Home - is where I want to be / But I guess I'm already there /I come home -
she lifted up her wings /
Guess that this must be the place...
- Talking Heads, "Naive Melody"

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Thoroughly Awesome Lasagna

Giada probably doesn't call it that. Or maybe she does, I wouldn't know. Fall has landed in New England with a resounding thump, and with it the need for Serious Food. Lasagna is not something I make very often, because for some reason I am constitutionally incapable of making it with shortcuts like jarred sauce, and also because there's just the two of us eating it, and we have to eat it all week. I solved the latter problem by issuing an invitation on Facebook to anyone who wanted to drop by, with the result that my sister-in-law and her husband joined us for dinner.

This recipe is indeed a serious lasagna, an all-afternoon, many-pot project with results that are absolutely worth it.  I thought when I started it that I had made it before, but the deeper into it I got, the more certain I was that I hadn't. It is not a light recipe by any means--the four cups of whole milk for the bechamel being just the start--but a pan of this can easily feed eight people, so any one portion is probably not too bad. Or so I tell myself. Judge for yourself:

Classic Italian Lasagan - Giada de Laurentiis

Tomato Sauce:
1/2 c extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
Salt and pepper
2 32-oz cans crushed tomatoes
2 bay leaves
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, optional

  1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until soft and translucent, 5-10 minutes. 
  2. Add celery and carrots and season with salt and pepper. Saute until soft, 5-10 minutes. 
  3. Add tomatoes and bay leaves. Simmer over low heat until thick, about one hour. 
  4. Remove bay leaves and check for seasoning. If still acidic, add butter, one tablespoon at a time, to round out the flavors. 
  5. Puree sauce in a food processor (I didn't puree it--I don't mind little bits of veggies in my sauce--but if you must have a smooth texture, go right ahead.). Allow to cool before using or freezing.
Makes 6 cups. (You will have some left over after making the lasagna.)

Bechamel Sauce:
5 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 c all-purpose flour
4 c whole milk at room temperature
Pinch of nutmeg
1 1/2 c tomato sauce (see above)
  1. In a two-quart pot, melt the butter over medium heat. When completely melted, add the flour and whisk until smooth, about 2 minutes. 
  2. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Continue to simmer and whisk over medium heat until the sauce is thick, smooth, and creamy, about 10 minutes. You want it thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. 
  3. Remove from heat and add the nutmeg and tomato sauce. Stir until well combined, check for seasoning. Set aside and allow to cool completely.
1/4 c extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb ground beef
1 1/2 lb ricotta cheese
3 large eggs
1 lb lasagna noodles, cooked al dente
2 10-oz packages frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
3 c shredded mozzarella
1/4 c freshly grated Parmesan
  1. Preheat your oven to 375F.
  2. In a saute pan, heat olive oil. Add the ground beef and brown. Drain off any excess fat. Set aside and allow to cool.
  3. In a medium-sized bowl, mix the ricotta and eggs. Set aside. 
  4. In a 9x13 baking dish, spread 1/3 of the bechamel sauce. Arrange pasta sheets to cover the bottom of the dish. Evenly spread all of the ricotta mixture and then all of the spinach. 
  5. Arrange another layer of pasta sheets and spread all of the ground beef on top. Sprinkle 1/2 of the mozzarella on top of the beef. Spread 1/3 of the bechamel on top.
  6. Arrange the third layer of pasta sheets and top with remaining bechamel, mozzarella, and Parmesan.
  7. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the lasagna dish on top, cover, and put on the middle rack of the oven. Bake until the top is bubbling, about 30 minutes. Remove cover and continue to bake another 15 minutes.
This dish was made, by the way, on a day that was mostly owned by sheer chaos. JJ woke up around 4:30 and didn't want to go back to sleep (he eventually did, but not until well after his parents had decided to just get up already). I took him to the grocery store later in the morning, and somewhere along the way he lost a shoe.  After lunch, he threw up. Many trips to the plaza were made--for new shoes, for wine, for light bulbs to replace the two we lost in twenty-four hours, for things I forgot on my first grocery trip, and then yet one more trip when I realized I was out of sugar to make the frosting for the cake (which may appear here later).

Dinner, however, was wonderful.

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