I really like making lasagna. In particular, I enjoy all of the components and putting together the layers for a hearty meal. I’ll also admit that I like it because my recipe includes all of the major food groups and for some reason, the completeness makes me happy. It takes some work, but the result is a hearty meal that makes me feel cozy on the inside.
The recipe that follows is time consuming, and I usually make it on the weekends. Unlike many lasagna recipes, I do not use eggs or ricotta in this recipe. Instead, this recipe is my version of Lasagna Bolognese al Forno, adapted from Mario Batali’s recipe. Here, the dish gets its creaminess from béchamel. I make everything, except the pasta from scratch. This recipe requires some multi-tasking, at one point I usually have three burners going simultaneously. If you aren’t comfortable in the kitchen, then you can make each of the components, one at a time. One of these days I’ll tackle the pasta and make that from scratch too.
HEARTY HOMEY LASAGNA
FOR THE SAUCE/RAGU
¼ cup olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1/2 cup baby bella mushrooms, sliced
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef (you can use ground pork or veal too)
¼ pound ground sausage
½ cup dry red wine
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1 28 oz. can of whole tomatoes
FOR THE BECHAMEL
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup flour
3 cups milk (I use skim)
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon nutmeg, preferably, freshly grated
FOR THE LASAGNA
9 sheets dried lasagna (I use whole wheat sheets and I never use the no-boil lasagna because I don’t like the texture or taste of the no-boil pasta)
1-1½ cups of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
For the Sauce/Ragu: In a large, heavy bottom pot or dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add onions, carrots, celery, mushrooms, and garlic until the onions are translucent and the vegetables are softened, about 5-7 minutes. Add the beef and sausage to the veggies and brown over high heat. Make sure you are stirring and breaking up the meat to prevent it from clumping together.
While the meat is browning, in a medium bowl, crush the whole tomatoes, including all of the liquids, with your hands.
One the meat is browned, add the wine, basil and oregano. Let some of the alcohol cook off, 1-2 minutes is enough, and de-glaze the pot if necessary scraping up any brown bits at the bottom of the pot. Add the crushed tomatoes with the liquid. Simmer the sauce over medium to low heat for about an hour. Season with salt and pepper.
For the Bechamel: In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add the flour, whisking constantly, until smooth. Keep stirring and cook the flour and butter mixture for about 5-6 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the milk. I usually microwave it for 1-2 minutes. Do not bring the milk to a boil. Add the milk to the butter and flour mixture, slowly, and one cup at a time, whisking constantly. The mixture should be smooth. Bring the mixture to a low boil, keep whisking until the sauce thickens to coat a spoon. Remove from heat and season with nutmeg.
For the Pasta and Assembly: Cook the pasta according to package directions. I find that it works best in batches, do not boil more than 2-3 sheets of pasta at once. Once boiled, I lay the pasta sheets on parchment paper to prevent sticking.
When all of the components are ready, it is time to assemble! Pre-heat the oven to 400F. In a 9 x 13 baking dish, place one ladle of sauce/ragu at the bottom and spread it around the bottom. There will not be enough sauce to cover the bottom of the pan, don’t worry. Add three sheets of pasta, to form the first layer. Then top the pasta with the sauce/ragu, then a layer of Parmigiano-Reggiano, then drizzle the béchamel over it. Repeat three times, so the top layer should be cheese/bechamel.
Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the whole thing is bubbling and oozy. Remove from the oven and let it stand for about 15 minutes before serving! Enjoy!
Tips: If you want to save time and make the components simultaneously, I usually start the large pot of water for the pasta right after I add the meat to the sauce/ragu. The pot of water takes a while to boil and you need time to boil all of the pasta sheets. I usually finish the ragu before starting the béchamel sauce so the ragu is simmering while I make the béchamel and finish boiling the pasta.
I usually under cook the pasta just a TINY bit. The pasta will absorb the ragu as it sits in the oven.