One of the common things that I’ve heard my Italian friends say when we are out eating in an Italian restaurant is that they never order lasagna in a restaurant. They told me how lasagna is one of those weekend family get-together traditions, where grandma or grandpa would cook the ragù for hours while the children play with their cousins and adults catch up with gossips over wine. So, whenever you order lasagna in a restaurant, that means either the ragù has been pre-made, rushed, or worst, the lasagna itself was pre-made and stored in the freezer.
Learning from that, I basically learned to master patience when making lasagna. And there’s no better time to try this during quarantine period. Total hours of cooking is 3 to 4 hours. Here’s my go-to lasagna recipe:
Ingredients for the ragù
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 50g pancetta
- 260g Italian sausage or 2 large Italian sausage (removed from their casing)
- 400g ground beef
- 1 medium-sized carrots or 1/2 cup of finely diced carrots
- 1 large medium-sized yellow onion (finely diced)
- 2-3 stalks of celery or 1/4 cup of diced celery
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 3/4 cup chicken broth (or whatever broth you have)
- 1 cup water
- 4 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 pieces of dried bay leaves
- Salt and pepper to taste (Note: that the pancetta, the sausage and the broth will already naturally season the ragù. So, take it easy on the salt)
Ingredients for the béchamel sauce
- 50g unsalted butter
- 4 cups of milk (warmed or at least room temperature)
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 cup of freshly grated parmigiano regiano
- 1/4 tsp of ground nutmeg
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 600g mozzarella (tip: go for the fresh but hard mozzarella or the one for cooking. The soft mozzarella is watery and will soak the lasagna once in the oven.)
- 2 cups of freshly grated parmigiano regiano
- Lasagna sheets (i use the ones that do not require pre-cooking)
Making the ragù
- On a medium heat, sauté the diced onions, celery, and carrots in the olive oil for about 2 minutes.
- Add the pancetta. Sauté for a minute. Then add the Italian sausage. Once the sausage starts changing its color, it’ll be easier to separate or mush them into smaller grounds/pieces. You’d want them to look like ground meat but a bit chunkier. Sauté for about 5 minutes.
- Add the ground beef. Sauté until it starts to change its color. At this stage, you’d want your ground beef to be only slightly cooked – not fully cooked and brown.
- Turn the heat up to medium high and add the red wine. Stir for few seconds, making sure that nothing is sticking at the bottom of your pan. Without the lid on, let it sit for about 5-8 minutes or until the wine reduce to almost nothing. Stir once in a while to make sure that nothing is burning at the bottom.
- Once the red wine is reduced, stir in the tomato paste. Then add the water, broth, and bay leaves.
- Turn the heat to high (keep stirring) and let it boil.
- Once it starts boiling, reduce the heat to really low. Put the lid on and let it simmer for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until the sauce gets really thick.
- Add salt and pepper to taste at the end, to make sure that the ragù is not too salty. Don’t forget to remove the bay leaves.
Making the béchamel sauce
The béchamel sauce only takes less than 10 minutes to make. I usually make it after I’ve turned off the heat of the ragù because you need the béchamel fresh off the stove once you start assembling your lasagna.
- In a low heat, melt butter in a sauce pan.
- Once melted and heated a bit, add the flour. Stir until you don’t see raw flour or “white” in the mixture anymore.
- Add the milk. Continue stirring there are no longer lumps in the mixture and is slighting thickening.
- Add the ground nutmeg and parmigiano regiano.
- Once thick enough, add salt and pepper to taste. Stir again for few seconds.
Assembling the lasagna
- In your baking dish, put a very thin later of ragu first. Then layer in your pasta sheets.
- After the lasagna, add a layer of the ragù.
- Next layer would be the béchamel sauce.
- Then a mix of mozzarella (i usually just tear it with my hands) and parmigiano regiano
Repeat the layers. The tops should always end with the cheese. Put in a pre-heated oven at 190C and bake for about 30 minutes. If you are using pre-cooked lasagna sheets, the baking time is shorter. Otherwise, your pasta will be soggy.