I love pasta, but there’s a special place in my heart for lasagna. This is one of those pasta dishes that takes time and effort, but the end result is amazing and definitely up there among the best of pasta-centric comfort-foods. With a little extra attention paid to the noodles, the sauce, and the cheese, lasagna is a force to be reckoned with.
I approached this dish more with the intent of clearing out leftovers. You know, something simple that would come out reasonably well with little effort while freeing up space in the fridge and leaving no waste. But then I thought, well, I’d still like to play with my pasta maker, so maybe I could make my own noodles? And then, well, if I have these nice veal leftovers, I shouldn’t just use some jarred sauce, since that just doesn’t seem right. And how would it look on the web site? And after a series of little tweaks here and there, next thing you know, I’ve wound up with a whole production for some fresh lasagna: slow simmered bolognese sauce, fresh mozzarella, and Béchamel sauce. So much for a quickie!
Don’t get me wrong though–I have no complaints and this was well worth the time and effort. The sauce did still use some of the leftovers, resulting in an incredibly rich and hearty bolognese sauce composed of osso bucco sauce (oh so delicious!), a ground veal/olive/rosemary mixture, Italian sausage, tomatoes, and some other fresh veggies and herbs. The smell alone was to die for, but oh the taste–the veal essence, the richness of the olives, the herbs–I could have eaten just the sauce for dinner and been happy (and still hungry, sadly 😉 ). The fresh noodles were also a fantastic component–I’m all for fresh pasta, but something about lasagna really allows for the fresh taste of the pasta to stand out. I also learned that my previous ways of making lasagna with ricotta was a big no-no, and instead made a Béchamel sauce, which combined with the fresh mozzarella, made for a really delicious, creamy, rich flavor. With all of this combined, this lasagna was really delicious meal and probably my best repurposing of leftovers yet. Of course, with the leftovers being veal, how could it go wrong? 😉
This is also my entry for this week’s Presto Pasta Nights.
- 1-1.25 lb lasagna noodles (I made my own)
- Bolognese sauce:
- 8 oz fresh mozzarella, shredded/chunks
- 1/4-1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano reggiano
- Béchamel sauce
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
I began working on this the night before, preparing some fresh lasagna noodles (the more often you make it yourself, the faster and easier it becomes!), letting this dry on a rack for about an hour before storing this away until I needed it the next evening. You can of course, opt for store bought noodles instead, but like I said earlier, if there is any dish where home-made noodles really shine, lasagna is definitely it. I’m just saying think about it. 😉
So on the day of, the first thing to work on is the sauce, as this, like all good tomato sauces, requires a good bit of simmering time to become something amazing. So to get started, peel the carrot, and then finely dice it, the celery, shallot, and garlic. Sauté the first three items (the “sofrito”) in a good sized knob of butter for about 8 minutes or so, adding in the garlic at the end for another minute or two.
While you wait on that, grind the sausage down–I just put this through the food processor. Once the sofrito is done sautéing, add in the ground sausage, browning the meat all over as best you can and breaking up any clumps. Since I already had cooked the ground veal/olive mixture from a prior dish, I simply warmed it up during this process, adding it in with everything else only after the ground sausage had browned all over. If you’re doing this fresh, which in all likelihood you are unless you are cooking in the exact same sequence as I am, you’d want to brown the veal pretty much at the same time as the sausage.
Now, time to sauce this up a bit more. I ran right for my jar of leftover osso bucco sauce, scraped off the layer of solidified fat that had formed on the surface, and happily emptied the contents of the jar into the pan, adding in that rich blend of broth, tomato, and most importantly, the succulent essence of veal. I also added in the tomatoes at this point. Give everything a good stir.
While you wait on the mixture to warm up again, add in the remaining items: the dry spices and the sprigs of thyme. Get this simmering actively on medium heat for about 15 minutes or so, and then, drop the heat down to low/medium-low for a gentle simmer for about 2 hours or until the sauce has a consistency you’re happy with, giving a stir here and there.
So as you expect the sauce to near completion, you can get to work on the rest of the lasagna. Start with the easy stuff: get out and grate/shred the cheeses into bowls, start boiling some water to cook the lasagna noodles, lightly oil/grease a baking pan, and preheat the oven to 375?F. Things are going to get a little hectic soon, so its best to have everything measured out and as ready as possible.
Now, working in batches, begin cooking the lasagna noodles in the boiling water. Don’t worry about cooking them all the way through like you would normally with pasta–I cook it for about half the recommended time (so for freshly home-made pasta, that’s about 3 minutes, but store-bought, more like 5). It will be more al dente than usual, but don’t worry, it will be cooking more in the oven later, so it will all work out in the end. Set the noodles aside as you finish cooking them so that they can drain off a bit, but take care not to stack them directly on one another or else they’ll stick and become a real pain to work with.
While you’re working on the noodles, you should also be working on the Béchamel sauce. You can’t really prepare this far in advance, so you’re stuck waiting until pretty much the last minute on this one. Luckily, this doesn’t mean much in the way of extra cost or effort. Simply heat up the milk in one pot (or just zap it in the microwave) and in another, make a white roux by cooking the flour and butter, stirring and cooking for about 3 minutes or so. Then, simply add the warm milk, whisking until the sauce is silky smooth, seasoning with salt and pepper and warming gently for just a few minutes to thicken up a little bit, and then get it off of the heat.
As the noodles dry, begin building the lasagna. Lay some noodles across the bottom of your baking pan to cover the bottom. Then, spread some of the bolognese sauce evenly over the noodles, and then top this with some of the Béchamel. Sprinkle on some of the grated Parmigiano, the fresh mozzarella, and finally, begin another layer of noodles. Repeat this process until you run out of everything (hopefully, you did well with estimating how much bolognese, Béchamel, etc you needed for each layer, but if you didn’t, don’t worry if every single layer doesn’t have the same amount of everything. Nobody will know!), finishing the entire thing off with a layer of noodles on top and a small amount of bolognese sauce with a light dusting of Parmigiano.
Transfer this to the oven for 25 minutes. My top layer noodles were a little broken up, so some of the edges curled up and crisped a bit, but no harm done–if you want the perfect presentation, just don’t you go doing that. 😉
Once time is up, simply get it out of the oven, carve a slice, and enjoy!