Lasagna, Northern Italian Style

(Adapted from Marcella Hazan, The Classic Italian Cookbook)

Every Italian chef worth his Parmesan lays claim to a killer lasagna.  And who doesn’t love those succulent layers of toothsome pasta, creamy béchamel, meaty ragu and salty Parmesan cheese?  With a little green salad and a hunk of yeasty bread, it’s truly a satisfying meal. This traditional northern Italian lasagna will not fall apart when you serve it but will retain is moist meaty texture.  Be careful not to overcook it or it will be mushy,

The redoubtable Italian culinary doyen Marcella Hazan insists that the pasta be freshly made to provide the structure for the harmonious layering of the ragu and béchamel sauce.  The pasta sheets do not have to be cooked before layering the lasagna if used right away.

Bolognese Sauce [ragu] (makes 2 ½ cups*)

2 T olive oil

2 T butter

¼ cup diced onion

3 T carrots in a small dice

3 T celery in a small dice

1 lb. ground chuck

2 t salt

¼ t freshly ground black pepper

1 cup dry white wine

½ cup milk

1/8 t freshly grated nutmeg

2 ½ cups canned Italian peeled tomatoes, preferably San Marzano D.O.P. certified**

In a 5 ½ -quart Dutch enameled cast iron Dutch oven or stainless steel pot, place olive oil, butter and onions,  Sauté just until onions are translucent.  Add carrots and celery and continue to cook gently for a few minutes.  Break up the ground beef and add it to the pot.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook until meat has lost its red color.  Do not brown.  Add wine and increase heat to medium high and cook stirring from time to time until wine evaporates.

Lower heat and add milk and  nutmeg until milk evaporates.  The milk keeps the meat sweet and creamy.  Stir in the tomatoes and break up with wooden spoon.  When the sauce comes to a simmer, lower the heat to maintain the barest simmer and continue cooking with the cover ajar for 3 ½ hours.  Stir occasionally and taste for seasoning.

*It wouldn’t be a bad idea to double this recipe and reserve half for future use.  It freezes perfectly.

**The D.O.P. seal certifies that the tomatoes were grown and packed in the San Marzano region of Italy.

Basic Egg Pasta (yield: 1 ½ lbs. dough)

3 ½ cups sifted all-purpose flour

4 large eggs

1 T water

½ t salt

Place flour, eggs, water and salt in bowl of food processor with metal blade.  Pulse until dough comes together.  Remove dough from bowl and hand knead until dough is smooth, about 2 minutes.  Divide into 4 balls, cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 20 minutes.  Roll out dough following directions for pasta maker or pasta attachment for Kitchen Aid mixer.  Thin dough to setting of #4 or #5 for lasagna sheets.

Béchamel Sauce (makes 2 ½ cups)

3 cups milk

6 T butter

4 ½ T all purpose flour

¼ t salt

Heat the milk in a small pan until you see bubbles around the edge.  Take off heat.  Melt butter in a 6-cup saucepan.  Add flour and stir with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes.  Take off heat and add milk very slowly at first, stirring continually and then ¼ cup at a time.  Turn heat to low and add salt.  Stir and cook until béchamel thickens to the consistency of yoghurt.

Assembly

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Use a 14-inch lasagna pan.   Cut pasta sheets to fit the pan.  Smear bottom of pan with a little Bolognese sauce.  Include fat skimmed off top.  Arrange a layer of pasta sheets to cover sauce.  Spread enough Bolognese sauce to cover and dot with meat.  Then spread béchamel over meat sauce.  Sprinkle on Parmesan cheese, lightly if béchamel tastes salty, more freely if bland.  Continue layering up to 6 layers and at least ½ inch below edge of pan.  The top layer should be béchamel sprinkled with Parmesan and dotted with butter.  Bake in top 1/3 of oven for 10-15 minutes until a golden crust forms on top.  If a crust hasn’t formed after 10 minutes, turn up heat a little for last 5 minutes.  Set aside to settle for 5 – 8 minutes and serve from pan.   Buon Appetito!

Photographer Bill Brady http://bit.ly/9wFYxm
Food Stylist Brian Preston Campbell

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