Today’s Reader Guest Post for The Holiday Project:
Lori from San Diego, California
[Lori and I LOVE to share meals with one another and try to find time to cook together when we can. She's so much fun, and I just love it when she's around. Hope everyone had a lovely Christmas!]
Hello fellow foodies and readers of Life Tastes Like Food! My name is Lori and I loooove food. I love to make it, bake it, watch it, talk it, read about it, and I have discovered I also like to write about it! Thank you Stephanie for letting me participate in your Holiday Project and for all the wonderful food memories we have shared!!
So it’s the day after Christmas. You are exhausted and if you are like me have just spent practically the entirety of the last 2+ weeks in the kitchen baking hundreds of cookies and preparing two huge delicious holiday meals…BUT…the family is still hanging around!!! At this point, you just want to be done!! This could be the meal for you (next year, I guess). This delectable lasagna can be made a couple of days before and then all that is left is popping it in the oven and in an hour you will have amazed all, with yet another incredible meal that feeds plenty!!! But be warned… it’s a button buster! And of course it can also be made all year round–this folks, is comfort food at its finest!
I have always enjoyed a good lasagna, but this… this is different…. this is one of my favorite meals, period. The main difference between this and what my mom use to serve up is no Ricotta! Instead this has a creamy, cheesy béchamel layer that puts this lasagna into a whole different kind of good category. The basis for the recipe came from an Italian (stallion) my friend met at a bar, and of course, they some how started talking about lasagna (typical bar chatter). He assured her that we have royally screwed up this dish in the states and that the tasteless tub of ricotta belongs no where near a good a lasagna (his words, not mine). She raved about it so much, that by the end of that day I found myself making lasagna! I was a convert. The other aspect of this lasagna that makes it so good is the Bolognese sauce. I have searched and searched the web, not to mention recorded just about every food network show with “Bolognese ragu” in the info in hope of finding one that really blew me away. I have since created a version of many combined ideas (I think taking the best ideas from everyone) and created my own, best thus far Bolognese ragu!
- Lasagna noodles; 1 box
- Mozzarella; sliced 1 lbs plus some (add as much as you’d like)
- Fresh basil
- Olive Oil (to coat the bottom of the pan)
- Onion (yellow or brown); chopped 1-1.5 cups
- Carrots; chopped 1-1.5 cups (although found in many Bolognese recipes many people still look skeptical when I tell them I put carrots in my red sauce, but trust me it balances the acid from all the tomato with a very subtle cooked carrot sweetness)
- Garlic; minced 5-6 cloves although I have been known to use a whole bulb (I love garlic!)
- Sausage; combination sweet and hot Italian 2 lbs
- Mushrooms; 24 oz. (optional)
- 1 small can tomato paste
- dried Italian seasoning or combination or your preference of dried herbs 1 Tbs
- red wine; 4 cups (usually I just completely submerge the contents of the pot)
- canned tomatoes; 6 cups (I usually use a combination of crushed, cubed, and tomato sauce)
- fresh herbs and 1-2 bay leaves
- salt and pepper to taste (salt as you go!)
Béchamel (courtesy of Mario Batali)
- Butter; 5 Tbs
- All-purpose flour; 4 Tbs
- Whole milk; 4 cups
- Grated parmesan cheese; ½-3/4 cup
- Nutmeg (freshly grated!!); ½ tsp or to taste
- Salt if necessary (make sure you taste, often the parmesan is salty enough!)
Preparing the Lasagna
This lasagna is definitely a labor of love, but well worth it! Always make the Bolognese first because that should cook as long as possible! I usually start early in the day and just let this simmer until I am ready to use it, or I even make it the day before and at night I just let it sit covered on the stove top (off) until assembly time!
I am a firm believer that everything is better with garlic and onion. However, I am extremely sensitive to onion when chopping and these onion goggles, although they may disqualify me from any sexy chef competition, have saved me from a good cry or two. Previously I had been caught wearing my lab goggles in the kitchen, and as my room mate who ran to grab the camera will tell you, those were much much less flattering. Oh, and did I mention Paula Dean owns a snazzy pair of hot pink ones?!
For the Bolognese, coat the bottom of a dutch oven with good quality olive oil. Once the oil is hot add the carrots and the onions. Cook until just soft and beginning to brown. Make a well in the middle of the dutch oven and add the garlic. You want the garlic to get direct heat to really release its flavor and oil. Heat = flavor. We will use this technique for everything up until the wine.
Let these cook until they almost make a paste, 10- 15 minutes. We don’t need chunks of vegetable in this lasagna we need flavors, and those brown bits off the bottom of the dutch oven are flavor gold!
Make another well and add the sausage, breaking it up in to little bits. Cook through. Make another well and add the mushrooms until just tender. I usually salt and add dried Italian seasoning through out this process. Form your last well and with the sausage juices and oil that forms in the middle, almost fry the tomato paste, this will add depth of flavor and mellow out the strong acidity. Stir to coat the entire contents of the pot with the tomato paste. Then add the dry red wine making sure to save at least enough for you to enjoy a glass while cooking! And as Alton Brown has engrained into my head “never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink!”). I usually add enough wine to just cover everything, but you can add more or less. Let simmer until the wine has been reduced to half, stirring occasionally so the bottom does not burn.
Now it is time for the canned tomatoes. Add tomatoes, fresh and dry herbs, bay leaves, and salt. Let simmer for at least 1 hour, but the longer the better.
About 2 hours before dinnertime is when I start preparing everything else. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the lasagna noodles and make sure to undercook them. While the lasagna sits and bakes we want the noodles to have room to absorb some of the extra liquid from the Bolognese sauce. This also ensures firm but tender noodles in the final product. While the water is heating, prepare the béchamel.
You will need two sauce pans. Heat the milk in one sauce pan, and never look away! Dairy can go from calm to rapid- overflowing- huge mess- boil over disaster in seconds. In the other sauce pan, prepare the roux by melting the butter and whisking in the flour continuously until it becomes a golden sandy color.
Then slowly add in the heated milk one ladle full at a time, whisking continuously. Bring this mixture just to a simmer and then whisk for another 10 minutes. Add the parmesan cheese and freshly grated nutmeg and salt if necessary. At some point during this process, hopefully your water for the noodles came to a boil and you added the noodles and drained them. If not, no worries and do it now.
Congratulations, at this point all there is only assembly and cooking!
In a deep 9×13 pan add a thin layer of the Bolognese sauce, then a layer of noodles (3-4 noodles will fit in each layer depending on your pan size, don’t overlap too much). On top of the noodles add the béchamel, the mozzarella, Bolognese, and fresh basil respectively. Repeat until you run out of room! For the top layer cover all exposed noodles with Bolognese and then top heavily with mozzarella. Sprinkle heavily with dried herbs.
Let this set for 10-20 minutes as time allows, because I know at this point you are probably starving. (I always make a roll up to eat right then with an extra noodle and the two sauces to hold me over). Cover with foil and bake in a 375 degree over for 50 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling up between the noodles. Uncover and broil until the top layer of cheese is a perfect golden brown. Let set again for 10 minutes covered. Serve and enjoy!!!!!