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2/22/2023 3:54 am  #1

Lasagna of Sadness

This is a lasagna recipe you won’t make, no sane person would.
But I was amused reading it and picturing Mama in the basement kitchen slaving away for hours and days.
Not in the upstairs kitchen, that’s just for making tea for the folks sitting on the plastic slip covers in the parlor.
This is lasagna al forno, a traditional Italian lasagna. It’s the best lasagna you’ll ever have.
This recipe is an enormous amount of work and expensive. I suggest you do it over 3 days. I only make this when someone dies. This is not a casual lasagna recipe.
You can make all the components of this recipe in stages across several days depending on how much distraction you want to create for yourself. The bolognese and béchamel can be in the fridge for 2-3 days, or the freezer for several months. You can also freeze the assembled lasagna for 3 months.
You can double or triple this easily, which is great if you want to have components on hand in case of emergencies.
Make it one day
9am – grocery shop
10am – make ragù and leave to simmer until assembly time
11am – make pasta dough up to resting stage
12pm – make béchamel
12:30pm – stop for lunch break
1:30pm – roll out pasta dough
2:30pm – boil and rinse pasta
3:30pm – assemble lasagna
Bake or freeze within 3 days of assembly.
Make it two days
Day 1 – ragù
Day 2 – béchamel, pasta, assembly
Bake or freeze within 2 days of assembly.
Make it three days
Day 1 – ragù (1 hour work, 3h waiting)
Day 2 – béchamel (30 min work)
Day 3 – pasta, assembly (3–4h work)
Bake or freeze within 1–2 days of assembly.
Ragù Bolognese
Everyone makes ragù Bolognese slightly differently. I’ve combined a bunch of techniques from different recipes over the years: the browning technique from BA’s Best Lasagna, emulsifying from Kenji, the beef-pork ratio and soffritto from Marcella Hazan.
Ragù is more of an idea than a recipe. Some recipes like Kenji’s use chicken livers and fish sauce for umami. Some use veal or sausage meat. My favourite to make for myself is with shortribs, but those are expensive and even more tedious. Whatever you do will be great if you follow the technique.
1,000g | 2lb ground beef (80%)
500g | 1lb ground pork
2 tsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
3 tbsp avocado oil
100g | 3.5oz pancetta, chopped
1 medium onion, finely diced (1/2 cup)
2 medium carrots, finely diced (1 cup)
2 celery stalks, finely diced (1 cup)
6–8 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 cup good but affordable red wine (like Beaujolais-Villages)
1 x 794g | 28oz can of tomatoes
1L | 4 cups chicken stock
2 bay leaves
100g | 3.5oz parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
You can use olive oil for browning the meat, but avocado oil has a much higher smoke point which will lead to fewer off flavours developing. Ghee and tallow also have high smoke points.
You want 1,500g (3lbs) of meat total. I like the beefy flavour of 2:1 beefork. Some people use veal, some all pork, or even sausage. I personally love beef shortribs, but they are even more tedious in this recipe.
If you can’t find pancetta, do NOT use bacon – the smokey flavour will overwhelm the dish. Add 3 tbsp of olive oil instead. Guanciale is also great, but I’m not sure where you would find guanciale that doesn’t also have pancetta.
A very large bowl
Baking sheet or large plate
A large heavy bottom pot, at least 5 quarts
Potato masher
Brown the meat
In a very large bowl, add the beef, pork, 2 tsp salt, and 2 tsp black pepper. Use your hands to gently mix the beef and pork together with salt and pepper – tossing, not squeezing. You don’t need a homogenous mixture. Form them into 12 rather large meatballs the size of a small apple, around 125g each (you don’t need to measure, they are getting mashed later). Set on a large plate or baking sheet.
Place a large (5 quart or larger) heavy bottom pot on medium-high heat and allow it to heat up for a few minutes. Add the avocado oil. Pre-heat until the oil is shimmering.
You are only browning the outside of the meatballs here, and working to get a very crispy, caramelized surface like a smashburger. Browning in batches is very important: only add 4 meatballs into the pan at a time. Space them apart, you need space for two reasons. First, the beef will take a lot of heat from the pan immediately. The space leaves heat in other areas of the pan to quickly transfer there. Second, the beef will release a lot of steam and you want the steam to evaporate so browning can occur.
On medium-high heat you only need 1-2 minutes per side. Sides are confusing when discussing spheres, but somehow spheres have 6 sides when browning. Give yourself 12 minutes per batch, 36 minutes total to brown. You are going to be impatient.
The easiest way I’ve found to rotate the meatballs is with a pair of tongs. Generally they release from the pan when the surface touching the pan is caramelized enough but sometimes they squish and get stuck. Between batches I use a fish spatula to scrape up the stuck on bits. These usually taste the best.
Remove the meatballs to the same plate or sheet – you can put them on the same one with the raw beef, since you’re browning, not cooking, right now. After you’re done with the meat set it aside.
Make the ragù
If your oil from browning the meat looks dirty and smokey and smells bad, discard it out into a heat-proof container and add fresh oil. You can keep the fond on the bottom of the pot (don’t wash the pot!)
Add the chopped pancetta. Cook for 8–10 minutes until the pancetta has released its fat and is beginning to brown.
Add the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic. Add a pinch of salt, which helps pull moisture out of the vegetables so they cook faster. Stir often until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.
Add the tomato paste and cook for another 3–5 minutes.
Add the wine, bring it to a boil, and cook for another 5 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated.
Add the canned tomatoes, optionally crushing them with your hands. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Add the bay leaves.
Add the beef, reduce to low simmer, cover with the lid slightly ajar for at least 3 hours, ideally 4 hours. You can also bake this, covered, at 275°F in the oven. Protein bonds begin to break down after 4 hours, which is why the long cooking time is necessary. The beef will be incredibly tender.
Find and remove the bay leaves.
Mash everything with a potato masher until you have broken up all the meatballs and there are no large clumps of beef. For a smoother texture that allows more lasagna layers, I like to partially blend (about 50%) with an immersion blender, leaving some ground meat texture.
Add the parmesan cheese which will help emulsify the sauce. Taste and adjust for salt, pepper, and acidity.
Make ahead
Ragù Bolognese will keep in the fridge for 4 days. To rapidly cool it before moving it to the fridge:
Place a rimmed baking sheet on a strong wire rack
Pour the ragù out onto the baking sheet
The wide, flat surface area with air underneath will help it rapidly cool
Transfer to a container and place in the fridge
It can be tempting to skip this, wait until the bolognese is “cool enough” in the pot and put the whole pot in the fridge. This runs the risk of increasing the temperature of your fridge and spoiling other food in there.
You can also freeze ragù bolognese for 3 months. I prefer to freeze in vacuum sealed bags, laid flat, which store easier and thaw faster. Thaw overnight in the fridge.
Béchamel is one of the French five mother sauces (besciamella in Italian). It’s a great foundational recipe to know. You can use it here for lasagna, but also for croque moinsuer, and as a base for mac and cheese. This recipe is easy to make vegan while still remaining flavourful (see vegan lasagna recipe).
45g | 3 tbsp butter
60g | 1/2 cup flour
6 cups milk (whole milk is ideal)
115g | 4oz parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp sweet paprika
Salt and pepper
Ingredient notes:
Use sweet paprika, not hot smoked paprika. Smoked paprika will overwhelm the dish. You can also use cayenne or any other type of chilli flake. You’re not looking for heat, just a tiny bit of flavour.
Make roux
In a 3-quart or larger pot, on medium heat, melt the butter until it foams. Add in the flour and using a whisk mix it together. Cook for 2-3 minutes, whisking constantly, until it smells nutty.
Add the milk slowly
Add in the milk in batches. If you add all of the milk it will be lumpy and difficult to work with. Start with 2–3 tablespoons of milk. Instantly you’ll see it become a very thick paste. Keep adding a few tablespoons of milk at a time and whisking until incorporated before adding more milk. It will take adding at least 2 cups of milk this way to get a thin enough consistency, then you can add the rest all at once.
Increase heat to medium-high, whisking constantly. You may want to use a spatula to scrape the bottom/sides. Be careful that the milk doesn’t scald to the bottom of the pot, if it does do not scrape it. You must cook this until you see bubbles, that indicates the mixture has reached 212°F and the flour will be cooked. If you don’t get to bubbles it will taste starchy.
Remove from the heat, add the nutmeg, paprika, and parmesan. Taste, then add salt and pepper to taste.
Béchamel will thicken as it cools so you may want to gently warm it before assembling your lasagna.
Make ahead
Béchamel will keep for 3 days in the fridge, but you will need to gently re-warm it to assemble your lasagna (it will be thick like pudding when cold).
Freeze béchamel up to 3 months. I prefer to freeze in vacuum sealed bags, laid flat, which store easier and thaw faster. Thaw overnight in the fridge.
18 egg yolk pasta
18 egg yolks, save the egg whites to make angel food cake
Flour – 120% of the weight of the egg yolks (3 cups)
Salt – 0.5% the weight of the egg yolks (1 tsp)
Olive oil – 2% the weight of the egg yolks (2 tbsp)
1 cup semolina flour, for dusting
Ingredient notes
If you don’t want to use 18 egg yolks, you can use 2 whole eggs + 5 egg yolks.
If you don’t have a kitchen scale, start with 3 cups of flour (assuming US Large eggs). As you assemble the dough it will either be sticky or dry. If it’s sticky, add flour. If it’s dry, scrape the dry flour away before kneading. But you should buy a scale, they are $12.
In terms of flour, generally I use organic all purpose flour. 00 pasta flour will give you an easier dough to work with, which can helpful if this is your first time making pasta.
Special equipment
Pasta machine
Baking sheet
Clean your counter and your schedule to make space for the work ahead.
Separate your eggs
Crack all of your eggs into a large bowl, it’s more comfortable if you let the eggs sit at room temperature for a bit. Pluck each egg yolk out, transferring them to one bowl.
If you break any egg yolks in the egg whites, you can use a shell to move them over. The egg shells cling to the yolk.
Weigh your egg yolks. Multiply this by 1.2 and measure that amount of flour (or guess).
Place the flour on the counter and make a well for your eggs. Pour the eggs in. Add the salt and olive oil.
Start by popping each egg with a fork. With your fork, bring the flour in a little bit at a time, mixing it in with the eggs. You don’t want to knock down all your walls yet, you and the pasta will end up a big mess on the floor. Little by little, you process grief until it’s something that can be managed. When the fork isn’t cutting it, switch to a bench scraper. When you are ready, switch to your hands.
You will knead the dough for 10 minutes. It’s a dry dough, it will be tough to knead. If its not coming together, or the dough is tearing, you can tap your fingers in a bowl of water, then pat the dough. If you add too much water the dough will be sticky and will stick to your pasta roller.
Leave the pasta to rest for at least for 30 minutes, up to 2 hours at room temperature. This can go in the fridge for up to 2 days, but the outside will oxidise to a dark green/brown. This will go away as you roll out the dough.
Get ready to roll
When you’re ready to roll out the dough, set up your pasta machine. Divide the dough into 4–8 pieces, depending on how familiar you are with rolling out pasta. It’s easier to work with smaller pieces when you’re new to it.
Run the dough through on the thickest setting. Continue through each setting on your pasta machine until you can start to see yourself through it. For me that’s setting 7 of 9 on a Marcato Atlas.
I place my lasagna pan on the counter and trim the noodles with my bench scraper (scissors also work) to the length of the pan. Dust each sheet with semolina flour, which acts as a non-stick separator for them. Don’t try to use regular flour for this, they’ll all glue together. Continue rolling and trimming until done.
Blanching fresh lasagna noodles for better texture
This is a tedious technique that I learned in Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking – it has changed the way I think about fresh pasta. It’s amazing and you should try it at least once.
Special equipment
Fresh noodles
Large pot of heavily salted water
Large bowl of ice water (or cold)
Large bowl of cold water
Spider strainer
Baking sheet
3–6 clean, lint-free kitchen towels (preferably organic cotton flour sack towels) or parchment paper
This is a very tedious but worthwhile process for fresh lasagna sheets. You likely have never had lasagna noodles with this texture before.
Fresh pasta doesn’t have much salt since salt inhibits gluten extensibility. It’s important to heavily salt the boiling water so the pasta can get some salt in it during the very brief cooking time.
Set up your space
Fresh noodles can be problematic in lasagna. They can get too mushy. Traditional Italian recipes solve this through a tedious but worthwhile process.
Set your fresh noodles beside your cooking area
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, heavily salted like the sea (1/4 cup of salt)
Set a large bowl of ice water beside your cooking area
Set a large bowl of clean, cold water beside that
Set a clean baking sheet with clean, lint-free kitchen towels (or parchment paper) beside that
Boil, ice, rinse, wring, dry
Add a few of your lasagna noodles to the boiling water for 30 seconds.
Use a spider strainer to remove and plunge them into ice water.
Transfer them to the clean water to rinse off any surface starch. As this water gets cloudy with starch you can replace this water (usually 1–2 times for the recipe).
Gently squeeze the noodles to remove excess water, like squeezing a sponge.
Transfer them to a clean kitchen towel (or parchment) in single layers. Cover with a clean kitchen towel between each layer.
This will create the most perfect noodle texture you’ve ever had.
Assemble and bake your lasagna
You might be thinking, “Marko, why there is no cheese?” There is no cheese. Accept it. Do not add cheese. The béchamel has you covered. Make it this way once before you go rogue and add cheese. (You won’t add cheese ever again.)
Lasagna noodles
8 cups of ragù
6 cups of béchamel
2 tbsp olive oil
Special Equipment
13X9 pan
Offset spatula
1/2 cup measuring scoop
1/4 cup measuring scoop
Ideally have a 1/4 cup spring-loaded cookie scoop for béchamel, which will be fast and help make even layers – and save you from tediously scraping a measuring cup with a spatula.
To freeze/transport
Parchment paper
Aluminum foil
Starting with an empty lasagna pan
Add 2 tbsp of olive oil and massage it around the bottom and sides
Add 1 cup of ragù. Use an offset spatula to distribute it (it will be a sparse layer).
Add your first layer of noodles. Use scissors to trim them to fit. It’s okay to have a bit of overlap but try not to have gaps. As you build your layers try to offset where the seams are (so the seams aren’t always in the same place). This will give you a stronger structure.
Add 1-1/4 cups of béchamel and spread it out into an even layer with the offset spatula. I like to use 1/4 cup and add 5 drops – 2 left, 1 middle, 2 right (like a 5 on a dice cube).
Add 1-1/2 cups of ragù and spread it out into an even layer with the offset spatula. I like to add 3 columns – left, middle, right – then spread out the ragù.
Add a layer of pasta.
Repeat this until you are at the very top of the pan.
For the final layer you’ll use extra noodles.You want to ruffle them, zjoosh them up. You want some pockets for béchamel, some parts that pop up for crispy lasagna moments. Once you’re happy with the layout, top with béchamel sauce.
There may be extra ragù and béchamel, if that’s the case you can make a mini-lasagna in a ramekin for yourself.
To bake immediately
Pre-heat the oven to 350°F. Bake for 1 hour until bubbling in the middle and the top layer of noodles and béchamel has golden brown areas (see photo).
To freeze for later
Cover with a piece of parchment paper directly on the surface (it will peel off easily once the lasagna is frozen). Wrap tightly with foil.
Freeze. Thaw overnight in the fridge before baking.
To bake directly from frozen, bake at 325°F for 90 minutes, until the middle is bubbling. The exact time will vary depending on your lasagna pan and how many layers you have. To brown the top, increase the temperature to 425°F for 10 minutes, but only after you see bubbling in the middle.
Leftover lasagna is one of the greatest gifts of lasagna:
Cut the leftover lasagna into 1” thick slices.
Heat a frying pan on medium-high with some butter or olive oil
When the oil is hot, place the lasagna in the pan cut side down (the layers face the pan, as if the lasagna fell over)
Cover with a lid or foil, reduce to medium, and cook for 8 minutes
It will reheat through and also get extremely crispy on one side and possibly taste even better than it was the day before

 Freedom is just another word for nothin' left to lose.

2/22/2023 6:46 am  #2

Re: Lasagna of Sadness

Now that is how you get people to leave you alone for a few days! Jam all the family time into Sunday afternoon, nicely done.

If you would only recognize that life is hard, things would be so much easier for you. - Louis Brandeis

4/08/2023 11:03 am  #3

Re: Lasagna of Sadness

I thought this might be good for the family Easter dinner, so I started on it the day Bruce posted it.
Looks like it might be ready for next year.
Pizzas tomorrow.

Last edited by Diaphone Jim (4/08/2023 11:03 am)


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