I made this lasagna for dinner last night and it was absolute perfection.
Imagine: a cold, windy night that spoke of winter's insidious fingers. A hot oven, venting the aroma of blistering cheese and slowly caramelizing tomato. Gooey layers of bechamel and meaty ragu enfolded in tender pasta, layered up until it gives way to the crisped, curled edges exposed to the oven's inferno. Like I said: perfection.
This recipe is loosely adapted from Mario Batali's cookbook "Molto Italiano" and is in the style of a Lasagna al Forno.
Serves 6. Total cooking time about 2 1/2 - 3 hours (but worth every second, I swear!).
For the ragu
1 lb of Italian sausage, removed from the casting
4 oz of pancetta, finely diced
1/2 lbs of ground beef
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 large rib of celery, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
4 cloves of garlic, finely diced
1/2 cup of tomato paste
12 oz of diced tomatoes in their juices
1/2 cup of whole milk
1/2 cup of water (or white wine)
1 tsp of fresh thyme
Salt & pepper
To make the ragu: pour about 1 Tbs olive oil in a large pot and heat on medium high. Add the diced onion, celery, carrot, and garlic and saute until translucent but not brown (about 5 minutes). Increase heat to high. Add the sausage, pancetta, and ground beef. Stir and break up clumps with your spoon until the meat is browned. Add the tomato paste, diced tomatoes, water (or wine), and milk. Stir well to incorporate. Add the thyme. Bring the mixture to a low boil and then cover and reduce heat. Let the ragu simmer, stirring occasionally, for about an hour and a half. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings by adding salt and pepper as needed.
For the bechamel sauce
5 Tbs of butter
1/4 cup of flour
3 cups of whole milk (2% may be substituted, but do not use skim)
grated nutmeg & salt to taste
2 Tbs of marscapone cheese
To make the bechamel: in a clean pot, melt the butter and wait until it bubbles/sizzles slightly. Add the flour and stir while it bubbles and sizzles to cook the roux. Add the milk, whisking vigorously to prevent lumps from forming. Cook the mixture over medium to medium-high heat until the sauce thickens and bubbles. Add grated nutmeg and salt to taste. Whisk in the marscapone.
For the noodles
1 package of dried Lasagna noodles
fresh parmigiano reggiano cheese (do NOT substitute pre-grated cheese!!!).
To cook the noodles: bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook 4 lasagna noodles at a time, about 4 minutes each to par-cook.
To assemble the lasagna: layer the ragu, noodles, bechamel, and freshly grated parmigiano reggiano in a large, oven-safe casserole dish. Begin with a thin layer of ragu (enough to just cover the bottom of the dish). Layer noodles (one noodle thick) atop the ragu. Add another layer of ragu (a good, thick portion so that the noodles no longer show through.) Atop the ragu, add a layer of bechamel sauce. Atop the bechamel, add a layer of freshly grated parmigiano reggiano and a sprinkle of sea salt. Repeat this process until the dish is nearly full. Be sure not to skimp on the layers of ragu and bechamel; the idea is to create a thick, gooey layer between each noodle. You should wind up with only about 3 layers of noodles. The final, top layer should be bechamel sauce with plenty of parmigiano grated atop it and sprinkled with sea salt.
Place the lasagna into a preheated 375 degree oven and cook until the dish is bubbling and the cheese on top is beginning to brown (about 45 minutes). Any exposed pasta edges should be crisp. After removing from the oven, let the lasagna rest about 10 minutes (if you can bear it). Serve with wine (to cut the richness) and a simple salad.