This is the lasagna I cooked for my friend Reggie Darling in New York last week. It is definitely not the one you will eat at most restaurants in the United States or in the southern part of Italy. This is the real deal, the one you will enjoy in Bologna or anywhere in the Tuscan countryside. There is no mozzarella or thick tomato sauce or lots of Parmesan cheese for that matter. It is a delicate lasagna with a light bechamel sauce and a slight hint of tomato. It is divine and as far as lasagnas go, quite elegant. All you need to go with it is a green salad of your choice.
I encourage you to double the ragu recipe. It's too much work for the amount it makes. It freezes beautifully, both as a sauce or if you go all the way and make an extra lasagna. This recipe will serve 8 with extra for seconds. Believe me, you want to have enough for seconds!
Lasagna pasta (I used DeCecco)
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, plus more for greasing a 9- by 12-inch bake-and-serve lasagna pan, no less than 2½ inches high
2/3 cup fresh grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
1. Prepare the meat sauce and set aside.
2. Prepare the béchamel, keeping it rather runny, somewhat like sour cream. When done, keep it warm in the upper half of a double boiler, with the heat turned to very low. If a film should form on top, just stir it when you are ready to use it.
3. Set a bowl of cold water near the range, and lay some clean, dry cloth towels flat on a work counter. Bring 4 quarts of water to a rapid boil, add 1 tablespoon salt, and as the water returns to a boil, slip in 4 or 5 of the cut pasta strips. Cook very briefly, just seconds after the water returns to a boil after you dropped in the pasta. Retrieve the strips with a colander scoop or slotted spatula, and plunge them into the bowl of cold water. Pick up the strips, one at a time, rinse them under cold running water, and rub them delicately, as though you were doing fine hand laundry. Squeeze each strip very gently in your hands, then spread if flat on the towel to dry. When all the pasta is cooked in the manner, 4 or 5 strips at a time, and spread out to dry, pat it dry on top with another towel.
*Explanatory note: The washing, wringing, and drying of pasta for lasagna is something of a nuisance, but it is necessary. You first dip the partly cooked pasta into cold water to stop the cooking instantly. This is important because if lasagna pasta is not kept very firm at this stage it will become horribly mushy later when it is baked. And you must afterward rinse off the moist starch on its surface, or the dough will become glued to the towel on which it is laid out to dry, and tear when you are ready to use it.
4. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
5. Thickly smear the bottom of a lasagna pan with butter and about 1 tablespoon of béchamel. Line the bottom of the pan with a single layer of pasta strips, cutting them to fit the pan, edge to edge, allowing no more than ¼ inch for overlapping.
6. Combine the meat sauce and the béchamel and spread a thin coating of it on the pasta. Sprinkle on some grated parmesan, then add another layer of pasta, cutting it to fit as you did before. Repeat the procedure of spreading the sauce and béchamel mixture, then sprinkling with Parmesan. Use the trimmings of pasta dough to fill in gaps, if necessary. Build up to at least 6 layers of pasta. Leave yourself enough sauce to spread very thinly over the topmost layer. Sprinkle with parmesan and dot with butter.
*Ahead-of-time note: The lasagna may be completed up to 2 days in advance up to this point. Refrigerate under tightly sealing plastic wrap.
8. Bake on the uppermost rack of the preheated oven until a light, golden crust formed on top. It should take between 10 and 15 minutes. If after the first few minutes you don’t see any sign of a crust beginning to form, turn up the oven another 50 to 75 degrees. Do not bake longer then 15 minutes altogether.
9. Remove from the oven and allow to settle for about 10 minutes, then serve at table directly from the pan.
1 tablespoon oil
3 tablespoon butter
½ cup chopped onion
2/3 cup chopped celery
2/3 cup chopped carrot
3/4 pound ground beef chuck (I used half beef, half veal)*
black pepper, ground fresh from the mill
1 cup whole milk
1 cup dry white wine
1½ cup canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut up, with their juice**
1. Put the oil, butter and onion in the pot, and turn the heat on to medium. Cook and stir the onion until is has become translucent, then add the chopped celery and carrot. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring the vegetables to coat them well.
2. Add the ground beef, a large pinch of salt, & a few grindings of pepper. Crumble the meat with a fork and cook until meat has lost its raw, red color.
3. Add the milk and let simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely. Add a tiny grating – about 1/8 teaspoon – of nutmeg and stir. The milk will take a long time to absorb. Be patient. Turn it up higher after awhile to make it go faster (I did)
4. Add the wine, let simmer until it has evaporated, then add the tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat all ingredients well. When the tomatoes begin to bubble, turn the heat down so that the sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through the surface. Cook, uncovered, for 3 hours or more, stirring from time to time. While the sauce is stirring, you are likely to find that it begins to dry out and the fat separates from the meat. To keep it from sticking, continue the cooking, adding ½ cup of water whenever necessary. At the end, however, no water at all must be left and the fat must separate from the sauce. Taste and correct for salt.
3 cups milk
6 tablespoons butter
4½ tablespoons flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1. Put the milk in a saucepan, turn the heat to medium-low, and bring the milk just to the verge of boiling, to the point when it begins to form a ring of small, pearly bubbles.
2. While heating the milk, put the butter in a heavy-bottomed, 4- to 6-cup saucepan, and turn the heat to low. When the butter has melted completely, add the flour and stirring it with a wooden spoon. Cook, while stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes. Do not allow flour to become colored. Remove from heat.
3. Add the hot milk to the flour-and-butter mixture, no more than 2 tablespoons of it at a time. Stir steadily and thoroughly. As soon as the first 2 tablespoons have been incorporated into the mixture, add 2 more, and continue to stir. Repeat this procedure until you have added ½ cup milk; you can now put in the rest of the milk ½ cup at a time, stirring steadfastly, until all the milk has been smoothly amalgamated with the flour and butter.
4. Place the pot over low heat, add the salt, and cook, stirring without interruption, until the sauce is as dense as thick cream. If you find any lumps forming, dissolve them by beating the sauce rapidly with a whisk
*Since I doubled the recipe, I ended up using 3/4 lbs chuck and 3/4 lbs ground veal (I actually cheated and made it almost a pound each!)
*for double the recipe, I used the entire 28oz can f Cento San Marzano tomatoes.
Half of the meat packages above went to a double recipe of the ragu, which in turn made 2 lasagnas, one large one smaller. The rest was frozen for a meatloaf later on. Talk about economical!