lasagna bolognese

Whether you've ordered it at restaurants, dug into homemade pans on a holiday, or enjoyed the ease of a Stouffer's frozen version, lasagna is comfort food to the max. In my world, lengthy labors of food love are also comforting to my brain, so I took on a fully-from-scratch lasagna project — well worth the effort.

There are about a million recipes for lasagna out there, and about as many people ready to argue over what constitutes real lasagna. I'm sure I'm offending someone's Nonna with my version, but I can promise you no tastebuds were offended in the making of this dish.

I took the full liberty of making this dish 100% homemade down to the noodles, but there is ample opportunity to find more ease with some of the steps here. As always, follow your lasagna-loving little heart and make it your own.

Lasagna Bolognese

Made for a 9x13, extra-deep casserole dish. This will take at least two days to complete, but could be stretched out over 3 or 4. Feeds 8-10 people to bursting.

Bolognese Sauce

Things to Measure:

  • 1 large onion

  • 1 medium carrot

  • 1 celery stalk

  • 1 pound(ish) ground beef chuck — the packages from my butcher were over a pound for both the beef and the pork, verging on 1 1/4 pounds.

  • 1 pound(ish) ground pork

  • 4 oz. pancetta

  • 1 cup whole milk

Use what you've got:

  • Tomatoes — In my research I found recipes running the gamut from barely a tomato whisper to hey now, that's marinara. Ultimately, I opted for about 1/3 cup of tomato paste. Next time I make this I think I'll use a can of whole tomatoes without the liquid — I ended up wanting it to have a little more brightness from the tomato.

  • Wine — You'll need 1 cup. I've seen some recipes with white wine and some with red. I used white for this version, but I think I'll go for red next time — I wanted a little more oomph.

  • Broth — You can use chicken, pork, beef, veggie, or any other miscellaneous broth you have on hand. If you've got something homemade, certainly go for that; I used 2 cups of homemade chicken stock.

  • Garlic — I (somehow???) found lots of lasagna recipes that dodn't have a smidge of garlic anywhere. I suppose that could be traditional, but I don't make anything garlic-free in this house. Measure that sh!t with your heart, baby.

Béchamel Sauce

Things to Measure:

  • 5 tablespoons butter

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

  • 4 cups whole milk

Use what you've got:

  • Nutmeg — I'm going to get on a pedestal here and just ever-so-gently plead with you to go buy some whole, fresh nutmeg. It really does make a huge difference in the flavor. However, you could most certainly use already ground nutmeg. You could also leave it out altogether, but it will lack the depth of flavor that nurmeg brings.

  • Garlic — this is definitely not a normal add for a béchamel; however, I had a whole head of super soft and toasty roasted garlic that got smashed up and whiske d into the finished sauce. Cause, why not?

Fresh Pasta

Things to Measure:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour

  • 4 large eggs

  • 1 teaspoon salt

Use what you've got:

  • Dried noodles — you obviously don't have to make your own noodles. I can say that the fresh pasta was fun to make and delicious, and the whole process made me feel quite accomplished. However, with proper attention to your sauces, your lasagna will still be stellar with store bought noodles, I promise.

Cheeses

Use what you've got

  • Fresh Parmesan — in my head, this is a must! I've seen some recipes that add the parmesan to the Béchamel (turning it into a Mornay). I opted to just sprinkle parmesan between every layer.

  • Ricotta — ah, the great lasagna divide. You will have to use your own judgement about the ricotta; I ended up using no ricotta in this dish. Many recipes that do have it require an egg to be whipped with the ricotta to keep it from drying out while baking. I didn't want to fuss with that and decided to keep the cheeses simple.

  • Mozzarella — another controversial cheese addition. I used fresh, hand torn mozzarella scattered between layers.

 

Make It:

Bolognese Sauce

The bolognese can be made up to two days ahead of time.
  1. Pulse onion, carrot, and celery in a food processor until finely chopped (as in the picture above), set aside.

  2. Heat a large pot over medium-high heat, adding a smidge of oil to the bottom. To brown the beef and pork, I just pulled off large, loose chunks (pictured above) and seasoned with salt. Make sure that there is space between all of your chunks to ensure that they're browning and not steaming. In this step, you're not looking to cook the meat — that will happen over the hours it slowly cooks. We're just looking for good color on the outside of the meat, and tasty little flavor bits left in the bottom of the pot. Work in batches until you have browned all of the meat (pictured above — notice that there is uneven browning and raw middles on the chunks. Perfectly okay!).

  3. Turn down the heat to medium and add your soffritto (onion, carrot, and celery mixture) and pancetta. As this heats up, you will notice a good amount of liquid at the bottom of the pot. We want to cook the mixture until all of this liquid is gone, and you start to see brown bits of the mixture sticking to the bottom of the pot.

  4. If you are using tomato paste, add it at this point. Mix it with the contents of the pot and continually stir to allow the tomato paste to cook off a bit without burning. If you've ever made a roux, there's a very similar thing going on here. Let the tomato paste cook for just a couple of minutes until it is darker in color and has a deeper aroma.

  5. If you are using garlic in your bolognese, add it now. As with the tomato paste, keep stirring to keep the garlic from burning.

  6. Deglaze the pot with wine of your choice, stirring everything to incorporate. Let come up to a rolling bubble.

  7. If you're using whole tomatoes, add them individually, crushing them by hand as you do so and leaving the remaining liquid in the can.

  8. Add milk and broth, bring up to a slow simmer.

  9. Add browned meat back into the pot.

  10. You want this at a lowwww simmer. Baby bubbles. Gentle. Keep the lid off, simmering gently, for at least 3 hours, stirring occasionally. If it starts to look pasty or dry, add more broth to keep it moist — if your simmer is low enough you shouldn't have this issue.

  11. Most of the recipes I found said 2 1/2-3 hours, but I let mine go for a little over 5; my mom always left tomatoey sauces on the stove all day long, so I figured it wouldn't hurt (surprise, it didn't).

  12. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

  13. Cool and refrigerate over night — this will let everything really get to know each other and deepen the flavors.

Béchamel Sauce

Béchamel can be made one day ahead of time.
  1. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat.

  2. Once slightly bubbly, sprinkle in flour while whisking constantly. You don't want anything the burn here — keep it moving!

  3. Traditionally, this is just cooked for a minute or two to cook out the raw flavor of the flour. However, the southern girl in me couldn't resist taking this to a blonde roux for a deeper, nuttier flavor. To do this, keep whisking until the mixture is a pale, golden-blonde color, about 15 minutes. If you decide to do this, you're not looking for anything really dark in color, we don't want that dark roux flavor (or color). Just a little golden, a little extra toasty.

  4. Slowly add in the milk while still continuously whisking to ensure that your béchamel is smooth, creamy, and absolutely worthy of bathing in.

  5. Bring up to a low simmer until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

  6. Season with salt, fresh cracked pepper, and nutmeg to your liking. I went a little heavy on the nutmeg, probably 1/3 of a whole seed.

  7. If you're garlicking it up like I did, you can whisk in as much roasted and smashed garlic as pleases you (for me, it was a lot).

  8. If you're making this to share with an online blog, don't forget to take a picture of it — like I did..

Fresh Pasta

Dough can be made one day ahead of time. Bring to room temperature before rolling out. Rolled noodles can be made one day ahead of time; stack with layers of parchment between each and wrap in plastic wrap.
  1. Mix together flour and salt in a large bowl.

  2. Make a well in the center of the flour and crack the eggs into it.

  3. Whisk eggs with a fork, slowly incorporating the surrounding flour.

  4. As a shaggy dough forms, turn out the dough on a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth, 5-10 minutes. This will be some work! The dough is pretty stiff, and this is your pre-carb-load-exercise.

  5. Wrap up the dough in plastic wrap and let sit for at least one hour, or up to one day.

  6. Set your pasta roller to its thickest setting. Working in small chunks of dough, run pasta sheets through the roller, adjusting to the next thinner setting each time and dusting lightly with flour if things get sticky. Roll out to your machines thinnest setting, or as thick as you like.

  7. Cut your noodles to size. I ended up cutting mine into thinner strips like storebought noodles. Next time I make this I would leave them as larger sheets.

Assembly

  1. If you've made your sauces ahead of time, gently reheat them. You want them to be warm so they're spreadable, not to boil again and over-thicken.

  2. Boil your pasta. If you're using fresh pasta, each sheet only needs about 10 seconds in the boiling water. If using store bought, boil for 3 minutes. In all honesty, I boiled my sheets one at a time because they can stick together in the water, too. I was being extra careful.

  3. Place into an ice bath immediately after boiling to halt the cooking process. Remove from the water and drain, taking care not to let them touch as they will stick together. You can stack them with sheets of parchment paper between them to prevent this.

  4. Cover the bottom of your baking dish with a thin layer of bolognese to prevent the bottom layer of pasta sticking. Lay a single layer of noodles down, followed by a layer of béchamel; spread this out evenly over the pasta. Repeat this with a layer of bolognese. Layer on whatever cheeses you are using; I had a layer of grated parmesan plus some scattered, torn mozzarella.

  5. Repeat these layers until you run out of pasta and fillings — I think I ended up with 6 layers of pasta.

  6. Cover with foil and bake at 325° for 1 hour, or until everything is bubbly.

  7. Uncover, raise heat to 450°, and bake for 10-15 minutes more, watching closely for browning on the top.

  8. Let cool for at least 15 minutes so you can get nice pretty slices that will stay together.

Ultimately, this dish was fun to make. This was my first real venture into pasta making, and I was really impressed by how easy and how dang delicious it was! Although the time commitment on this dish seems daunting — a lot of the time is not active. The end results are worth every second spent kneading pasta dough, and the blessed bellies you share your creation with will agree.

Now that I've got a pasta roller I am positive I'll be on a pasta making kick! Next up, maybe ravioli?