In Rome, Stefano’s mom makes lasagne for special occasions, holiday meals, and Sunday afternoon family gatherings. She uses her homemade pasta, which makes it extra special. Unlike in America, where lasagna tends to be a bit over-worked, authentic Italian lasagne uses several layers of thin sheets of fresh egg pasta, with rich bolognese sauce (ragù) and besciamella (béchamel) in between. There is no ricotta in lasagne alla bolognese. Instead, we use Parmigiano. Stefano’s mom also adds mozzarella, although traditional lasagne alla bolognese does not call for it. According to The Silver Spoon, the addition of mozzarella may come from a southern variation of lasagne, called lasagne napoletane. We have come to appreciate the mozzarella in our lasagne, so we have included it in our recipe.
Warm and comforting, it’s the perfect winter meal. We especially like making up a few pans at a time and freezing them unbaked, so that we can just pull them out in the morning, let them thaw during the day, and bake them for dinner whenever we want. There are always leftovers, and all Italians know that lasagne tastes even better the day after.
Ingredients for one 9×13 pan
For the bolognese sauce
Two 28 0z. cans of whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
1 and 1/2 lbs. ground beef*
1 medium carrot
1 celery stalk
1/2 of a medium yellow onion
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
Salt to taste
For the besciamella
100 g flour (just a bit more than 3/4 cup)
100 g butter (about 4 and 1/3 Tablespoons)
1 liter whole milk
1 dash of salt
1 dash of nutmeg
4 sheets of 9×13 fresh egg pasta, or the equivalent**
2 ovoline of fresh mozzarella, in water (one tub)
1 cup grated Parmigiano***
*Choose ground beef however lean you prefer. Generally speaking, less lean cuts will produce a sweeter sauce. However, we often choose very lean ground beef and do not believe that there is an evident taste sacrifice.
**Homemade pasta is ideal. Alternatively, use store bought fresh egg pasta. Locally, fresh sheets of egg pasta can be purchased at Cossetta’s. Oven-ready, no-boil dry pasta, such as Barilla’s lasagna, will work, too.
***Buy a wedge of real Parmigiano Reggiano, and grate it finely. Alternatively, you can use pre-grated Parmigiano Reggiano, sometimes sold in tubs. Bags of Parmesan sold in supermarkets are typically not authentic Parmigiano Reggiano, and please no green Kraft shaker parmesan!
For the besciamella
Prepare the besciamella in advance. Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat, taking care that the butter does not brown. When melted, remove from heat and stir in the flour, mixing with a fork until it forms a paste. Heat the milk gently until warm. Add the milk a little at a time, stirring well after each addition until the mixture is smooth and creamy. When all the milk has been added, return the saucepan to the stove over medium-low heat. Add the salt and nutmeg. Stirring continually to prevent the formation of lumps, allow the mixture to thicken and come to a boil. Remove from heat and let cool.
If you wish, you can prepare the besciamella a day or so in advance. Store in the refrigerator in a air-tight container.
For the bolognese sauce
Chop the carrot, celery and onion and put them in a saucepan along with the olive oil. Sauté over medium heat for 3-4 minutes until the onion becomes translucent. Add the ground beef, along with salt to taste. Allow the ground beef to brown slowly, stirring frequently so that the beef crumbles and cooks finely. Add the tomatoes, passing them through a food mill to produce a smooth sauce. Bring to a simmer, and then add the white wine. Cook uncovered for 3 hours or more at a low simmer, stirring occasionally. If the sauce should thicken too much, a small amount of water can be added. When done, remove from heat, allow to cool slightly. While still warm, taste for salt and add if needed. Set aside.
Assembling the lasagne
Drain the mozzarella and cube it as finely as you can. It will be somewhat messy. Place the cubed mozzarella into a small bowl. If required, grate the Parmigiano and place it in a separate bowl. Pour the besciamella into the bolognese sauce, and stir until well mixed. (Sometimes the besciamella and the bolognese are kept separate, and added to the lasagne in layers. We prefer to mix them together before assembling the lasagne.)
Arrange your workspace so that your sauce, mozzarella and Parmigiano are set out next to your pan and your fresh pasta. Using a ladle, place sauce at the bottom of the pan and spread it around to cover the entire surface area. Add a layer of fresh pasta. Follow with another layer of sauce (We have found that two ladles provides the right amount), a sprinkling of mozzarella and another sprinkling of Parmigiano. Add a second layer of pasta, followed by a second sprinkling of the two cheese. Repeat until you have at least three and if possible four layers. Add a little extra mozzarella and Parmigiano onto your final layer to produce a crispy top.
Bake at 350° F, (180° C) until the cheeses on top are browned, approximately 30 to 45 minutes. Allow the lasagne to sit for 15 minutes before serving. If you prefer, the assembled lasagne can be frozen unbaked. Allow it to thaw before baking.
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