Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The BEST Lasagna

I love pasta. If I could, I'd eat nothing but pasta for the rest of my life (and any kind of cake or cookie or cupcake...yes, I am a junk food lover!). Heck, I run because it lets me eat pasta. Carbo-loading anyone?

Lasagna is one of those always awesome dishes. I've had about seven gazillion different versions, but come back to this one as my favorite. It's Giada DeLaurentis's recipe (and let me just say that life is totally unfair when someone can cook and eat like this, and stay as tiny as she is). I've taken what I like about her recipe and then added my own little spin.

I'm not wild about spinach or ground beef in my lasagna--so I take those out and substitute sausage instead. I keep everything else pretty much the same. This is one of those dishes that takes a lot of time, more than even your normal lasagna, so plan ahead. The bechamel sauce and fresh tomato sauce need to be made earlier in the day, so account for that when you plan for this (total time for this dish, complete with cooling of the sauces, is about 2 to 2 1/2 hours). It's not a throw-it-together kind of meal. Then again, eating lasagna is one of those things that SHOULD take time, not to mention the carbo-nap you'll need afterwards ;-)

Giada's Classic Lasagna--Shirley's Version

Bechamel Sauce:

  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups whole milk at room temperature
  • Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups tomato sauce, recipe follows 
Simple Tomato Sauce:
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 (32-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
  • 2 dried bay leaves
Lasagna Assembly Ingredients
  • 1 pound ground Italian sausage
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds ricotta cheese
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 pound lasagna sheets, cooked al dente
  • 3 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
 First, make the Bechamel sauce. Melt the butter in a large saucepan, then whisk in the flour (I add a bit of salt and pepper here too). Add the milk, whisking as you add it, then cook over medium heat, whisking, until it comes to a boil and thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. That takes about 10 minutes, so just keep whisking. Add a dash of nutmeg (you should always add nutmeg to a white sauce; it helps bring out the flavor). I actually grate the nutmeg in--a little nutmeg nut lasts forever, so it's a good investment and tastes way better than the canned stuff.

To make the tomato sauce, heat the oil, then add the vegetables and cook until softened. Add the tomatoes and bay leaves. Simmer for 15 minutes. Cool. Then use either an immersion blender or a regular blender, and blend the sauce until smooth.

Mix 1 1/2 cups of the tomato sauce into the bechamel. You'll have extra tomato sauce, so save that for another dinner. It freezes well, and also lasts several days in the fridge.

Brown the sausage and cool. In a large bowl, mix the ricotta cheese and eggs. Set aside. Now you're ready to assemble. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place 1/3 of the bechamel sauce in the bottom of the lasagna pan. Layer on noodles. Add the sausage, and the ricotta mixture, more noodles, bechamel, rest of the ricottta (and sausage if you have more) and half the mozzarella. Another layer of pasta, then top with bechamel and remaining mozzarella, and Parmesan. Giada has you put the lasagna pan on top of a cookie sheet lined with foil. A good idea if your lasagna might boil over out of the pan.

Bake, covered, for 30 minutes, then remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown. I found, however, that I needed to cook it longer than this--45 minutes with foil on, then 20 minutes with it off. Might have been my grumpy oven that day, which every once in a while doesn't cooperate with me. Anyway, this is DELISH, and yeah, it's fattening, but not every day is a diet ;-) Speaking of fattening, I have made it both with the extra butter she recommends, and without, and saw no difference, so I took the butter out here. I'd rather eat more cheese ;-)



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