Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Now here's a dish I don't make too often, as it's quite time-consuming. But the last time I made it I realized that if you invest the time you end up with a large amount that can serve many meals. I made a double recipe, of which I gave half to friends, ate two meals with my husband and still have three large portions waiting for us in the freezer. So in terms of mpms (mouthfuls per minute), the effort is worth the trouble (as opposed to my experience making gyoza, sadly!)

The first time I made lasagne I used a recipe from a German cookbook of Italian food. Why that would be less authentic than my usual French or American sources I don't know, but I was prejudiced about my recipe from the first. I was thus quite surprised to find out later it comes very close to various authoritative recipes. One of these -- why do I consider it authoritative, since I don't know the author? Probably the style it was written in -- makes for an amusing read. It's a reader's comment on a recipe in Simply Recipes.

When you talk about making Lasagne bolognese, the real work is the bolognese sauce (or ragù). The rest is assembly, which takes a bit of time but is fairly mechanical. The true bolognese sauce takes hours of simmering.

A few changes I make to the recipe
- I use Marcella Hazan's tip of salting the meat before cooking it, and then cooking the meat in half a cup of milk before adding wine, as apparently the wine's acidity does something (I forget what) to the meat
- I use a great trick from the Dean & Deluca cookbook: whereas Marcella Hazan tells you you can't be serious unless you make your own pasta, the Dean & Deluca cookbook says there is a shortcut, which perhaps doesn't match the excellence of homemade pasta but does turn out a decent result: take no-boil pasta sheets and boil them for 3 minutes before adding them to your lasagne. Since I'm not about to make my own pasta (wait, why not? Oh, yes, because not only do you have to make the pasta, boil it, but then you also have to gently wash it under running water to get rid of the starch... forget it!), I'm very happy with this method.
- I'm less and less sure that mozarella belongs in the lasagne, so I put much less than the recipe calls for.

Recipe: Bolognese Sauce (or Ragù)
Source: Echt italienisch kochen, by Marieluise Christl-Licosa

[I doubled all quantities.]

- 2 onions
- 2 carrots
- 2 branches celery
- 100g Speck
[that would be bacon? May not be necessary or completely authentic]
- 600g mixed ground meat
[I forget the proportions other books recommend. I think 2/3 beef and 1/3 pork. I ground some boneless pork-chops myself.]
- 600g tomatoes
[I use canned tomatoes.]
- 200g butter
[Now this quantity of butter seems a little insane. I usually decrease it but last time did not. I don't know if it added to the flavor but it certainly didn't detract from it or make the overall dish feel greasy.]
- 2 cups dry red wine
- 2 cups strong meat broth
[I've stopped making my own broth, for some reason. Despite this post about how easy peasy it is to make. But since I dread the strong flavor of bouillon, I omitted the broth and used a combination of milk and the juice from the tomatoes instead]
- Salt
- Pepper
- Milk as needed

Peel the onions, the carrots, clean the celery, and chop them very fine together with the speck. Mix in well with the meat [salt the meat first]. Peel and puree the tomatoes [I simply crushed my canned tomatoes with a fork]. Slowly melt the butter in a large pot, cook the meat in the butter until it has lost its color. Then pour the red wine [see my note above, I start with milk]. Stir regularly [fleissig!] until it [the wine, the milk] has evaporated.

[Now this is much easier said than done. I never know how long to wait. It seems to take forever for these liquids to evaporate. At some point I always give up on seeing all the liquid disappear, and continue with the recipe.]

Add 1/2 cup of broth and let it simmer at low heat, occasionally adding the rest of the broth. Once this is also evaporated [yeah, right], add the tomatoes, salt [not too much at this stage], pepper, and with enough milk to cover the solids.

Let the sauce simmer at very low heat for 3 hours. If necessary add broth or milk to thin it. Correct seasoning.

[Bear in mind, what's long is not the 3 hours of simmering. At that stage you don't need to babysit the cooking much, except for an occasional stir every 20 min. or so. What is long is all the work until you get to the simmering.]

Recipe: Lasagne al forno (or Lasagne Bolognese)

[again, doubled]

1 recipe Bolognese sauce above

Béchamel sauce made from
- 100g butter
- 100g flour
- 1 liter or more milk
- Salt
- Pepper

- 800g green lasagne sheets (no boil)
- Melted butter
- 2 Mozzarelle
[Less, or none]
- 6 TB grated Parmesan
- Small pieces of butter

Prepare the meat sauce or defrost it. For the Béchamel sauce, melt the butter in a pot, add the flour and let it "sweat" as you mix constantly, slowly add the milk [I prefer to heat the milk to boiling and then pour it in more rapidly], while whisking vigorously with a wire whisk, to avoid lumps. Add salt and pepper. Let it boil briefly. The sauce should not be too thick. If necessary [I always find it necessary] add some milk.

Prepare the lasagne sheets as described on the package, [or see my note above. I boil them 3 min. in a large pan of water].

[A note about organization: I find it helps to have everything laid out around me to build the lasagne: top left of my stove, a pan of boiling water, simmering away, to which I regularly add 3 sheets of pasta at a time, turning them over once so the top one gets cooked as well. You may have to add water as it evaporates away. A timer nearby to time the 3 minutes of boiling. Right, a plate to put the semi-boiled pasta sheets on, using a spatula. Scissors on the plate to cut some of the pasta to fit the size of the pan. Left, the béchamel. In the middle, my lasagne pan. Right, the bolognese sauce. Each sauce has its own spoon. And somewhere handy, the cheese(s) and pepper.]

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Butter a rectangular pan. Spread one spoonful of Béchamel, then make a layer of noodles, with as little overlap as possible. [Cut the last sheet of lasagne to shape with the scissors.] Add some meat sauce, enough to cover thinly the pasta. Then spread a layer of Béchamel. [I was a bit stingy with the Béchamel last time, worried this sauce would taste bland and floury, but that made my lasagne a bit too dry. So don't drown your dish in Béchamel, but don't be too apologetic about using it.]
Sprinkle pieces of Mozzarella [if using], grate some pepper on top, and sprinkle with Parmesan. Repeat until the pan is full or all ingredients have been used.

[In the top-most picture here I actually had 5 layers, though as I cut out the first portion I lost the bottom layer to the pan.]

Cover the last sheet of pasta with Béchamel sauce. Sprinkle little pieces of butter. [The recipe doesn't say to sprinkle Parmesan on this last layer but I do]. Place in pre-heated oven and depending on the thickness of the Lasagne bake for 30 to 40 minutes.

[Other recipes recommend baking for shorter amounts of time. I would say no more than 30 minutes.]


zorra said...

It looks mouthwatering!
I never add Mozarella in a Lasagna, but I'm not Italian. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Astrid is BACK!

tanya d said...

I missed you! Looks yummy. Per Cook's Illustrated, I soak my no-boil lasagna noodles in hot tap water for 20 minutes while I'm prepping the other stuff. Works like a charm. I've never been entirely happy with the bolognese though, so maybe I'll stop being lazy and try yours.

Anonymous said...

Makes me hungry just looking!
Glad to see you back, you hve been missed!

Astrid said...

Oh dear, I thought I answered everyone's comments but apparently it didn't take...

Zorra - Thank you for stopping by, and for the input on whether or not mozzarella belongs in Lasagne! I think you're right...

Anonymous - I have a hunch who you are, thanks for your visit!

Tanya - What, the woman who can diligently boil apples for 12 hours to make apple butter can't possibly be lazy when it comes to bolognese!

Helene - Thank you for your comment!

Anonymous said...

Now you're getting onto the roadway to a man's heart. I'm waiting for your vegetable receipes. Those deserts look so great that if I could reach them I would overindulge. But lasagne and all the other 4 square things I am sure you have in store for us, that's going to make for a balanced diet. And don't forget, vegetables are an artist's and photographer's delight.

Astrid said...

Hi anonymous -- Glad you like the latest recipe. Don't worry, as soon as I start a vegetable-oriented blog, you'll be the first to know! In the meantime this one makes no pretense at focusing on healthy fare, you'll notice it's described as "Explorations in baking (or cooking)..." But true, I did welcome suggestions for improvements, and I guess changing the subject matter might be considered an improvement by some.

Alfred LARGANGE said...

Basically food porn...

I tried lasagna once with freshly grated zucchini and replaced the bechamel sauce by a cream made of milk, flour and a bit of sourcream.