I’m loving the cooler weather. That means I can use the oven to bake yummy foods while taking the chill out of the air in the house. The Fall days have been nice enough to open the sliding glass door during the day. Each season in the Midwest has a special scent. The fallen leaves, mixed with the morning dampness makes for a lovely smelling day. Fall is just plain nice!
Today I made a Lasagna Bolognese. My friend had a baby and I promised her a dinner of her choice. She chose well: Lasagna, Caesar Salad, and Chocolate Cake. Today I baked and tomorrow I will deliver. Also, I’ll be able to get my hands on that new little baby. Heck of a deal.
This lasagna is from the Tuscan region where not so much mozzarella and ricotta cheeses are used in the lasagna. Instead, a besciamella (bechamel) with sprinkles of parmesan cheese are used. This makes for a creamy texture with a hint of parm. Traditionally, the sauce is cooked for a few hours but I have tweaked the recipe to make it easier and faster. More importantly, it is very tasty. You will not miss all the cheese.
I discovered the bechamel recipe while watching The Cooking Channel’s Extra Virgin, hosted by cute couple Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar. I had done bechamel before and this recipe is by far the easiest and best I have found. It will take a bit of time…fifteen to twenty minutes. Lots of stirring. Just grab a beverage, pull up a stool, and stir away. I let the sauce simmer and the pasta water come to a boil while I was making the bechamel. Once it was done, I pulled it off the heat and was ready to set up my lasagna assembly line. I made two pans. One for us and the folks and one for my friend. This recipe freezes very well.
adapted very liberally from Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar, serves 8 generously
1 pound ground beef
1 pound Italian sausage (if linked, remove casings before cooking)
1 large onion, chopped
2-28 ounce jars of good store bought pasta sauce
6-8 oz. shredded cheese of your choice: Italian mix, Mozzarella, Parmesan, or any combination of cheese you like
1-16 ounce box of regular lasagna noodles or the no-boil noodles, your choice (you may or may not use all the noodles)
In a very large skillet, cook the ground beef and the sausage on medium high until cooked thoroughly. Drain and discard any fat. Add the chopped onions and reduce the heat to medium/low and cook until the onions are soft and translucent. the heat down to low and pour in the two jars of sauce.
Let simmer while you cook (or not) the lasagna noodles and make The Bechamel Sauce.
Note: I cook my lasagna noodles about 9 minutes in the boiling water, then transfer them to a large bowl of cool water. They are not cooked all the way and are easier to handle and to cut to whatever length I need. That’s why the sauce needs to be more juicy than thick. If you are using the no-boil noodles, make sure the noodles are covered well by the sauce. Don’t leave any of the noodles exposed.
The Bechamel Sauce
by Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup all purpose flour
4 1/2 cups whole milk (can use 1 can evaporated milk and the remainder of skim milk making up the 4 1/2 cups)
a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon. Gabriele’s note: This is an important moment, as you have to slowly toast the flour without burning it. This will help you lose the “floury” taste.
Warm up the milk and gradually ladle into the sauce pan with the butter and flour mixture, whisking constantly while bringing the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.
It will thicken nicely. Season the sauce with the nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Keep tasting to make sure it is seasoned properly AND the “floury” taste is gone. If you can taste the flour, keep stirring and cooking. As soon as you do not taste it any more, it is done.
Assemble the lasagna:
Spread a small amount of the meat sauce in the bottom of a greased 9 X 13 baking dish or two 9 X 9 baking dishes.
Now a layer of noodles.
On top of the noodles, spread a good layer of meat sauce and then drizzle about three ladles of The Bechamel Sauce. Sprinkle some of the shredded cheese…don’t go crazy, just sprinkle about a good handful.
Another layer of noodles.
Repeat with meat sauce, bechamel, and cheese.
Another layer of noodles and finish with the remaining meat sauce, bechamel, and cheese.
Bake uncovered in a 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes. Let set about 10 minutes before cutting and serving. Buon Appetito!