Friday, February 20, 2009

That's Amore~The Recipes, Main Course

When I consulted my cooks-like-she's-Italian sister-in-law about our menu for an Italian meal, she informed me that lasagna would not be the main course, but would precede the meat course. Without recounting all our limitations, let me just say that we served lasagna for the main course. And in my opinion, this fantastic Tuscan lasagna is worthy of being a main course.

Though lasagna has long been a favorite dish at our house, I had never made a lasagna recipe like this one, and now that I have I doubt I will ever make any other kind. Taste-testing our pre-banquet prototype, my family LOVED this lasagna. Tayta went so far a to suggest that we alter our traditional Thanksgiving dinner menu to Italian, serving lasagna instead of turkey--it was that good!

This Tuscan lasagna is made with a Bolognese Ragu (meat sauce) and a Besciamella (white sauce). Following are the recipes for each and then, instructions on how to but the lasagna together.

Tuscan Lasagna

Bolognese Ragu ~ a traditional recipe from Bologna

1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 stalk of celery, finely chopped
These should be minced very fine.

1 Tbsp. butter

8 oz lean ground pork

8 oz lean ground beef (or,16 oz. ground lean beef and no pork, as I used)
3/4 cup dry red wine

100 grams pancetta (an Italian bacon, however this was delicious even omitting the pancetta)

13 oz. or 400 grams canned tomatoes, chopped
salt and pepper to taste (at least 1tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper)

Saute the minced vegetables in butter for 5-7 minutes, until very tender. Add the pork/beef/pancetta and saute for 2-3 minutes. Slowly add the wine to moisten and cook until it has evaporated. Stir in the tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cover and leave to simmer gently for at least one hour, stirring frequently. Do not allow the sauce to stick to the bottom of the pan. If sauce is too soupy after one hour, continue to cook longer. If too dry, add a little water 1/2 cup at a time, until the right consistency is reached. Best if cooked 4 hours.

(This sauce is pretty meaty, and not too tomato-y. I simmered mine on the smallest burner, on low, flame and checked it frequently; I had to add 1/2 cup water once or twice. I cooked my sauce for about an hour.)

Besciamella (White Sauce)

1 liter milk
a sprig of fresh parsley
a pinch of nutmeg
1/2 an onion, peeled and sliced
6 black peppercorns
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup plain flour
150 g freshly grated Parmesan or Grand Padano cheese
225 g. mozzarella cheese, grated
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the milk, parsley, nutmeg, onion and black peppercorns into a pan and bring gently to a boil. While the milk is heating, make a roux by melting the butter in a third pan, adding the flour, and cooking cooking it slightly until it bubbles. Back to the milk which has just scalded/boiled: strain the milk and add it a ladle full (I poured the milk in slowly with one hand, while whisking it with the roux with the other) at a time, stirring it in well until you have a thick smooth white sauce. Simmer for a couple of minutes while stirring then take off the heat, add the Parmesan and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Putting it all together:

In Italy, lasagna starts with sheets of fresh pasta*, topped first with meat ragu then white sauce (besciamella), then a sprinkling of Parmesan** and repeat until you run out of meat. Keep back enough white sauce for a final layer, then top with white sauce and mozzarella. Sprinkle on top chopped sage(or thyme) and drizzle with olive oil.
*I used dried and cooked them ahead of time.
**I only put the grated cheese in the sauce and didn't sprinkle between layers.

Big Picture: pasta, meat sauce, white sauce, pasta, meat sauce, white sauce, pasta, white sauce, mozzarella, sage

Baking: I baked the lasagna uncovered. When it is heated all the way through, I briefly turned on the broiler to brown the top, leaving the lasagna in the middle of the oven. Watch carefully as it will brown (and then burn!) quickly.

Testimonial: "We made the lasagna for our guests, and they said it was the best lasagna they'd ever had!! Thanks for giving us the recipe!! We loved it!


Deborah said...

This looks like a recipe I will want to try. I am just commenting how odd that you have your measurements in the same recipe listed in cups and ounces, grams and liters! I am not very fluent in the metric system. Reading this recipe is like listening to a multilingual person hold a conversation, slipping into different languages at different parts of the conversation, but seeing it in measurements is a new sensation to me.

desert mom said...

Thanks for noticing the oddity, Deborah, and I'm sorry I didn't. As for the grams, 100 grams wold be about 4 oz (a little less) and the 225 grams of mozz. cheese would be about half a pound, or 8 oz. Hope that helps.

desert mom said...

Oh, and a liter is just about a quart. For this recipe it is fine to substitute quart for liter.