Well, we certainly don’t. Is there a better dish in the world than good lasagne? Even the word “lasagne” (or is it “lasagna”?) brings a smile to our faces. There is something about a bunch of meat, cheese, béchamel and tomato sauce encased in pasta, and then covered by more cheese, that almost always works. Heck, you can make tasty vegetarian versions of the dish and it will still rock. Hard to go wrong here…as long as you have a good recipe and take your time.
And if there is one drawback to lasagne (beyond expanding waistlines), it does take a little time to make. But not nearly as much as you think. And since you can make a big batch, you can feed your family for a couple of meals. Make lasagne over the weekend and you get an easy night during the week. So you can even view lasagne as a time saver…kinda…sorta. In any event, you get the idea, we think lasagne is a perfect dish to make at home.
The key to a good lasagne is not to accept any short-cuts. You need to make your own meat sauce, béchamel and ricotta mixture. Again, none of these steps are hard, they just take time. You can save some time using “instant” lasagne noodles, if you like. We have run this experiment enough, and don’t see any difference (unless you use fresh pasta). But one of the secrets is to use as little pasta as possible, just enough to keep everything together. That way you get a big dose of tomato, béchamel, meat and cheese (and that is what you want, and what you need).
The recipe we use is adapted from a 1980 Palo Alto Junior League cookbook. We get a little compulsive about buying and/or collecting cookbooks, particularly local charity cookbooks. Many recipes will be total duds, but a few will be true gems. This recipe is one of the gems. And it has withstood the passing of time. We use more fresh ingredients where we can, but we don’t change all that much. Good is good, no matter the age of the recipe. But lasagne is a timeless classic anyway, so somehow a 30 year-old recipe just makes it even better.
(Adapted from a 1980 Palo Alto Junior League recipe)
Notes Before You Start:
- You can use “instant” or regular lasagne noodles. If using traditional lasagne noodles, cook them in boiling water until “al dente”. Then drain and keep in cold water until ready to use.
- The recipe calls for parmesan, mozzarella, teleme and romano cheese. You do need the parm and mozzarella, but you can substitute for the other cheeses, if you like.
What You Get: An awesome dish that almost everyone loves. Leftovers for a few days. A good return on your time investment.
What You Need: No special equipment required.
How Long? A couple of hours, with an hour of active time. None of the work is hard. Have a glass of wine, do your work and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Invite some friends for dinner. Be a hero. Weekend dish.
(Serves 8-10 as a main dish)
Pasta and Sauce:
- 1/2 pound instant lasagne noodles
- 1 pound ground beef chuck
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 pounds canned or fresh tomatoes with their juice
- 2 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Kosher salt
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 4 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup chicken stock
- Kosher salt
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 pound ricotta cheese
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 pinch freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
- 8 oz. mozzarella cheese, sliced
- 4 oz. teleme cheese, sliced
- Unsalted butter
Pasta and Sauce:
- Place a large skillet over medium high heat. When hot, add the olive oil, onion and garlic. Cook until just softening, 1-2 minutes. Add the ground beef and spread it around the skillet, cook until no longer pink, 6-8 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes and herbs, lower the heat to a simmer and cook until thick, about 30-40 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper, as needed. Set aside.
- Soak the instant lasagne noodles in warm water for 5 minutes, or until soft.
- Meanwhile, place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.
- Place a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the butter, and when melted, the flour. Cook, stirring frequently, until a light roux forms, 1-2 minutes.
- Slowly add the milk and chicken stock, bring back to a boil. Cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce is thick enough to easily coat a spoon. Taste and add salt, if needed. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, beat the egg. Add the ricotta, parmesan, nutmeg and salt. Mix until well combined. Set aside.
- Lightly grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Then layer in the following order: a little of the tomato sauce, half of the noodles, half of the remaining sauce, 1/2 cup béchamel, 1/2 cup parmesan, 1/4 cup romano, half of the mozzarella, teleme and ricotta mixture. Then add the remaining noodles and meat sauce, the remaining béchamel, ricotta mixture and the rest of the cheeses- with the mozzarella and a dusting of parmesan on top. Dot with butter.
- Place the lasagne in the oven and cook, uncovered for 30-40 minutes, until bubbly and slightly brown on top. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes. Serve.
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