What started out as a curiosity turned into an intense interest and then became an obsession. What was the object of my obsession this past weekend? Crafting the best possible lasagna, of course!
For the past few weeks, I have been completely absorbed in my work during the day and intense study during the evenings and weekends as this past quarter of my MBA capstone course wound down. Highly analytical, critical thinking and problem solving consumed my every waking moment.
But you know what? I function at my peak when I balance the left and right sides of my brain! To find balance, I cooked like a madwoman the past few weekends. I decided to make a few meals for the busy week ahead… including one of my favorite soup recipes and this new lasagna! I originally was going to just make a bolognese from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, but I ended up making the whole lasagna, including a béchamel sauce.
It’s a process to make this lasagna, but the actual assembly goes very quickly once the pasta, bolognese & béchamel are ready! Please make sure, if you ever take the time to make a homemade lasagna, to enjoy it with a good glass of wine. I chose a 2013 Cabernet Franc, which I found at a recent wine tasting. (I also used it in the Bolognese sauce). Enjoy!
Baked Spinach Lasagna with Meat Sauce, Bolognese Style
Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan
Bolognese Meat Sauce
Homemade green pasta dough or purchased fresh lasagna sheets
2/3 c. freshly grated parmiggiano-reggiano cheese (or Romano cheese)
1. Set a bowl of cold water next to the stovetop. Bring 4 quarts of water to a rapid boil, add 1 T salt, and as soon as the water begins to boil, add the lasagna noodles, 3-4 at a time into the water. Use a “spider” or small colander to scoop the noodles out of the pasta after about 2-3 minutes maximum. Plunge the strips into the bowl of cold water, then run under cold running water, Place on a towel to dry.
2. Preheat the oven to 400 F.
3. Spray bottom of lasagna pan with cooking spray and about 1 T. béchamel. Line the bottom of the pan with a single layer of pasta strips, cutting them to fit the pan.
4. Spread meat sauce & béchamel in a thin layer over the pasta. Sprinkle on the grated Parmesan. Then add another layer of pasta, cutting to fit the pan. Repeat until there are at least 6 layers of pasta. Leave a little sauce to spread over the top layer. Sprinkle the top with parmesan.
5. Bake on top rack of oven for 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven, allow to set for 10 minutes, then serve.
Bolognese Meat Sauce
(I would double this recipe if you prefer a very saucy/meaty lasagna)
1 T canola oil
3 T butter
1/2 c. chopped onion
2/3 c. chopped celery
2/3 c. chopped carrot
3/4 lb. ground beef chuck
salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 c. whole milk
1 c. dry white wine
28 oz can imported Italian plum tomatoes, juice reserved
1 Melt oil & butter in a large dutch oven. Add chopped onion and sauce until translucent. Then add carrot & onion. Cook 5 minutes, stirring well.
2. Add ground beef, a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir & ‘chop up’ the beef with a wooden spoon, until cooked through.
3. Add milk and let it simmer until soaked into the meat almost completely. Add a tiny grating of nutmeg and stir.
4. Add the wine. Let it simmer until evaporated, then add the tomatoes. Once tomatoes begin to bubble, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 3 hours, stirring occasionally. Add the reserved tomato juice to the pot throughout the long simmering period.
4. Season to taste with salt & pepper. Set aside for making the lasagna.
3 c. milk
6 T. butter
4.5 T. flour
1.4 tsp. salt
1. Put milk in saucepan, turn heat to medium low and bring milk to an “almost boil.” (a ring of bubbles will form around the edge of the pan)
2. While milk warms, place a large saucepan over low heat. Add butter. once melted, sift in the flour, stirring with a wooden spoon to eliminate any lumps. Cook, stirring constantly, 2-4 minutes. Remove from heat.
3. Whisk hot milk into flour-butter mixture 2 T. at a time. Whisk continuously. Continue whisking in milk, 2 T. at a time, until about 1/2 cup has been added. Then, whisk in 1/2 c. increments of milk, until all is incorporated.
4. Heat the pan over low heat and gently stir in salt. Allow to cook undisturbed until sauce thickens. Use immediately for lasagna.
Green Pasta Dough, a photo story:
Green (Spinach) Pasta Dough
1.5 c. unbleached flour
2 large eggs
1/2 of a 10 oz bag frozen spinach, thawed & excess water squeezed out
Make a well in the flour. Add eggs and spinach.to the flour well Gently begin to incorporate the spinach and egg together with the flour in a large bowl with a wooden spoon until a shaggy, wet dough is formed. Turn dough out onto a floured work surface. Kneed the dough by hand, adding flour as needed, pressing with the heel of your palm and turning the ball of dough in the same direction (i.e. clockwise), for 8 minutes. (THIS IS GREAT STRESS RELIEF!)
Cut into 6 equal parts. Cover each piece with plastic wrap.
Place pasta machine on the widest setting. Working with one piece of dough at a time, run it through the machine. Fold the dough in on itself and run through the widest setting once more. Repeat 1-2 times if necessary. Reduce the width between cylinders to a more narrow setting. Run the dough through at this setting twice. Reduce the width between the cylinders a final time. Run dough through 2-3 times to attain desired thinness.
Set prepared pasta sheets on cookie sheets (optional: lined with plastic wrap). Cover either with damp paper towels or plastic wrap and use immediately.