“Using clunky, store-bought lasagne may save a little time, but you will be sadly shortchanged by the results.”
Thus saith Marcella Hazan in her lasagne alla bolognese recipe, which I was consequently scared away from making. Having eaten American-style lasagna and real Italian lasagna in Italy, I certainly preferred the Italian variety. It is lighter, without all the gloopy cheese of its American offspring. Because it is not weighted down with cheese, the exquisitely comforting flavor of the meat sauce is allowed to shine. But I had neither a pasta machine nor the budget to go out and get one, so I figured I’d just have to put off creating the best lasagna ever to some unspecified future date.
Recently, I remembered that I live in New York City (close enough anyway, in Jersey City) and that it was probably not impossible to find fresh pasta. A quick Google search, and I discovered that not only were there many places to purchase fresh pasta in the city, but one was quite conveniently located for me. For anyone in the New York area, I highly, highly recommend a trip to Raffetto’s. They have been making fresh pasta since 1906, and will cut the pasta any way you like on a machine that looks like it has been around since 1906. You can get spinach pasta (like I did), saffron pasta, squid ink pasta, and they have all kinds of different filled pastas – ravioli, tortellini, agnolotti – all you have to do is prepare a sauce to go with them, and you have dinner. They also have all kinds of imported Italian goodies and sauces that they make in house, if you are too tired to make your own sauce. I bought a box of pumpkin ravioli and served them with an alfredo sauce.
I’m not being paid by them to sing their praises. As someone who grew up in a place where Olive Garden and Carrabba’s were considered great Italian restaurants, I simply didn’t know that places like this existed. I was helped by some very kind ladies, who explained just how to cook the pasta and wanted to know the size of the pan I was using so that they could cut my pasta to the right size. It was a delightful experience from beginning to end.
I ended up going to six different shops to source all the ingredients for this lasagne – this isn’t necessary, but I wanted to get the best quality ingredients, since it is a pretty epic meal to make. So I went to Raffetto’s, a butcher (Ottomanelli, where they grind the beef fresh – so good), a cheesemonger (Murray’s), the Van Vorst farmer’s market back in Jersey City, Jersey Wine Merchants, and a small local grocer for the few ingredients that couldn’t be found anywhere else. This is how people used to shop for food, before the days of giant supermarkets with their meats in styrofoam packaging and aisles upon aisles of processed food products. I realize not everyone has access to these kinds of small, local shops, but since I do, I feel that I should support them. Collecting my ingredients was a perfect way to spend a cool, cloudy Saturday morning.