This is what I made for dinner on Sunday — we ate it on Tuesday for game night and have been enjoying it for lunch through this week.
I’d read the recipe a while ago at the (glorious!) Smitten Kitchen, and decided to try it for myself. I’m pretty sure this is the first lasagna I’ve made in a decade or more. And it was quite a feat!
Me being me, I made some changes. The meat sauce is supposed to simmer for 4-6 hours — no way. I made it and cooked it down until the parts were ready to assemble, maybe an hour total. I also added two links of Aidell’s chicken-apple sausage to it, which added a richer, slightly sweet note to the meal. It also makes 8 cups, and I didn’t need the extras, so I halved the recipe. The pasta is homemade in the original, and I substituted Barilla’s ‘no boil’ lasagna instead.
One thing that drew me to the recipe is that is doesn’t use ricotta or mozzarella, which I’d never seen before. But ricotta just gets mealy and mozzarella is pretty bland, so instead we cook up a rich bechamel sauce, and use only Parmesan. YUM.
Here’s the recipe (modified from the original at Smitten Kitchen:
1/2 medium onion, coarsely chopped (1-inch pieces are fine)
1 large or 2 slim carrots, coarsely chopped
2 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound ground chuck, brisket or round or combination
2 links Aidell’s Chicken-Apple sausage
6 oz can tomato paste
1 cup red wine, anything you like to drink (I used Alamos’ Malbec)
Water as needed
2 bay leaves
A few sprigs thyme, tied in a bundle
1 box Barilla no boil lasagna noodles
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 clove minced garlic
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1 2/3 cups grated Parmesan cheese
Make the bolognese sauce: In a food processor, pulse onion, carrots, celery, and garlic until finely chopped. Heat a moderate-sized Dutch oven (4 to 5 quarts) over medium-high heat. Once hot, coat the bottom of the pan with two tablespoons of oil. Once it is hot, add the chopped vegetables and season them generously with salt and pepper. Cook the vegetables until they are evenly brown, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes.
Add the ground beef and seasoning again with salt and pepper. Brown the beef well and again, don’t rush this step. Cook for another 15 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the red wine, using it to scrape up any stuck bits in the pan. Cook the wine until it has reduced by half, about 5 more minutes. Add water to the pan until the water is about 1 inch above the meat. Toss in the bay leaves and the bundle of thyme and stir to combine everything, bringing it to a low simmer. Cook for at least an hour, letting the water steam off and stir occasionally. If its starts to dry out, its ready, but you can add more water and let it cook down.
Discard the thyme and bay leaves.
Make your béchamel: Melt your butter in the bottom of a medium-to-large saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, add your flour and stir it into the butter until smooth. Cook the mixture together for a minute, stirring constantly. Pour in a small drizzle of your milk, whisking constantly into the butter-flour mixture until smooth. Continue to drizzle a very small amount at a time, whisking constantly. Once you’ve added a little over half of your milk, you’ll find that you have more of a thick sauce or batter, and you can start adding the milk in larger splashes, being sure to keep mixing. Once all of the milk is added, add the salt, garlic, nutmeg (if using) and few grinds of black pepper, and bring the mixture to a lower simmer and cook it, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.
Assemble your dish: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a 9×13-inch or equivalent rectangular baking dish, spread a generous 1/4 cup of the béchamel. I mostly use this to keep the noodles from sticking. Add your first layer of cooked noodles, patching and slightly overlapping them however is needed to form a single layer. Ladle 1 cup bolognese sauce over the noodles, spreading it evenly. Drizzle 1/2 cup béchamel over the bolognese; don’t worry about getting it perfectly smooth or even. Sprinkle the layer with 1/3 cup parmesan cheese. Repeat this process — pasta + 1 cup bolognese + 1/2 cup béchamel + 1/3 cup parmesan — three more times, then add one more layer of pasta. You’ll use 5 layers of pasta total.
There are three ways to finish the dish. You can simply sprinkle the top layer of pasta with your remaining parmesan before baking. This makes a very crunchy top. the crunchiest lid. You can also hold back about 1/4 cup béchamel over the top layer of pasta and then sprinkling it with Parmesan. Or you can mix mozzarella and Parmesan and sprinkle that over the top. (We’ll probably try it this way next time.)
Bake your lasagna for 30 to 45 minutes, until bubbly all over and browned on top. When it comes out of the oven, let it rest for 10 minutes before serving it.
I did everything up to the point of cooking and then kept it wrapped in plastic in the fridge for a few days. You don’t need to add any cooking time, but it will definitely end up being more like 45 mins than 30. The lasagna has reheated well for several days, unlike many pasta dishes.