La Lasagna

Lasagna

The amount of work required to make a real lasagna is quite immense. There is a lot of preparation involved in making up all the different elements before you get to the point of assembly. The real traditional recipe from Ferrara uses far more ingredients, including pancetta, prosciutto, pork loin, chicken livers, truffles, and cream, not to mention peas! Here is my toned down version of that recipe, which I feel is somewhat more accessible to most. In any case, Italians choose to make lasagna for special occasions, given the labor of love involved.

Ingredients

Pasta

  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 6 large eggs
  • or
  • cups ready-made dried lasagne

Filling

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped fine
  • 1 large carrot, chopped fine
  • 1 large celery stalk, chopped fine
  • 1 lb fresh lean ground beef or veal
  • ½ cup dry red wine
  • 2 cups strained canned tomatoes
  • a handful of dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in warm water for at least 1 hour
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Béchamel Sauce

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • cups milk
  • a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 4 oz mozzarella, cubed
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Method

  1. Make the fresh pasta according to the recipe. Roll out the dough until paper thin, then cut into rectangles about the size of your palm.
  2. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta in batches of about three at a time and cook briefly. As soon as the pasta rises to the surface of the water, slip it out with a slotted spoon and lay it carefully on a wet, clean cloth.
  3. Keep the cooked pasta moist under wet cloths until required for assembling the dish.
  4. Make the filling. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the onion, carrot, and celery and fry together for about 10 minutes, then add the ground meat and fry gently until the meat is well browned.
  5. Add the wine and boil quickly for 2 minutes, then pour in the tomatoes and stir thoroughly. Return to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer and leave to cook slowly, stirring frequently, for about 90 minutes. Drain the dried porcini mushrooms and roughly chop. Reserve the mushroom soaking water, add the mushrooms to the sauce, and stir.
  6. Strain the water in which the mushrooms were soaked through a double layer of paper towels or cheesecloth, then add this to the sauce. Season to taste, stir, and let simmer for an additional 1 hour.
  7. Prepare the béchamel sauce by melting the butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and mix together until a yellow paste is formed. Pour in all the milk and beat to prevent lumps forming. Add salt and nutmeg to taste and simmer gently for about 15 minutes, stirring constantly. When the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, remove it from the heat and cover the surface with a little cold water to prevent a skin from forming. Reserve until required. As soon as the tomato sauce is ready, you can begin to assemble the dish.
  8. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cover the base of a large baking dish with a thin layer of béchamel sauce, then cover with a layer of pasta sheets, then a layer of tomato sauce, a sprinkling of mozzarella cubes and some of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, and finally another layer of béchamel sauce. Continue until you have used up all the ingredients, ending with a layer of Besciamella and a final sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano.
  9. Allow to stand for about 10 minutes before baking in the oven for 30 minutes. When the lasagna comes out of the oven, allow it to stand for at least 5 minutes before cutting it into portions.

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