Friday, April 2, 2010

Weekend Recipe: Lasagne Bolognese

American lasagne is heavy and thick -- dense pasta sheets, sweet tomato sauce, acres of ricotta cheese. While it has its place in my life, when I cook lasagna I much prefer this classic Italian version from my favorite cookbook, The Silver Spoon (seriously, this cookbook is incredible). Made with a nearly tomato-less meat sauce, nutmeg-infused bechamel and fresh pasta sheets, it doesn't look very lasagne-like to those used to the Olive Garden, but one bite is enough to make a convert out of anyone.

layers of fresh pasta sheets sandwiched in layers of floury towel, waiting to go in the boiling water

Like many of my weekend recipes, this is a simple recipe but it takes time, especially if you make your own pasta. I highly recommend fresh pasta sheets instead of those horrible dried ones, so if you can find fresh lasagne at your supermarket, that will go a long way toward cutting the preparation time. But if you can't, consider making extra pasta and either putting together two lasagnas or cutting one batch up into spaghetti or fettucine and freezing it for future use. You'll wonder if you're insane while preparing the pasta, but you'll thank yourself a million times a month later when you pull out fresh, homemade pasta and whip up a meal in just minutes. This week, I ended up making four batches of pasta -- using 7 cups of flour and 8 eggs! But now I have a lasagne, a batch of spaghetti and a batch of fettucine in the freezer, and I had a lovely lasagne for dinner. The fresh pasta bakes up so tender, and the un-sauced bits come out of the oven crispy and flaky, not rock hard and inedible -- so delicious, I think next time I'm going to reserve one sheet of pasta and brush it with olive oil and a little Parmesan cheese and bake it plain.

Lasagne Bolognese
from The Silver Spoon, published by Phaedon Press

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 carrot, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 1/4 cups ground meat
scant 1/2 cup dry white wine
generous 1 cup canned strained tomatoes
2 tablespoons butter, plus extra for greasing
1 quantity fresh pasta dough
1 quanitity bechamel sauce
scant 1 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a pan, add the carrot and onion and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the meat and cook until browned, then pour in the wine and cook until it has evaporated. Season with salt, add the tomatoes and simmer for 30 minutes, then season with pepper.

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Grease an ovenproof dish with butter. Roll out the pasta dough into a sheet. Cut into 4-inch squares and cook, a few at a time, in plenty of lightly salted boiling water for a few minutes. Drain and place on a damp dish towel.

Arrange a layer of lasagne on the base of the prepared dish, spoon some of the meat sauce, then some of the bechamel sauce on top, sprinkle with some of the Parmesan cheese and dot with some of the butter. Repeat the alternating layers until all the ingredients have been used, ending with a layer of bechamel sauce. Bake for 30 minutes.

Bechamel Sauce
The secret to this bechamel sauce is nutmeg. Seriously, a sprinkling of this spice really wakes up the sauce and brings out lovely flavors in the lasagne. And I'm now a huge convert to freshly grated nutmeg -- what a difference it makes.

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/4 cup milk
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour. Pour in all the milk, whisking constantly until it starts to boil.
Season with salt, lower the heat, cover and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for at least 20 minutes. Bechamel sauce should not taste floury.
Remove the pan from the heat. Taste and add more salt if necessary and season with pepper and/or nutmeg. If the sauce is too thick, add a little more milk. If the sauce is to runny, return to the heat and add a pat of butter mixed with an equal amount of flour. For a richer bechamel sauce, replace half the milk with the same amount of heavy cream; for a lighter bechamel sauce, add half milk and half water. For gratins, souffles or stuffings.


  1. that looks good but we dont really cook that heavy . I like lasagna but only on weekends and that is the only time I would have to cook.but you did an awesome job !!!

  2. thanks, cathy! it's surprisingly light, especially compared to american-style lasagna. that's why i like it so much.


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