Lasagna (more properly lasagne the plural of a single lasagna noodle), like chicken pot pie is a labor of love. This recipe is not for the feint of heart. It is my first effort at Hazan’s recipe which includes a 4-hour meat sauce alla Bolognese, Besciamella (Italian style Béchamel sauce) and homemade pasta. (Actually, this may be my second attempt. I vaguely remember trying this recipe, or a similar version, 20 years ago and swearing I would never again repeat it due to the effort. C’est la vie. )
As presented, the recipe is fairly true to the Hazan original, though I must admit, I took a few liberties. Notable exceptions are that the sauce Bolognese recipe is doubled in order to freeze leftovers, and, the spinach is omitted in the preparation of the pasta. I’m just not a big fan of green pasta.
The preparation begins with a classic mirepoix (soffritto in Italian cooking) of onion, garlic, carrots and celery sautéed in olive oil and butter. The mirepoix is sautéed until the vegetables are tender and the onions translucent,
Next,a mixture of ground chuck and ground pork is added. Once this meat is browned, milk is added and the mixture cooked down until the milk is almost entirely evaporated. A bit of nutmeg can be added at this point.
Red wine is added along with tomato paste and good quality canned tomatoes. After bringing the pot to a boil, the heat is turned to low, and the mixture is cooked for 3 hours uncovered. If needed, additional liquid (water) can be added.
Hazan is firm in her discussion of using fresh pasta for this recipe and states, “Using clunky store-bought pasta may save a little time, but you will be sadly shortchanged by the results.” . Her pasta dough is a simple combination that is proportionately 2 eggs to 1 cup of flour. Two batches were made for this recipe, each to the proportion described.
Once the pasta dough has been kneaded it is passed through the rollers of a pasta machine. First, the dough is passed two or three times through the machine set on its widest setting to complete the kneading process of flour.
From then on the dough is passed through the machine while reducing the thinness setting until the second to last setting (number 2) is reached. The dough is then set aside prior to cooking. It can be layered on a sheet pan between sheets of non-stick parchment paper.
The rolled out pasta is briefly cooked in salted, boiling water in batches. The duration is very short – about a minute altogether, or just until the water returns to a boil after the pasta is added. (The pasta will continue to cook when it is placed in the oven.)
To stop the cooking process the pasta is then plunged into a bowl of cold water, rinsed under running, cold tap water to remove excess starch and then placed on a towel until used in the lasagna. The pasta can be cooked as the lasagna is being assembled with each batch consisting of enough pasta for the one layer, then the next and so on.
The last preparation before assembling the lasagna is making the Besciamella. This is accomplished by first warming milk on the stove. Then, in another saucepan, the butter is melted and then the flour added to form a very light colored roux. Be careful not to brown the roux. Milk is added in small amounts at first and stirred with a wooden spoon to combine with the roux.
As the mixture becomes tempered, milk can be added in larger amounts. Salt is carefully added to taste and while not called for, a few grinds of black peppercorns can be added. When done the sauce has a smooth, velvety texture resembling heavy cream.
All components of the lasagna – Bolognese meat sauce, fresh made pasta and Besciamella are in place at this point. Assembly of the casserole begins by placing a light layer of Besciamella on the bottom of a buttered backing dish (9” x 12” or similar size). A layer of pasta follows this. The pasta may overlap slightly and smaller pieces can be cut to fill any gaps.
Bolognese sauce is spread on the layer of pasta, followed a couple of ladles of the Besciamella and finally an application of grated Parmigiano Reggiano. This sequence of layering the pasta with the Bolognese, Besciamella and Parmigiano is repeated about six times.
The top layer of the finished lasagna consists of the meat sauce, Besciamella and cheese, which will brown when the dish is baked. Place the assembled lasagna in a pre-heated 400-degree oven on the top shelf until it is heated through and the top is browed but for no more than 15 minutes. Remove and let stand 10 minutes before serving.
The recipe that follows is closely based on Marcella Hazan’s Lasagna Bolognese as published in the Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Directions are briefly presented below as the main text of this post elaborates on each step in detail. This makes six to eight servings with leftover meat sauce that can be frozen.
For the Bolognese Meat Sauce
- 2 tablespoons everyday olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 yellow onion diced
- 2 medium or 4 small carrots diced
- 3 stalks of celery diced
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 1 pound ground chuck (80-85% lean)
- ½ pound ground pork
- 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper, or to taste
- 2 cups whole milk
- Pinch of fresh ground nutmeg
- 2 sprigs of thyme leaves
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ cup red wine
- 1 — 6 ounce can of tomato paste
- 1 can of chopped Italian tomatoes (26 to 28 ounces depending on the packaging)
- 2/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano (reserved until assembling the lasagna)
For the Pasta
- 2 cups of sifted All Purpose Flour
- 4 large eggs
For the Besciamella
- 3 cups whole milk
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 4 ½ tablespoons flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Ground black peppercorns to taste
For the Bolognese Meat Sauce
- Heat oil and butter over medium high heat in a large (6 quart) heavy Dutch oven, or stockpot. Add the diced onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Sautee until vegetables are tender and the onion translucent.
- Add the ground chuck, ground pork, salt and pepper to the pot. Cook until the mixture is browned. Then add milk and continue cooking until the milk has nearly evaporated.
- Add nutmeg, thyme, bay leaf, red wine, tomato paste and chopped tomatoes. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Continue cooking on simmer uncovered for three hours adding additional liquid (water) if necessary. Adjust seasoning.
For the Pasta
- Mound the flour on a work surface and make a well in the center. Crack 4 eggs into the well and with a fork first stir the eggs and then begin bringing the flour into the well. Adjust flour if needed. When the dough can be handled, bring into a ball and knead for one, or two minutes.
- Pass the dough through the rollers on a pasta machine advancing to finer settings. Roll until the machine is one setting above the thinnest (i.e. the number 2 setting). Place the rolled pasta dough on a baking sheet between layers of non-stick parchment paper.
For the Besciamella
- Heat the milk short of boiling in a 4-quart saucepan. At the same time melt the butter in another saucepan. When the butter is melted, add the flour and stir to make a light colored roux. Be careful not brown the roux.
- Add the 1-cup of heated milk to the roux one small ladle at a time stirring between to incorporate. Once the first cup of milk has been slowly added the additional milk can be added in larger quantities. The Besciamella is done when it is a velvety, smooth texture the consistency of heavy cream. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Bring 6 to 8 cups of salted water to boil in a large stockpot. When the water comes to a boil, add 3, or 4 sheets of the rolled pasta. Remove these to a cold water bath in about 1 minute, or when the water returns to a boil. Rinse under cold water to remove excess starch and place on a towel to dry. Since this pasta cooks quickly, one layer of lasagna can be cooked at a time before cooking the another batch of pasta for the next layer.
- Spread a thin layer of Besciamella on the bottom of a buttered baking dish (9”x 12” or equivalent size) followed by a layer of pasta. On the pasta spread a thin layer of the Bolognese meat sauce followed by two to three small ladles of Besciamella and a generous sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano. Repeat for approximately six layers. Preheat the over to 400 degrees and cook until the lasagna is warmed through and the top browned, but no more than 15 minutes. Let the lasagna rest 10 minutes before serving.