Oh sure. You could slap some beef ragu on some penne, maybe mix in a little cream if you’re feeling frisky, and then call it a day. But where’s the love? The comfort? The blood, sweat, tears?? If you want people to think you’re merely average then I implore you to follow through with the above method of entertaining. It’ll get you a solid 3 out of 5.
But not this lady. I want people (and by people, sometimes I mean just me…sometimes it’s all just for me!) to know that I positively slaved over a complicated process that would make even Leonardo cross his eyes in wonderment. And why?
Because lasagna garners RESPECT. You plunk one of those puppies down on the table and there is instant knowledge that you cared enough to spend half a day simmering, brewing, and probably drinking most of the red wine that was supposed to go into the Bolognese, just to make people say “mmmm mmm good.”
SO! Let us begin with the basics. What goes into your lasagna?
Bolognese + bechamel + Parmesan + noodles = tastiness.
You don’t need, contrary to popular belief, mozzarella or ricotta. Of course, these extra blobs of wonderful milk fat don’t hurt anyone (Except maybe your artery friends that are screaming for relief) but they are not necessary components.
Here is how I roll, so to speak:
Gather your troops…
1 largish onion (whatever color is your fav) chopped fine
1-2 cups shredded carrots
5-7 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 bacon, diced
1 lb each ground beef and ground pork (not lean!)
1/4 c tomato paste
1 can plum tomatoes ( cut them a bit with sheers)
1 c whole milk
1 c red wine (plus more for yourself)
1 c water
S + P to taste
1 bay leaf
Optional: thyme, oregano, dried basil….if you want to jazz it up a bit, go for a teaspoon of your favorite
Saute the onion, carrots, and garlic in about 1/3 c olive oil over medium heat until soft. Like so:
Isn’t my Le Creuset so adorable? If I ever give birth to a child half as beautiful as this pot, then I will be satisfied. I just hope it doesn’t come out orange…
Add the bacon, then the ground meats and cook until there is no longer any pink remaining. Reduce the pan with the wine, then add the rest of the ingredients. It will look something like this:
Traditionally speaking, the Italians put like a pinch of tomato paste in. Minuscule amounts. This is not a tomato sauce with an afterthought of meat pitched in. It is a meat sauce with a hint of tomato. The problem is sometimes it can turn out with a little less “sauce” then your average American might hope for. That is why it is essential to simmer for a loooooong time. So simmer it away, go drink a beer, write a poem, play with your gerbil, whatever you feel like doing that takes almost two hours. Feel free to skim off the fat and stir it around, but if you get antsy and want to get the ball rolling sooner, your lasagna is not going to get you as many high-fives as you were hoping for.
Now that you’ve been a good little chef and left it alone for multiple hours, it’s time to make the bechamel. One of the easiest things to make aside from water. You will need:
1/4 c butter (1/2 stick)
1/4 c flour
4 c milk, heated
3 cloves garlic, smashed
pinch of nutmeg
Make the roux with the butter and flour (melt the butter, add the flour and cook over medium heat for about two minutes…this gets rid of any “floury” taste…stir constantly!). Add about 1/2 c milk to the roux and whisk whisk! until smooth. Continue adding the milk slowly. Bring to a simmer (keep stirring, even if your arm is tired. This is no time to be a wuss) and add the garlic, S, P, and nutmeg. The sauce should be thicker by now, so you can turn off the heat and let it cool for a bit.
Now it’s hammer time! Preheat your oven to 375.
For the last Act you shall need 16 lasagna sheets (barilla makes a “no boil” kind. There really is no reason to boil them first, it just makes life harder for you!) and about 1 c grated Parmesan cheese.
Ladle ~1 c. bolognese into the bottom of a greased 13x9x3 pan. Proceed with these layers until you’ve used up all your ingredients:
4 sheets noodles
layer of bechamel (1 cup per layer)
layer of bolognese (2 cups per layer)
1/4 c Parmesan
You will get four layers (16 sheets of pasta come in one box) and a very full pan. I recommend placing the dish on a baking sheet to catch any overflow. Mmmmmm yum.
Pop it in the oven for 45-60 minutes, or until bubbly. If the top gets too brown cover with tin foil.
Now of COURSE the instinct will be to dive in, face first, and burn your skin off in a fit of culinary ecstasy. But you shouldn’t. You mustn’t. Lasagna is so so so so SO much better the next day. The flavors meld, they get a chance to know each other, and the delicious just goes off the charts. So I beg you, don’t touch it.
Don’t. Touch. It.
…but enjoy it when you do!