lasagne alla bolognesePosted: October 8, 2012
“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.
Lasagne alla Bolognese
If you don’t have a pasta machine or access to fresh pasta, this will still be delicious with boxed dry lasagna noodles. And, since I’m not a fan of the cheese-heavy Americanized version, I think that this will still be better than that even with dry lasagna. But if you can get fresh pasta, it will be the most exquisite lasagna you’ve ever made. For those using fresh pasta, I read a lot on the Internet about whether or not to preboil the noodles. Opinion seems split on this issue, but I ended up making a compromise borne out of laziness: I boiled the noodles one at a time as I was assembling the pasta, and didn’t bother with dropping them in cold water and drying them. Probably heresy, but the pasta’s texture was fine. If you’re using dried pasta, follow the instructions on the box. If you want to make your own pasta, I recommend either of these recipes. Since I recently posted the recipe for bolognese sauce that I use here, I link to it in the ingredients list, rather than typing it out again. You’ll need the exact same amount of sauce for this. If you want to break down the cooking process, you could make the sauce the day before making the bechamel and assembling the lasagne. But once I smell that sauce simmering away, I can’t bear the thought of hiding it in the refrigerator without eating any, so I made the whole thing in one day. When I took the first bite, it was so worth all the hard work.
Serves 6 – 8
For the bechamel:
3 cups whole milk
6 tablespoons butter
4 1/2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Approximately 1 pound fresh spinach lasagne noodles (or dry noodles)
1 tablespoon butter, plus more for greasing pan
2/3 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
Prepare the meat sauce following the directions linked to above. Set aside. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil for the pasta. Preheat the oven to 400 F.
For the bechamel:
Pour the milk into a saucepan, and turn heat to medium low. Heat milk until it is almost boiling (but not all the way); once a ring of bubbles has formed around the edge of the pan, it is hot enough. While the milk is heating, melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan large enough to hold all of the sauce. When the butter is melted, add the flour. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Do not allow the flour to brown. Take the saucepan off the heat. Add the hot milk to the butter and flour mixture gradually, about 2 tablespoons at a time, while continuing to stir. Once the first two tablespoons are thoroughly mixed in, add two more and repeat the process. Once you’ve added about 1/2 cup of milk, you can start adding it in larger quantities, about 1/2 cup at a time, being sure to mix it in fully each time before adding more.
Once all the milk is mixed in, place the pan over low heat and add the salt. Cook, stirring continuously, until the sauce thickens up – when it is done, its consistency should be a little bit thicker than heavy cream.
Assemble the lasagne:
Here is how I assembled my lasagne. Once I had my bechamel, bolognese, and grated parmigiano ready to go, I smeared about a tablespoon of softened butter in the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan. Then spread 1/4 cup of the bechamel in the bottom of the baking pan – this will prevent your lasagne from sticking to the pan. Once you have done this, mix the bechamel into the bolognese sauce. Then, in my lazy woman’s way of assembling the lasagne, I boiled one noodle at a time. For more traditional instructions on boiling the noodles and then cooling them, see the recipes I link to above.
However you prepare your noodles, when they are ready to go, place one layer of noodles on top of the bechamel in the bottom of the baking pan – you may have to cut one noodle down to fit the pan, or layer several noodles to get a full layer. Don’t worry if it’s not perfectly pretty – it is going to taste amazing anyway. Spread about 1/2 cup of sauce on top of each noodle layer, sprinkle on some of the grated parmigiano, then add another noodle layer. I ended up with five layers of noodles – depending on how many noodles you have, 4-6 layers should be about right. Reserve some sauce to spread on top of the last noodle layer – this will prevent the top layer from becoming tooth-breakingly crunchy in the oven. Sprinkle a generous amount of parmigiano on top of the lasagne, and dot with the 1 tablespoon of butter (to help it brown in the oven). Bake for about 30 minutes, until the lasagne is sizzling away and has a nice, lightly browned crust on top.
When the lasagne is done, remove from oven and allow it to rest on the counter for about 10 minutes, while you prepare a salad and pour some wine. Then enjoy the delicious results of all your hard work!
Adapted from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking