladle on about 1/4 cup of crepe batter, and swirl immediately and pour off the excess, so that the crepe is very thin.  When the edges curl up, grab one side and flip.  Cook the other side just for a few seconds, and remove.   Keep going until all the batter is used up.

Make a meat sauce by dicing 2 carrots, 2 stalks of celery from the inside of the head, and one onion, seasoning them with salt, and frying them in the best olive oil you can find until completely softened and caramelized.  Add three cloves of minced garlic to an empty space in the pan and stir around until just golden.  Add a sprig of rosemary and a bay leaf.  Remove the vegetables.  Brown 1 pound of ground meat (pork, beef and veal), seasoning with salt, until completely cooked through.  Drain if there is liquid.  Put the meat and vegetables back in the pan together and add 2 28 ounce cans of whole (squished) tomatoes.  Cook for at least an hour, even two or three.  Taste for deliciousness.

Make a white sauce.  (Whisk 2 tablespoons of butter with same amount of flour over low heat until it tastes cooked.  Season with salt and pepper.  Off the heat add 2 cups of whole milk.  Season with salt.  Turn the flame back on and cook, whisking constantly until thickened.

Layer your crepes in a casserole with meat sauce (start with a little sauce on the bottom), white sauce and parmesan, then another layer of crepes, finishing with the parmesan.  Bake covered at 350 degrees until hot.  Let it bubble for the last 15 minutes without a cover.

For a richer white sauce, add a few tablespoons of mascarpone to the white sauce.

Let sit for 15 minutes, and then serve.

This is delicious with sauteed swiss chard and garlic, bruschetta with wild mushroom duxelle, roasted carrots and a salad of radicchio, endive and watercress.

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