Recipe: lasagna, word for word


Lasagna starts with a meat sauce, gently cooked for a few hours, and if you get this part right, it’s hard to go wrong. Layered with a white sauce, grated Parmesan (try to find Parmigiana Reggiano) and a good noodle, it is up there with the best of baked pastas. Lasagna can be refrigerated or frozen; follow the directions to the end, and bake the day of, or stick it in the freezer before baking it, and put it directly in the oven.  For this method, you will need to allow an extra hour of baking time.

Meat Sauce

For six to eight people, buy a one pound pack of mixed ground beef.  Chop a medium to largish yellow onion into a small dice, and cook with half a stalk of finely diced celery, half a finely diced carrot, and three to four cloves of garlic in quality olive oil.  This should saute for at least twenty to thirty minutes. There is a time for quick and there’s a time when it’s really worth it to turn off the phone and let it go all the way. Add the ground meat, and cook for as long as takes to be completely cooked through, over a very low flame.  Skim off any fat.  Throw in a twig of rosemary, a bay leaf, and a sprig of parsley.  Stir this around a bit, then add a ladle of homemade chicken stock. Reduce. add another ladle. Reduce. Add a glass of chianti. reduce. Ad another glass. Reduce. add 1 28 oz. can of whole plum Italian tomatoes, that you have squished to smoothness with your hand, into the pot.  Add a few pinches of kosher salt, and cook for at least an hour, preferably, two to three hours, over a very low flame.  Add ladles of stock as needed for liquid, and more wine to taste. Continue to stir occasionally, and skim the fat from the top as it cooks.  If you use organic, there won’t be so much schmutz to skim off the top. It should reduce to be quite a thick sauce, with a deep, rich flavor.

You can use any white sauce recipe for this, but I like to slowly melt three Tablespoons of butter in a pan with about the same amount of flour.  It should come together in a light paste, not too thick, when you stir it with a whisk.  Slowly add about two cups of milk (if you heat the milk first, it’s easier to incorporate), and continue to whisk, until the sauce thickens slightly.  If you love garlic, you can simmer a whole clove in there, along with half a bay leaf, which gives it a nice flavor. Just don’t forget to take them out when you are done.  To make the white sauce really rich and extravagant, and why not, add one third to half a cup of mascarpone cheese.  Even a few tablespoons of regular (not low fat) creamed cheese will add a nice oomph, if you can’t find the mascarpone.

For the lasagna, use the Barilla noodles that don’t require pre cooking, or a fresh lasagna noodle that you purchase, or make yourself if you have the time and inclination.  (2 cups of flour, 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 3 of water. Knead 5 min. Til smooth. Let rest 15 min. Then roll out.) No need to cook the noodles if you made them. Just be sure to use plenty of sauce.  Once you have your noodles ready, spread about a half cup of meat sauce in the bottom of the pan.  Cover with one layer of noodles.  Cover with meat sauce, and drop white sauce over it, in tablespoonfuls.  Let there be a few inches in between each spoonful of white sauce, because this will spread, as it cooks.  Scatter with grated parmesan, and repeat these steps, two more times.  Cover the lasagna tightly with foil, and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.  Uncover, and bake for fifteen more minutes so that the top browns and bubbles slightly.  If this doesn’t happen for you, you can set the pasta under the broiler for a minute, but don’t leave it, because it only takes seconds to burn.  Let the lasagna sit for fifteen minutes before serving, which allows it to rest, and makes it easier to slice.  The only thing you need to serve with this is a simple salad, and maybe a dish of your favorite olives.

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