I’m not 100% sure about this, but I think lasagna is my favorite pasta dish. Ever. I want to say it always has been. But unfortunately, I was a rather fickle child known to tell horrendous lies just to get out of eating food I decided I didn’t like for whatever reason. Like, uh, I told my family I was allergic to spaghetti one time. Immediately after polishing off my slice of pizza. [people, those are exactly the same ingredients..] I was a weird kid. But anyways. I’m pretty sure I’ve always liked lasagna, and now I’m sure I LOVE it with all caps. Like, LOVE love. big time.
But the thing is, when we go out to eat, I pretty much never order it. Because it almost always disappoints me. I have dreams of what a beautiful, heavenly, perfect lasagna should be and I’ve only ever found it at two places. Once, at this tiny little Italian place my mom took me to before I left for college, and once in Italy. Duh on that last one. Oh yeah, and then I made some.
Um people, I’m not one for tooting my own horn [just kidding, obviously it’s all I do. so let’s be on with it] This lasagana is AWESOME. Luckily, we accidentally-on-purpose made two entire pans of it. For two people. So we ate one entire pan, and have a second one in our freezer for whenever I feel sad. Or hungry. Or hangry. [er..uh..since I stared working on this post, uh, we ate that second pan. fyi: it was just as good.] I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to always have one on hand, actually…
Perfectly Awesome Lasagna [party from, and inspired by Smitten Kitchen, partly sort of kind of halfway made up..]
so.. this may sound like a lot of work, since it’s kind of like three separate recipes and then assembly, which means a lot of pans which means a lot of dishwashing, but what I’m telling you is: it’s so damn worth it. I promise. Plus, you can make parts of it a day or so in advance if you want to, which cuts down on work time the day of. But it’s kind of also an awesome Sunday activity if you ask me, and having fresh homemade lasagna leftovers for lunch will make your Monday feel a lot less like, well, Monday..
- 2-3 carrots, finely chopped [3 if you have normal sized ones, 2 if you have mondo-humongo carrots like I did]
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped [um, if you keep a better stocked pantry than me, go ahead and add in a couple celery stalks. I just never have the darn stuff on hand]
- 1 lb ground beef
- 28-oz can tomatoes [chopped or whole, doesn’t matter. if you buy whole, give them a rough chop beforehand]
- red wine
- olive oil
- handful of fresh basil and parsley
- 1 tsp italian seasoning
- salt and pepper
- bay leaf
It doesn’t get any easier than this: Heat up a large, heavy bottomed saucepot over medium heat. Add in a couple big glugs of olive oil. Get it nice and hot, then throw in your onions and carrots [and celery if you have it]. Let this cook for at least 15 minutes, so it gets some color on it. Then toss in your meat, stir it around, and let that get all nice and brown. Don’t stop and don’t turn down the heat, just let it get reeeaaal brown. Once your meat is properly browned, pour in a big ol’ glug of red wine. Go nuts. Just pour it straight out of the glass you’re drinking from. Then get yourself a refill.
Pour in the tomatoes, and turn down the heat to low. Add in your [dried] italian seasoning and a bay leaf. Pop a lid on that sucker and let it get up to a simmer. Once it’s simmering away, taste it for seasoning and add in salt and pepper as you see fit. You could add in some crushed red pepper, that’d be great. Then let it cook for a bit longer. How long? As long as you feel like. The longer it goes, the deeper and more delicious the flavor will get. I let ours go for about an hour or so. Add in the fresh herbs in the last 15 minutes of cooking so they don’t get too sad looking.
You can totally make this sauce a day in advance and stick it in the fridge overnight. You could also make a double batch and freeze the leftovers for next time. Or spaghetti night. Whatever.
Bechamel (from Smitten Kitchen)
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup flour
- 4 cups milk
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- pinch of nutmeg
- pepper to taste
Melt your butter over low heat in a saucepan. When it’s melty and bubbly, toss in your flour and whisk it around really good. Let this cook about a minute. Then slowly add in your milk. I mean, real slowly, and whisk it the whole time you are adding milk. Once you have a sauce and not flour-clumps, you can add in the milk faster. Add it all in, keep on whisking, and let it cook until it thickens and looks like something you want to eat right this very second. It should coat the back of a spoon. Add in your salt, garlic, nutmeg and pepper, whisk it up, turn off the heat and set it aside. Easy peasy. This is the one thing that you’ll definitely make the day of, though.
Fresh Pasta: A half batch of this homemade pasta recipe will be plenty. You can make it a day in advance if you like. Follow the directions up until the roll-it-out step. Then cut it into squarish-rectanglish pieces. Boil and salt [and throw in a tablespoon of olive oil too] a big ol’ pot of water. Boil your squares, a few at a time, for one single minute. ONE single minute is all it takes. Scoop them out with a slotted-type-apparatus and lay them flat on some parchment or waxed paper. It’s fine if they are still wet, and because you put oil in the water, they shouldn’t stick together so it’s cool to lay them on top of one another. Repeat this until all your pasta is cooked.
You’ll need: Your bolognese, your bechemel, your par-boiled pasta sheets, and about 2 cups of parmesean or pecorino romano cheese, grated.
What you’ll do: Preheat your oven to 400F. Get a 9X13 casserole dish , or something like it, and get excited. Spread a scoop of the bechemel on the bottom of your pan, and top it with as many squares of pasta as it takes to cover the bottom. Top that pasta with a whole bunch [maybe a cup?] of your bolognese, then drizzle that with a scoop of your bechemel. Top that with a generous handful of parmesean. Then start on your next layer. You’ll keep doing this [pasta, bolognese, bechemel, cheese, repeat] at least four or five times. I think we did at least 5. It depends on how thin you rolled your pasta and how generous you are with your sauces between layers. Save some bechemel and cheese extra for the top. When you reach the top, top your last layer of cheese with another layer of pasta. Then throw on the last of your bechemel and a very hefty helping of cheese. [at this step, if you are for some reason, a genius, and making extra of this lasagna, you can double wrap the pan with plastic wrap and freeze the whole dang thing. then you can just either a) defrost it in the fridge overnight before cooking it, or just throw it in the oven as it starts to warm up ie: while the oven is preheating and bake it a little longer than required]
Pop this sucker in the oven and let it cook until the top is brown and buckled and bubbly and cheesy and makes you want to cry in joy. This should take about a half an hour, maybe a little longer. Once it looks heavenly, you’re going to want to take it out and show a modicum of self-restraint. Don’t cut into it just yet. Let it sit for at least 10 minutes to set.
Oh who are we kidding. Dig in! You’ll burn your mouth on the cheesy, creamy, tomato-y goodness. But we both know you don’t mind. Because goodness gracious, this is just hands down the best pasta dish you’ve ever had, inn’t it??