Mary Ann's Blog

Trending Now…Lasagne

You know that old saying that everything old is new again. Well that bodes well for Italian food trends for 2020 because everything seems to point to lasagne (yes, that is the correct spelling), making a comeback in a big way. Lasagne is one of those comfort foods whose history goes way back to ancient times with credit for its invention going to the Etruscans, Greeks and Romans. All this conjecture is based on how one defines the words laganon and laganum, thought by food scholars to be the derivation of the word lasagne. We will never know for sure. And the lasagne of old would certainly not be what we know it as today.

What we do know is that lasagne is a table staple when you are craving something really Italian.  But be careful because we have taken this beloved dish and made many revisions to the classic. We have loaded it with meatballs, sausage, mushrooms, tons of cheese, broccoli, kale and drowned it in thick tomato sauce. We have added tofu, chorizo, used the wrong noodles and on and on.

If you want to make the classic, look to the region of Emilia Romagna, often referred to as the gastronomic center of Italy and for good reason. It is the home of fresh, not dried pasta. That means lasagne, tortelli, tortelloni, tagliatelle and more. The dough is rich in eggs, flour and pureed spinach. The sauce is a rich ragu’ simmered for hours and the lasagne layers are thinly spread with ragu and a creamy white sauce. The first forkful is a delightful surprise, light textured, not dense or overly laden with filling. Oh, one more thing…this is a labor of love but the sauces can be made a day or two ahead and reheated slowly before using.

Lasagne Verdi alla Bolognese - Green Lasagne Bologna Style
Serves 8

1 recipe béchamel sauce (see below)
1 recipe ragu sauce (see below)
1 recipe spinach pasta  (see below)
1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Preheat the oven to 350F

Pasta Verde - Spinach Pasta
Makes about 1 pound

10 ounces fresh spinach, stemmed and well rinsed
2 large eggs
3 to 3 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour

Place the spinach leaves n a pot without any additional water; cover and wilt them down; this will take just a few minutes. As soon as it is wilted, drain it in a colander and when cool enough to handle, squeeze it very dry. It is important to get out all the excess water otherwise too much flour will be used.

Place 1/3 cup of the squeezed spinach in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Reserve any remaining spinach for another use. 

Add the eggs and pulse to combine well. 

Add the flour 1 cup at a time and process until a ball of dough forms around the blade that is not tacky or sticky. You may or may not need additional flour. Transfer the dough to a floured surface.

Knead the dough with your hands for two or three minutes then place a bowl over it and allow it to rest to relax the gluten.

To roll the dough, cut it into 4 pieces and work with one piece at a time, keeping the others covered. Use a rolling pin to flatten the dough, then roll it through the rollers of a standard pasta machine; the knob on the side of the pasta machine controls the thinness of the dough. Use a knife and cut the sheets into 4 x 8- inch rectangles.

Have a large pot of salted boiling water ready. Have a large rectangular pan of ice water ready. Have a few cotton kitchen towels ready.

Boil the lasagne strips a half dozen at a time for a couple of minutes; use a slotted spoon to remove the strips as they cook and transfer them to the ice water; when cool enough to handle, blot dry the strips and set aside in single layers on cotton towels.

Ragu Bologna Style - Ragu alla Bolognese
Makes 4 cups

1/4 pound pancetta

1 medium onion, quartered

1 medium carrot, peeled and quartered

1 rib celery, quartered

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 pound ground chuck

1/2 pound ground veal

1/2 pound ground pork

1/2 to 1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

4 tablespoon tomato paste

1/2 cup dry red wine

1/2 cup milk or cream

Mince the pancetta, onion, carrot, and celery together and set aside. 

Heat the olive oil in a heavy duty Dutch oven type pot. Cook the pancetta and minced vegetable mixture over low heat uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the ground meats, salt , pepper, and brown them completely. Stir the tomato paste into the wine and add it to the meat mixture. Simmer the ingredients uncovered for 45 minutes, adding the milk or cream a little at a time to keep the mixture from sticking while it cooks. The milk also lends richness and creaminess to the sauce and tames the acidity.  The sauce should have a thick consistency.

Salsa di Besciamella - Basic White Sauce
Makes 4 Cups

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour

4 cups hot milk

Fine sea salt to taste

Ground white pepper to taste

Melt the butter over medium-low heat in a 1 1/2 quart saucepan; do not let the butter brown. Whisk the flour into the butter and cook it until a uniform paste is formed and no streaks of flour remain. Slowly whisk in the milk. Cook about 10 minutes, stirring slowly until the sauce coats the back of a wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper.

Butter a 14 x 11 x 3 inch deep lasagne pan.

Spread a thin coating of the béchamel sauce in the bottom of the pan.

Place a layer of the pasta sheets over the sauce. Spread another thin coating of the béchamel sauce over the pasta and then a thin coating of the ragu sauce over the béchamel. Sprinkle the top with about 2 tablespoons of the cheese.

Continue making layers as above. You will need at least 5 layers of lasagne noodles.

Preheat the oven to 350F 

Butter a 14 x 11 x 3 inch deep lasagne pan. 

Spread a thin coating of the béchamel sauce in the bottom of the pan. 

Place a layer of the pasta sheets over the sauce covering the bottom; overlap the pasta if you have to. Spread another thin coating of the béchamel sauce over the pasta and then a thin coating of the ragu sauce over the béchamel. Sprinkle the top with about 2 tablespoons of the cheese.

Continue making layers as above but reserve about ½ cup of the béchamel sauce and 1/3 cup of the cheese for the top layer. Be sure to spread the sauce evenly over the top layer to completely cover the pasta.

Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake about 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until the lasagne is hot and the top has a nice crust. Cool slightly before cutting into squares to serve.

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