Lasagne Bolognese al Forno

IMG_8905This is one of my most favorite things to cook. And yet, this also is one of the most tiring things to cook. Lasagne isn’t something you simply make on a whim and expect to be eating within an hour. If you want to eat around 6:30pm, expect to start cooking around 3pm.

Every time I have made this dish, it has taken a lot of effort. The trip to the grocery store to gather the myriad ingredients from across the store takes time. The preparation of vegetables, meat, tomato sauce, and the slow simmering of the ragu takes nearly two hours. The making of the béchamel sauce takes additional time. The assembly of the lasagna is repetitive and meticulous. And then, after assembling the layers of the lasagne, you still have to throw it in the oven to bake for 35-40 minutes. Turning away from the oven, you see the sad state of your kitchen. It looks like a tornado joined forces with an earthquake and unleashed hell onto the food preparation area. Sorry friend, nature is not to blame. You are the one who made the mess so while the lasagne bakes, you begin to clean up the mess you made. Have I given you enough reasons not to make this dish?

Here’s the reason why you should make this lasagne. Look at the picture above. The lasagne looks simple and comforting, doesn’t it? Just look at it… all portioned out on a plate with a piece of garlic bread and some vegetables (for health). It’s classical comfort food. But making it was not comforting. It took a lot of time to prep the vegetables, build the ragu, simmer it down, make the béchamel, assemble the lasagne, bake it and then serve it. So much time and effort! That time and effort are the special ingredients that cannot be bought in a store, cannot be rushed, cannot be substituted, cannot be short-cutted. The hours of work you put into making this dish is what makes this comfort food so comforting. Not just when you eat it, but when others eat it as well. I enjoy seeing the look on people’s faces when they eat my food. I like when my food brings joy to people. I like seeing their stress fade away, if only for a moment, and be replaced with comfort because the food tastes good. It tastes good because you took the time and the effort to make it taste good.

And for the love of God, please don’t put ricotta in your lasagne. I like ricotta, but not in my lasagne. Traditionally lasagne was made with béchamel, and for good reason too, as it adds a creaminess and a richness to the lasagne that you simply won’t get with ricotta.

The “sauce” is ragu bolognese which is just a combination of carrots, onions, celery, pancetta, ground meat simmered with tomato sauce and wine. Combine this ragu with béchamel and you’ll never want lasagne with ricotta again.

Lasagne Bolognese al Forno
 
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Recipe type: Comfort Food, Dinner
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6-8
Ingredients
Ragu Bolognese
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 medium size carrots, peeled
  • 3 ribs celery
  • 1 yellow or red onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 lb ground veal
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 lb pork (or mild italian pork sausage)
  • 4 oz pancetta, diced
  • 2 cans San Marzano tomatoes, crushed
  • ½ tube tomato paste
  • 1 cup red wine
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tbsp dried italian herbs (oregano, basil, thyme, marjoram, parsley, etc.)
  • ½ tbsp crushed red pepper flakes
Bechamel Sauce
  • 5 tbsp butter
  • 4 tbsp flour
  • 3 cups milk (whole)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • black pepper (optional)
Lasagne
  • 2 boxes no boil Barilla Lasagne sheets
  • Grated Parmesan cheese (I like the asiago, fontina, and parmesan cheese combination from Whole Foods)
  • 1-2 cups shredded mozzarella (or as much as desired to top the lasagne)
Instructions
Prepare the vegetables
  1. Roughly chop the onions, celery and carrots before putting them into a food processor. Pulse the vegetables until they are very finely chopped. Heat a large dutch oven over medium high heat, add extra virgin olive oil. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the onions, celery and carrots and season with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and dried herbs. Cook until the vegetables start to brown, approximately 10-15 minutes. Add the veal, pork, beef, pancetta to the pot over high heat to brown the meat. Add the tomato paste, canned tomatoes, wine and simmer over medium-low heat for 90 minutes. Stir occasionally, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat.
For the Bechamel sauce:
  1. Place the milk in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat to warm until just about to boil. While the milk is heating, in a medium saucepan, heat the butter until melted. Add the flour and whisk until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until the butter and flour combination turns light golden brown, 6-7 minutes. It should smell like popcorn.
  2. Now, add the milk to the flour/butter mixture, 1 cup at a time while whisking until smooth. Continue until all the milk has been added, then bring the sauce up to a boil. Cook for an additional 30 seconds, then season with salt, nutmeg and ground pepper if desired. Remove from heat.
Assembly of the Lasagne
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. In a lasagne pan, spoon in some of the sauce and spread evenly along the bottom. Add a layer of the lasagne pasta, then a layer of ragu, a layer of béchamel, a sprinkling of the grated parmesan cheese. Repeat as desired, then the top layer should be the pasta, béchamel, grated cheese, and some chopped parsley. Sprinkle a layer of shredded mozzarella cheese on top of the lasagne, then bake in the over for 35-40 minutes until the top is lightly golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cook for about 10 minutes before serving

 

 

 

Pasta e Fagioli

IMG_8881This is that pasta dish with the funny looking and funny sounding name, but it doesn’t taste funny; in fact, it’s quite delicious. Pasta fagioli means pasta with beans, and is traditionally served without meat. I’m not gonna do that.

If you look at the picture you’ll notice the fagioli aren’t visible. It’s there, but it’s mixed in with the sauce. I thought the recipe was crazy when it said to take the beans and puree them before adding them to the sauce. But, like the good ISTJ that I am, I followed the recipe and I’m glad that I did. It made the sauce thick, smooth, creamy without the calories from adding cream. Plus, cannellini are protein-rich, high in fiber, vitamins and minerals. The fiber in particular helps to promote healthy cholesterol levels and lower cholesterol.

And while we’re talking about health, there’s also tomatoes, celery, carrots, onions and spinach in this dish. Lots of veggies for health. I opted to use chicken sausage for this dish to continue the healthy eating theme here. This pasta fagioli is not only good for you, but it tastes real good as well.

It’s packed with vegetables, packed with fiber and packed with flavor. Eat up!

Pasta e Fagioli
 
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Chicken Sausage and orecchiette pasta, in a tomato cannellini bean "bolognese" sauce, with spinach
Recipe type: Pasta
Cuisine: Italian, Pasta
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 1 lb chicken sausage (mild or spicy)
  • 1½ cups mirepoix (chopped celery, carrots and onions)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1½ tsp italian seasoning (or just thyme, oregano and basil)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 small pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1-2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 14-ounce can cannellini beans
  • 1 qt chicken broth
  • 1 lb small pasta (orecchiette, ditalini or tubetti)
  • 8 oz fresh baby spinach
  • shaved Parmigiano Reggiano cheese for topping
Instructions
  1. Remove the chicken from its casing, then brown the chicken sausage over medium high heat in a heavy bottom casserole. Remove the sausages from the pan to a bowl with a slotted spoon, discard the extra fat.
  2. Next, puree the San Marzano tomatoes and sauce in a food processor and return back to the can for use later. Drain the cannellini beans, then puree them in the food processor until very smooth. If the bean puree is still too chunky, add a ½ cup of water and puree until smooth.
  3. Saute the mirepoix (carrots, onion, celery), italian herbs, salt, pepper, bay leaf, red pepper flakes (optional), in a little olive oil until the vegetables become soft and fragrant, about 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
  4. Add the pureed tomatoes, pureed beans, tomato paste and chicken broth to the casserole. Simmer for 15-20 minutes.
  5. Add the chicken sausage and pasta and then simmer for another 15 minutes or until the pasta has reached al dente stage.
  6. Add the spinach, mix well and let the spinach leaves wilt into the pasta and sauce.
  7. Serve with shaved cheese and enjoy.

Recipe adapted from A Pinch of Yum.