Classic Lasagna

Who couldn’t like lasagna? Starchy noodles, zesty sauce, creamy cheese and fresh herbs. It’s basically joy in a baking dish. The only problem is that it takes forever – and I don’t really see that as a problem! It just means that you have to plan ahead. Choose a weekend when you have the whole day free, pour yourself a glass of wine while you cook, turn on the showtunes(or whatever normal people listen to), and ENJOY the process. Or, you can invite your mom over to help you cook.
Gotta love that free labor.

INGREDIENTS:
1 bunch celery, cleaned and diced.
1 bunch carrots, peeled and diced
2 sweet onions, diced
1 garlic clove, diced
2 porcini mushrooms diced (These are expensive but add the most amazing hit of flavor to the sauce)
1/4 cup Olive Oil
3 cans peeled tomatoes
1 cup red wine
2 dried bay leaves
1.5 packages Lasagna noodles (or however many fit in your large pan)
3 lbs meatloaf mix (veal, beef and pork mix)
Worcestershire Sauce, to taste
Sugar, to taste
1 lb. Ricotta Cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese
1/3 cup whole milk or cream
1/4 lb chunk porchetta(optional)

1 Stick Butter
1 Cup flour
chicken stock to taste (about 2 cups)
Salt
Pepper

Whew…it looks intimidating, I know.
Most things worth wile do.
So pour yourself that booze and let’s get cooking!

First things first – throw all of the diced veggies in a large oiled stockpot on high heat. You want the veggies to gently caramelize and soften. The mushrooms add SO much heft and flavor to the sauce. You are really going to be glad you splurged for the pricey ones. Cook the veggies until the onions turn translucent and the carrots get soft. If the garlic starts to turn brown or smell a little bitter, turn the heat down.

 Now add the meat! It is important to use the 3 types of meat. The beef has that unmistakable funky flavor, the veal is grassy and mild and the pork is sweet and fatty. You really need the trifecta of meat.

 Cook the meat until it is mostly cooked through and crumbly, breaking it up with your spatula. Don’t cook it TOO long – just until most of it looks cooked through, not pebbly or hard.

 Now it is time to add the bay leaves.

And also the Worcestershire sauce. Now you just let that mixture sit while you turn your attention to the red part of this sauce.

Now, pour the tomatoes and all their juices into a large bowl. There will still be some juice, and maybe even tomato pieces clinging to the jar. What to do, what to do…
Hey, I know!

Pour wine into cans.

Stir with spatula, getting all the tomatoey goodness down from the sides of the cans.

 Pour wine mixture from one can to another, and repeat until all the cans have been wine-swished.

 Then, pour the winey tomato juice mixture into the tomatoes.

 Mash the tomatoes with a potato masher or your (cleaned!) hands,

 Until the pieces are broken but not mashed. They will disintegrate further as they cook.

 Time to add the tomatoes to the sauce. I used 3 cans worth, but you may want to add the tomatoes step by step, according to if you like your sauce more meaty(traditional) or more tomatoey(better than traditional).

 Time to add a pinch of sugar and let the whole thing cook for about 40 minutes while you turn your attention elsewhere. The sugar really rounds out the sauce, making the meat taste heartier and the tomatoes taste fresher and less acidic.

Now, time for the basil (which you can wash by submerging the leaves in a deep cup or bowl, swishing the leaves around with your hands and letting the dirt fall to the bottom).

 Gather the half of the leaves in a small stack

 roll the stack like you are rolling a cigarette, till it is in a log.

 Chop.

 You have just chiffonaded basil. Mazel tov.

 Now you want to add the basil and the ricotta to a bowl. People say that ricotta is like Italian cottage cheese, which is kind of like me saying that I am the Jewish Jessica Alba. The two things are just unrelated.

 Ricotta is creamy like goat cheese, mild like mozzarella and it melts like cream cheese. Mixing it with basil breaks up the richness and reinforces the grassy, lighter notes of this heavenly cheese.
Just try not to eat too much of it before you cook with it. With your fingers. Out of the jar.
It’s so, SO good…
Now, set the cheese aside, and get started on the bechamel.

Bechamel is the white sauce that you find in lasagna, and it looks like Alfredo sauce. However – shocker – it doesn’t need to have any cream to enrich it! Or eggs! It is made by making a roux(a mixture of flour and some fat), heating it and loosening it with some sort of broth. I like using chicken stock and then adding taste and thickness with cheese. That makes it more like a Mornay sauce, but I still call it bechamel.
My blog, my rules.

 First, melt your butter over medium-low heat. You want it to be just melted, not foaming or browning.

 Next, add in your flour, bit by bit…

 And whisk away! Pretty soon, the mixture should form a ball in the pan, like a dough. That is when you…

 add the chicken stock! Keep whisking and eventually…

Your sauce will look like this. If you add too much stock and it gets too loose, add some flour. If it’s too thick, pour in some more stock. It’s all fixable and moveable. 

 Time to toss in the cheese,

 and the salt and pepper.

 When the bechamel is thick enough to stay on the spoon for a few seconds when you hold the spoon sideways, turn the heat down almost all the way and move onto the next step. If it seizes up too much in the time, you can turn the heat on higher or add some more stock to loosen the sauce.

Now time for the pasta. Don’t use the no boil noodles – those make the lasagna like a brick. Just so leaden, absorbing all the sauce…definitely a party pooper. Use the traditional stuff.

 And don’t forget…they have to boil for awhile because they are so long and thick!
That’s what she said.

By now, the sauce should look like this, with small pieces of meat and gently melting celery and onions. Give the sauce a taste. Add more salt if it needs more, more pepper if it is too bland, and don’t worry if the sauce tastes a bit one note and bright.

 That is where the splash of cream comes in :) Tomatoes and creams are a match made in heaven.

 After you add the cream, dice up that porchetta.This is optional, but A little bit of rosemary laden, garlic rubbed fatty skinned pork never hurt anyone.
Except maybe my rabbi…sorry, rabbi.

 Toss it in. It’s already cooked, so you just want it to heat through.

When the lasagna noodles are done and drained, you are ready to assemble! Preheat the oven to 350 and follow these steps in a foil lined pan:

 1)Sauce

 2)Noodles

 3)Sauce

 4)Basil leaves that you reserved earlier

 5)Dollops of Bechamel

 6)Dollops of Ricotta between the bechamel

 7)Repeat…

 until all the ingredients are used up.

 Finish by pouring bechamel over the top. You will definitely need to add some heat and liquid to make it a pourable substance and sprinkle some cheese over the final dish, but it will create a more attractive finished product.
And really…isn’t attractiveness what it is all about?

 After about 15 minutes in the oven, the Parmesan will be browned, the bechamel will be bubbly and the scent will be all encompassing.

 The taste is exactly what you want in a lasagna. The noodles are thick but not mushy – they are chewy and the ridges are perfect for catching the two sauces. The bechamel is cheesy, peppery and rich, tempering the brightness of the bolognese. The bolognese itself is a rich composite of meat, vegetables, seasonings and mushrooms. I am telling you, the mushrooms add an incredibly deep earthiness and funk to the sauce. It echoes the pungent taste of the Worcestershire and the richness of the meat. The ricotta is a gooey, creamy component and the basil adds fresh herby punches throughout the dish. The Parmesan on top adds a salty, crispy crust and the dish…

 well, as a whole it is just awesome. Meat, cheese, sauce, carbs.

And in the 47 hours you took to make it, it will be gobbled up in about 15 minutes.
Totally worth it. 

Comments

  1. Sarah says:

    I'd like my very own tray as a gift when I get a new job. And I will eat it until I vom.

  2. Sippity Sup says:

    Show tunes are not for normal people, they are for lucky people! GREG

  3. Fritos and Foie Gras says:

    @Sarah-on its way, chica!
    @Sippity-That's the damn truth! They're the luckiest people int he world… ;)

Trackbacks

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  2. Lasagna Soup says:

    [...] GAWD I love lasagna. [...]

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