Lasagna alla Bolognese

I acquired a free lasagna pan through a deal at the grocery store last year and I've been dying to use it!  My hubby doesn't like ricotta cheese, which deters me from making traditional (or Sicilian) lasagna.  Fortunately I discovered the deliciousness that is Lasagne alla Bolognese.  Bolognese sauce, or ragu alla bolognese, refers to a meat-based sauce with a small amount of tomato base that is slowly cooked over a long period of time.  It originated in Bologna, Itay, and often contains a variety of meats (the recipe I used has pork, chorizo and ground beef).  This type of lasagna is made up of the ragu sauce as well as a bechamel sauce, layered with the lasagna noodles and topped with parmesan, mozzarella and fontina cheeses.

This dish was very time-intensive, both for the cooking aspect and the grocery shopping at multiple stores, but it was probably the best lasagna I've ever had!  My advice: allow yourself all day (or all weekend) for cooking... and wear an apron.


Buon appetito!


Lasagna Bolognese (from The Food Network Kitchen)


INGREDIENTS:


For the Ragu:


1 cup dried porcini mushrooms

10 ounces white button mushrooms
2 carrots, cut into 4 pieces
2 stalks celery, cut into 4 pieces
2 cloves garlic
1 cup fresh parsley
1 6-ounce piece prosciutto, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
2 cups dry white wine
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
Kosher salt
5 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup cognac or brandy
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes

For the Bechamel:

12 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
6 cups whole milk

For the Lasagna:
Kosher salt
1 1/2 pounds fresh lasagna sheets*
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 pound parmesan, grated (2-3 cups)
1 pound fresh mozzarella or fontina, grated (4-5 cups)

*Note: I was unable to find lasagna sheets (fresh pasta that has not been dried) anywhere in Santa Fe, so I used the "no boil" lasagna noodles from Whole Foods and they worked perfectly.  If you're more ambitious than me you could try making your own!

DIRECTIONS:

Make the ragu:  Soak the porcini mushrooms in 2 cups hot water until soft, about 30 minutes.  Drain the porcini, reserving the liquid.  

Finely chop the porcini and white mushrooms in a food processor; transfer to a bowl.  Add the carrots, celery, garlic, parsley and prosciutto to the processor; pulse until finely chopped.


Heat the olive oil in a large pot over high heat.  Cook the ground beef and pork in batches, breaking them up with a wooden spoon, until browned, 6-8 minutes.  Transfer the meat to a bowl.  Add the wine to the pot, scraping up the browned bits.  Add the liquid to the bowl with the meat.


Melt the butter in the pot; add the onion, chopped carrot mixture, the rosemary, bay leaves and 2 teaspoons salt.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, 12 to 15 minutes.  Add the tomato paste and mushrooms and cook, stirring, about 8 minutes.


Return the meat mixture to the pot.  Add the cognac or brandy and scrape up the browned bits.  Cook, stirring, until the liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes.  Add 2 cups water and the reserved mushroom soaking liquid.  Crush the tomatoes with your hands over the pot and add with their juices.  Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 2 hours 30 minutes.  Cool completely.


Meanwhile, make the bechamel: Melt the butter in a wide saucepan over medium heat.  Add the flour, nutmeg, 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper; cook, whisking, 2 to 3 minutes.  Gradually whisk in the milk and cook, whisking, until thickened, 5 to 10 minutes.  Reduce the heat to low and cook, whisking, 10 more minutes.


Assemble the lasagna: Preheat the over to 400 degrees F.  Bring a few inches of salted water to a boil in a wide saucepan.  Fill a large bowl with ice water.  Line a baking sheet with a damp kitchen towel.  Working in batches, boil the pasta until partially cooked, about 4 minutes, then remove with a skimmer and transfer to the ice water to cool.  Remove the pasta sheets, shake off the excess water and arrange in a single layer on the towel.  Cover the pasta with another damp towel.


Brush the bottom and sides of a deep 11-by-13 inch baking dish with the butter.  Spread 1/2 cup ragu in the pan.  Cover with a layer of pasta, then sprinkle with 1/3 cup parmesan and 2/3 cup mozzarella.  Spread 1 1/2 cups ragu over the cheese and top with 1 cup bechamel.  Repeat with 3 more layers of each pasta, parmesan, mozzarella, ragu and bechamel.  Top with a layer of pasta, then cover with the remaining bechamel.  Sprinkle with the remaining parmesan and mozzarella.  Tuck the edges of the pasta into the baking dish with a knife.


Place the lasagna on a baking sheet to catch any drips; bake until bubbly and golden, about 40 minutes. Let rest 30 minutes before slicing and serving.



Starting the Ragu.  My food processor has never been this full.

Cooking the Ragu.

Making the bechamel sauce.

Putting together all the layers.

Layering the lasagna noodles.

Ready to go in the oven!

Yum!!  (I was too eager to cut it before I took a picture.  Oops.)





Vegetarian friends: I also made this amazing baked vegetable penne pasta!  Here's the recipe:  Baked Penne with Roasted Vegetables






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