Saturday, January 21, 2012

Lasagne al forno

A classic of the Italian cucina.  This style of lasagne is a bit different than what most might know -- there's no ricotta, no mozzarella, no basil -- a style reminiscent of the lasagne I enjoyed when traveling in Toscana many years ago. 

It's a bit of work, no question, and requires creating both a pot of meat sauce, and the besciamella, then assembling all the components.  It's well worth making a couple pans of it at once, and freezing what isn't used immediately for another occasion. 

The meat sauce -- ragù alla bolognese
3 lb ground beef (or a mixture of beef-pork-veal, as you desire)
2 carrots
2 celery stalks
6 cloves garlic
1 onion
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 lb button or crimini mushrooms
28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1/2 can tomato paste
10.5-oz can condensed beef consommé
1 c red wine   
Salt and pepper

Create a pestata (a well-chopped mixture) of the carrot, onion, garlic, and celery in a food processor.  In a 5-qt enameled Dutch oven, sauté the pestata in a few Tbp olive oil until softened and slightly colored.   Salt and pepper to taste.  Remove and set aside.

Film the Dutch oven with a bit more oil, and brown the beef (or meat mixture).  Salt and pepper to taste.  Remove and set aside. 

Process the mushrooms in the food processor to a fine mince.  Add to the Dutch oven, and sauté a few minutes until the moisture has evaporated.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Add the tomato paste and cook for a few minutes.

Add back the meat and pestata.  Add the tomatoes, wine, and beef consommé.  Bring to a simmer, then cook over very low heat about 2 hours, until the flavors have mellowed.  If the sauce seems dry, add some boiling water.  Taste carefully for salt and pepper. 

The white sauce -- besciamella
8 Tbp butter
8 Tbp flour
1 qt whole milk
1 Tbp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Melt the butter in a saucepan.  Add flour and cook for a minute or two to make a roux.  Warm the milk (either in a saucepan on the stovetop, or easier, in the microwave), and add to the roux.   Mix well with a whisk to eliminate any lumps.  Cook over moderate heat about 5 minutes until thickened.  Add the Worcestershire sauce, and a few scratches of nutmeg.  Taste carefully for salt – this is very bland, and it will need a fair amount.  Remove from the heat, and set aside. 

Assembling the lasagne
12 oz young provolone cheese, shredded
8 oz pecorino romano cheese
Ragù alla bolognese
2 lb no-boil lasagne sheets

In a roomy oblong casserole, spread about 1 cup of the bolognese sauce on the bottom.  Cover with lasagne sheets.  Cover with more sauce, besciamella, and cheese.  Repeat for several layers, finishing with the besciamella and cheese on top.

Cover the bottom of the casserole with sauce.

Lasagne sheets on top.

More sauce, then besciamella.

Cover with a mixture of provolone and pecorino cheeses.

Repeat, and finish with the cheese mixture.

Cover closely with non-stick aluminum foil.  Place on a baking sheet, and into a 350°F oven for about 1 hour, or until hot and bubbly around the edges.  Check the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer – it should be 130°F or higher.  Remove the foil covering, and bake uncovered an additional 15-20 minutes, until the top is brown. 

Remove, and let stand 20 minutes before serving.  Cut into generous squares and pass grated cheese at the table.

Of course, I neglected to photograph the final product, so we'll have to go with this stock photo.  Mine didn't look all too different....

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