I read an article in the NY Times recently about how as a society we no longer value the benefits of personal interaction. We are so addicted to our little gadgets that even dinner is no longer really dinner because as soon as one person stops to text, check their email, or even take calls, the whole table also pulls out their phones. The author of the article quipped that the dinner table is really just a chance for a mass of people to gather and engage in a big old thumb wrestling contest with their little gadgets. Then as soon as one person puts their phone away, the rest follow suit. and the conversation moves on as if nothing happened. It’s so funny because it’s so true. A majority of people can rarely go a full day without their gadgets, myself included. I definitely feel like there’s something missing when I do not have my phone. This brings me to my point which is: Italian cooking. Italian cooking, when done totally from scratch, presents an amazing opportunity to put everything down and just concentrate on the intricacies of the food, the smell, the ingredients, the taste. It demands your attention. Not to mention it is amazingly satisfying to know you made an entire meal with your own hands. Is it time consuming? Of course, but that’s the beauty of it. It’s a chance to put everything down and put all your attention on this one thing.
The day we made this dish, it was absolutely miserable outside. There were 50 mile per hour winds, sheets of rain, and an angry ocean, but inside a Bolognese sauce was simmering lazily just waiting for the paper thin green noodles we were putting through the pasta roller. Lasagna made the “American” way, I have come to find out after making this, is so overstuffed and the noodles are so starchy. Properly made lasagna should have delicate noodles and not be overly stuffed. You should be able to taste the flavors you worked so hard to put together. A typical lasagna lasts two people about 3 evenings, that’s 2 nights without cooking, so why not take the time to make something you can enjoy and be proud of?
These recipes are from the book Essentials of Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. We ended up getting the book as part of of the free gift from Bed Bath and Beyond for buying the All Clad Stainless Steel cookware set (we also got a free All Clad lasagna pan and a pair of oven mitts!!). While the pots and pan are very very awesome, the book is even more fantastic. It outlines the history of Italian food by region, the many ingredients, and of course gives the recipes, three of which I used for the lasagna. The Bolognese Sauce doesn’t have to only be paired with the lasagna. The people of Bologna also enjoy this sauce with tagliatelle, a very wide noodle because it soaks up the sauce so well.
At last, here are the recipes needed to make this wonderful lasagna.
What you need to know before starting:
The Bolognese needs to simmer for at least 3 hours, so start that earlier.
About 2 hours before you want to eat, start making the noodles. You may need less time…we’re slow.
About 30 mins before you want to eat, make the white sauce.
1- Full amount Bolognese Meat Sauce (See below)
2- Bechamel Sauce (See below)
3- Green Pasta dough (See below)
4- 1 tablespoon salt
5- 3/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
To prep ahead:
1/2 cup chopped onion
2/3 cup chopped celery
2/3 cup chopped carrot
1 1/2 cups canned plum tomatoes, cut up with their juices
3/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese (refrigerate for the lasagna later)
Bolognese Meat Sauce
1- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (don’t use olive oil because it imparts too much flavor)
2- 3 tablespoons butter
3- 1/2 cup chopped onion
4- 2/3 cup chopped celery
5- 2/3 cup chopped carrot
6- 3/4 lb ground beef chuck (80% lean)
7- Salt and pepper
8- 1 cup milk
10- 1 cup dry white whine (ex- Chardonnay)
11- 1 1/2 cups canned plum tomatoes, cut up with their juices
1- Add the oil, butter, and onion to a small saucepan. Turn the heat on medium and cook until the onion is transparent. Add the chopped celery and carrot and cook for another 2 minutes. Make sure to coat the veggies well.
2- Add the ground beef with a large pinch of salt. The salt helps to draw the juices from the beef. Break the meat up and cook until all of the redness is gone.
3- Add the milk and let it simmer. Simmer until all of the milk is evaporated (no more white should be visible). Add a dash of nutmeg at this point and stir).
4- Add the wine and let it simmer until it has evaporated. You’ll be able to tell this has happened by both sight and smell.
5- Add the tomatoes and mix everything together. Allow the sauce to begin to bubble, once it does, turn the heat down to a very low simmer. You should only see the intermittent bubble. Cook uncovered for three hours or more. Give a good stir every so often. If the sauce begin to dry out while cooking, add a 1/2 cup of water. This didn’t happen to me though. At the end of the 3 hours, taste the sauce and add more salt if needed. Don’t be afraid of the salt.
While this simmers, go do something fun! If you need to leave while the sauce is simmering, turn off the heat and leave, but not for too long. Continue simmering upon your return. Be sure to finish the sauce in the same day.
At 2 hours before dinner, start the noodles.
1- 1/3 package frozen leaf spinach, cooked in a pan with a small amount of water and wrung totally dry. Chop into small pieces. The spinach won’t look too appetizing after it’s dry, but it’s going straight into the dough.
2- 2 large eggs
3- 1 1/2 cups flour
1- Put the flour on a clean work surface. Create a well in the middle. Add the eggs and the spinach to the well.
2- With a fork, beat the eggs and the spinach. As you beat the eggs, draw in the flour. As soon as the eggs are no longer runny, start using your hands to draw in more flour. Don’t draw too much in at one time. Continue drawing in flour until the dough is no longer sticky. Chances are you will not use all the flour on the table.
3- Wash your hands. To test the dough for doneness, stick your thumb in the dough, if it comes out clean, it is ready for kneading.
4- Kneading: Knead for 8 minutes. When kneading, make sure to go in one direction. Fold the dough in half, turn, fold, turn, fold. Go like that for 8 minutes. The dough should be as smooth as a baby’s butt when you’re done.
5- Now for rolling the dough out. You can either hand roll or put it through your pasta roller. Either way, you want the dough to be paper thin. Flour the dough before rolling so it doesn’t stick.
6- After rolling, lay the noodles on a towel. You can cut the noodles later. We were a little afraid because we had so few noodles when we first rolled them out. We ended up making the lasagna in a smaller pan in order to build up the layers. In the end, we had 6 layers. After all the noodles are on the towel, start the Bechamel Sauce (See Below).
1- 2 cups milk
2- 4 tablespoons butter
3- 3 tablespoons flour
4- 1/4 teaspoon salt
1- Bring the milk to the point of boiling over medium low heat.
2- In another pan, melt the butter. Over low heat, mix in the flour with a wooden spoon. Continue mixing until it is dissolved. Do not let it turn brown.
3- Take the pan off the heat and start adding in the milk, 2 tablespoons at a time. Stir until the milk is dissolved then add another 2 tbsp. Continue in this method until you have added 8 tbsp total. Then add a 1/2 cup at a time.
4- Place pan back over low heat, add the salt, and stir constantly until the mixture is thick.
5- If not ready to use yet, place the mixture over a double boiler and set the heat as low as it will go. Stir every so often.
Now cook the pasta and prepare the lasagna.
To cook the noodles:
1- Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Add salt. Bring back to a rolling boil.
2- While the water boils, put a second bowl with cold water next to the pot on the stove. Also put a clean towel on a work surface.
3- Add the noodles, allow the water to come back to a boil, and boil for a few seconds. Take the noodles out, plunge in the cold water, and then run them under cold water. Put the noodles on the towel to dry for 5 minutes.
Prepare the lasagna:
Preheat the oven to 425.
1- Coat the bottom of the pan with white sauce. Stir the remaining white sauce into the Bolognese Sauce.
2- Place noodles on the white sauce, spread Bolognese on top of the noodles, followed by a layer of cheese. Continue like this (noodles, sauce, cheese).
3- Bake for 15 minutes. If after 8 minutes, you don’t notice a crust forming, boost the heat up by 15 degrees.
4- Remove and let sit for 10 minutes before serving! Serve with bread, salad, and the rest of the wine from the Bolognese!
Enjoy eating and savour the time spent creating such a fabulous meal!
Oh and for dessert, it’s chocolate fudge brownies with peanut butter frosting.