Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bolognese and Béchamel Lasagne

This lasagne recipe is not just the most perfect lasagne, it may be the most perfect food (providing you’re not a vegetarian). This recipe is adapted from Marcella Hazan’s (from Essential Classic Italian Cooking). It is the one that my mother always uses, and the one that she taught me

The Bolognese sauce takes such a long time, and requires such attention, you will feel like you are doing something very special for your family and friends when you prepare this (it takes at least 3 hours). Having to create two different sauces for one dish leaves you feeling quite continental; you use béchamel in place of any cheese.

I’ve had more than one boyfriend persuade me into altering the recipe to closer resemble their own childhood lasagnes (adding mozzarella, ricotta, garlic, oregano, etc). And guess what? Not as good. Not even close. Because, simply stated, this dish is a masterpiece. You cannot tinker with a masterpiece. 

Bolognese Sauce
1 TB extra virgin olive oil
3 TB butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
2/3 cup chopped celery
2/3 cup chopped carrot
3/4 pound ground beef (not lean - higher fat content will make the sauce, or
ragù, sweeter)
1 cup whole milk
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
1 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 C canned Italian plum tomatoes, cut in with their juice
Put oil and butter in a large heavy pot with chopped onion over medium heat. Cook and stir onion until translucent. Add chopped celery and carrot. Cook for 2 minutes more, stirring the vegetables to coat them well.
Add ground beef, a large pinch of salt, and a few grindings of pepper. Break up the meat and stir well, cooking until the beef has lost its raw, red color.

Add the milk and let simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely. This can take a while. Add the 1/8 tsp of grated nutmeg and stir.

Add the wine and let simmer until it has evaporated. 

Add tomatoes and their juice and stir thoroughly to coat all ingredients. When the tomatoes begin to bubble, turn heat down so that the sauce cooks at the laziest simmer.

Cook uncovered for 2- 3 hours, stirring from time to time. I use a wooden spoon to break up the giant tomato pieces occasionally as the sauce cooks. 

Taste and correct for salt.

Béchamel Sauce
4 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 cups milk (heat in microwave 30 seconds)
1/4 tsp salt 

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, and turn the heat to low. When the butter has melted completely, add all the flour, whisking as you add. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes. This is called a roux. As you draw the whisk across the bottom of the pan, if the roux is thick enough to expose the bottom for a second or two it’s ready for the next step. Don’t let the roux brown. Remove from the heat. 

Off heat, add 2 tablespoons of hot milk to the flour and butter mixture, and whisk until incorporated. Repeat this procedure until you have used 1/2 cup of milk. Continue to add milk, now at 1/2 cup at a time, thoroughly stirring until incorporated after each addition. (Or in Marcella's words: "Stirring steadfastly, until you have smoothly amalgamated all the milk with the butter and flour.") Adding the liquid off heat will help prevent lumps from forming. 

Return the pan to low heat, add the salt, and continue to stir without stopping until the sauce is as "dense as thick cream."  If you find any lumps, beat the sauce rapidly with a whisk.

1 box of lasagne noodles (or fresh noodles if you're really talented and fancy)
2 TB butter
freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

Preheat oven to 400.
Prepare lasagne noodles. 

Spoon some Bolognese off the top (where some oil is separated) and ladle into the bottom of your lasagne dish. Line the bottom of pan with one layer of noodles.

Cover the noodles with a layer of the Bolognese, then a bit of the béchamel on top of that (it will not cover the whole layer – just ladle a few stripes). Sprinkle some grated Parmesan, then add another layer of noodles. Repeat the procedure of spreading sauce and Parmesan and noodles. Leave enough B
échamel sauce to spread a thin layer on top at the end. Sprinkle with Parmesan and dot with butter. (This can be made up to 2 days in advance and refrigerated.) 

If you have Bolognese left over, freeze it (it’s great on all pasta, but is traditionally served with tagliatelle).

Bake lasagne on top rack until golden crust forms on top, about 10 or 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 min. before serving.

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