Lasagna Bolognese, Sorta.

Damn fine lasagna.

Who doesn’t love lasagna? I certainly do — just saying the word conjures up a sense of satisfaction and hazy memories of my bygone childhood. Lasagna is comforting, filling, meaty, cheesy. Lasagna is unhurried, conversational, and smile-inducing. Lasagna is luxurious, lasagna is Garfield.
True Lasagna Bolognese is a time-consuming dish of relative simplicity: tender pasta sheets baked with meat and tomato ragu layered with a nutmeg-scented béchamel. Topped with a dusting of parmesan cheese, the dish is robust but nuanced. Well made, it’s truly soul-satisfying.
In America we’ve turned that sublime dish into a monster. I blame the Mueller’s company for that 70’s pasta box recipe using that thick, ruffled pasta and ricotta cheese, dry mozzarella cheese, and that powdered cheese crap that comes unrefrigerated in that green can. This is the kind of lasagna I remember as a kid, and ya know, it was pretty damn good. Later in the 80’s and early 90’s lasagna morphed from trashy comfort food into a high-end dish of some elegance. All kinds of variations from lobster to vegetarian to artery-bruising meat-lover were to be had. And I’ve eaten and enjoyed all types, but my heart belongs to simple, hearty, tomatoey lasagna.
I wanted to bridge the gap between the more Americanized Eye-talian gut-bombs I remember from my youth and a simpler, more authentic style. So I make a killer ragu with homemade tomato sauce, I try to use excellent pasta, I use béchamel and ricotta and fresh mozzarella AND great parmigiano reggiano.
This takes a little time to assemble, but not all day. Check out my earlier recipe for basic pomodoro sauce, but a decent jarred sauce (like Rao’s or Gorgio’s or Mario Batali’s) is fine. I like to make my own pasta sheets (recipes abound on-line), but if you don’t have the time you can buy fresh pasta sheets from good grocery stores (Whole Foods fo sho!). If you can’t find fresh pasta the dry, no-boil lasagna sheets from Barilla are a very good substitute. If you want to go full-bore on this recipe, make from scratch green spinach pasta sheets! The alternating layers of green, red, and white mimic the Italian national flag and it looks and tastes damn good!

Oh, if you want to omit the pancetta, or change the meats to turkey or tofu, feel free to riff on this. I made it once with a combination of ground turkey and finely minced pressed baked tofu and it was dynamite!
Goes a little something like this…
First make the Bolognese ragu. While that cooks make the béchamel. Assemble the pasta. Bake the pasta. Rest the pasta. Eat the pasta with a salad and good glass of wine.
For the Bolognese ragu you need:
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 ounces pancetta, chopped
½ lb ground veal
½ lb ground pork
½ lb ground sirloin
salt and pepper
½ cup diced white onion
½ cup diced celery
½ cup diced carrots
1 tablespoon butter
¼ cup red wine
pinch nutmeg
pinch cinnamon
4 cups good tomato sauce
¼ cup whole milk
1 scant teaspoon sugar
Adding veggies to the meat. 
In a sauté pan heat olive oil and pancetta over medium-high heat. When the pancetta starts to brown at the edges add the ground meats. Brown all over, flipping and mashing and breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon. Season with a little salt and pepper at this point.
When the meat has rendered out most of its fats, add the onion, celery, carrots, and butter. Brown thoroughly, stirring veggies into the meat. Add the wine and cook for about five minutes or until the aroma of alcohol has dissipated. Reduce heat to low and cook meat and vegetables slowly, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom of the pan periodically, for another 15-20 minutes. Add tomato sauce. Cook another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add milk and cook another 20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the ragu to come to room temperature.
For the béchamel you need:
3 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons butter
1 ½ cups whole milk
pinch of fresh grated nutmeg, maybe a ¼ teaspoon
¼ cup freshly grated aged parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste.
In a small saucepan warm the milk over medium-low heat. In another saucepan melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour to the butter and stir slowly and occasionally with a wooden spoon until the flour foams and the combination (you’re making a roux, didja know?) turns a golden color, about seven minutes minutes. Add the warm milk, whisking while you do it. Heat the sauce until it thickens, about ten minutes, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil and then kill the heat. Add nutmeg, parmesan cheese, and a little salt and pepper.
Remove from the heat and allow to come to room temperature.
Fresh pasta sheets, ricotta, fresh mozz, parm.
For the assembly you’ll need:
Fresh pasta sheets, enough for five layers in 9 x 13-inch baking casserole
10 ounces of fresh mozzarella, cut coarsely into 1 inch pieces
10 ounces good quality ricotta cheese, preferably whole milk
½ cup of freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
1 cup of fresh tomato sauce
extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 375° F.  Now assemble the pasta.
Into the pan, in this order, layer the following…
The third layer, I think. 
• 2 tablespoons olive oil, spread evenly
• 1 cup of ragu
• pasta sheets
• 1/3 of fresh mozzarella, half the béchamel sauce, and a couple tablespoons of parmesan,
            scattered evenly all over
• 1 cup of ragu, spread all over
• pasta sheets
• half the ricotta cheese and a couple tablespoons of parmesan
• 1 cup of ragu
• pasta sheets
• 1/3 of fresh mozz and the other half of the béchamel
• 1 cup of ragu
• pasta sheets
• the other half of the ricotta, the remainder of the mozz, a couple tablespoons of parmesan
• 1 cup of ragu
• pasta sheets
• 1 cup for fresh tomato sauce
• the rest of the parmesan
• drizzle a little olive oil on top

Assembled and ready to go!

Cover the pan with heavy duty foil. Place on a sheet pan and then into the oven and cook for 30 minutes. Remove foil and cook another 20 minutes or until browned on the top.

Let the pasta rest for 20-30 minutes before serving. Now eat and enjoy. And smile.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s