Blast From the Pasta

Lasagne

lasagne4

This day was bound to come. When I first thought about blogging comfort food, I considered some of my favorite dishes. Among them were the typical, burger and fries, pizza, ice cream, poutine, etc. On that list was also my favorite childhood comfort food, lasagne. 

lasagne2There’s something about trying to replicate a favorite dish from childhood. Even with the recipe it just never seemed to live up to those fond memories. I guess in many ways it’s not the recipe we seek with comfort food, but the memories.

lasagne3After the realization that that childhood lasagne couldn’t be perfectly cloned, I decided to work on my own version, though inspired by my mother’s. This lasagne has four components, each one with a particular purpose. The pasta is structural, separating all the layers. The meat sauce is a slow cooked ragù that is garlicky sweet with earthy tones of mushrooms, reduced in tomatoes and stock. The béchamel sauce delivers a creamy cheese note as it’s drizzled between every layer. And finally, one layer of cottage cheese to separate the multi-layered casserole. Oh yeah, and a whole lot of mozzarella cheese to bind all the layers together.

lasagne5Lasagne comes in all shapes and sizes, vegetarian, seafood, Mexican… it can be as minimalistic or as complex as you like. My version of lasagne is certainly an adaptation of the standard American lasagne. No matter what direction you take with this baked pasta dish, it only comes down to one thing — taste. Without a great sauce, white, red or green the lasagne will fall flat despite the number of layers piled up.

Lasagne

  • Servings: 8-12
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Print

Ragù:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 450g (1lb) ground beef
  • 150g (about 8 slices) bacon, chopped 
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup mushrooms, sliced
  • ½ cup (125ml) tomato paste
  • 4 cups (1 liter) mushroom stock
  • 3 cups (740g) crushed tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1½ tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp dry basil
  • 1 tsp dry thyme
  • 1 tsp dry marjoram
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper

1. In a large pot over medium-high heat, add olive oil and chopped bacon. Cook until bacon is no longer pink. Then add the ground beef and continue cooking until browned, but break up the meat as it cooks.

2. Add the garlic and stir for about 2 minutes. Then add onions, celery, bell pepper, carrot, and mushrooms. Cook, stirring continuously, for 5 minutes. 

3. Add the tomato paste and stir in, cooking for another 4 or 5 minutes. Now add the mushroom stock and crushed tomatoes. Stir to combine. Finally add the herbs and seasonings. Turn heat down to low and let reduce for 2 hours.

Cottage Cheese Filling

  • 2 cups (500g) cottage cheese or ricotta
  • 2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp sea salt or kosher

Mix all the ingredients together and store in the refrigerator until needed.


Béchamel Sauce

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 cups (500ml) whole milk 
  • 1 cup (250ml) grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp grated nutmeg

1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and cook in flour for about 3 or 4 minutes. The flour should be lightly golden, but not dark.

2. Whisk in the milk gradually to avoid lumps. Bring the milk up to boiling point, then remove from heat. Stir in cheese, salt, and nutmeg. Set aside until needed.

Lasagne (Pasta)

  • 4 whole eggs, room temperature
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

1. Combine ingredients by hand or food processor. Knead for 5-10 minutes. Wrap tightly in plastic and rest in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

2. After resting, cut the pasta into 4 smaller, workable pieces. Flatten each piece out and roll through the pasta machine on the widest setting. Fold dough over twice and roll it through again. Do this laminating process 3 or 4 more times until the dough is smooth and easy to work with. Gradually roll the pasta out to the second or third thinnest setting. This depends on your maker, e.g. If your maker goes from 0-9 roll the pasta out to a 6. Cut the pasta into shorter sheets if necessary.

3. Boil a stock pot full of salted water. Cook pasta for 2 minutes, drain and run under cold water. Work in small manageable batches. 

4. Pat the pasta dry. Now you’re ready to assemble the lasagne.

Assembly:

Additional ingredients:

  • olive oil
  • 1½ lbs. (500g) shredded mozzarella 

To assemble the lasagne, start by greasing a large deep rectangle dish, most often called a lasagne pan, but it doesn’t have to be.

Layer the bottom of the pan with pasta. You’ll have to cut it to make it fit. Then ladle ragù over the pasta, just to cover it. Drizzle some béchamel sauce over the ragù and then sprinkle a handful of mozzarella. Add another sheet of pasta and repeat with ragù, béchamel and mozzarella.

The third layer is the cottage cheese filling. Pour the cottage cheese over the pasta and again add béchamel and mozzarella.

The next three layers will be ragù, béchamel, and mozzarella. When you get to the top, cover with mozzarella cheese.

Cover with a piece of parchment paper and then aluminum foil. Bake for 45 mins. at 200°C. Remove foil and parchment and brown cheese for 5-10 minutes more. Let cool 20 minutes before cutting into.

Tip* Do ahead. Prepare lasagne the day before including the first 45 minute bake. Let cool and refrigerate. The next day slice the lasagne into servings and then bake for 25 mins at 215°C, uncovered. The cheese will brown and the lasagne will be easier the serve with well-defined layers.

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18 thoughts on “Blast From the Pasta

      1. I know what you mean! Sometimes the food that tastes the best does not make for the best photography – that is the challenge! And you did it wonderfully!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. you get my vote- in my book its not a lasagne without streaky bacon and celery (i actually use 50/50 minced beef and minced pork)
    i interested that you tagged it american (did the italians not make it to your liking?LOL)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Yeah, the American tag was more about presentation than anything. I love the classic Italian lasagne, but I’ve never seen or heard of cottage or ricotta cheese in the more simplistic Italian version. Having too many ingredients seems rather frowned upon, particularly in classic dishes. I can certainly respect that, but having that thick creamy layer of cottage cheese to separate the two halves is really that defining feature of a well constructed lasagne. To me, it’s like comparing pizzas …I love both versions, but you’re just not going to find an 18-inch pizza with 10 toppings in Italy. Btw, love that you use a 50/50 mix of beef and pork. I’ll do that occasionally, but it’s generally not rule😃👍

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! The cottage cheese really adds a creaminess to the lasagne, other than the béchamel alone. Maybe it wasn’t the best thing to read before going to bed hungry, but at least you can dream about it!😜👍

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! To make the lasagne not fall apart when served, I recommend cooking it the day before. That doesn’t sound so fresh, but cooling it down completely and reheating it really intensifies the flavor. At the bottom of the recipe is a tip for doing the lasagne ahead.😃👍

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The photos are beautiful – makes my mouth water. I use cottage cheese because it doesn’t overpower the layers. Spinach is also a nice touch a friend has used, skipping any cheese. And you are right, childhood comfort food is more about the memories than the food itself.

    Liked by 1 person

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