I admit, I always considered lasagna an Italian-American concoction. I don’t know why, I guess I just assumed that anything that saucy, melty, cheesey, and unctuous had to be a cross-breed.
Boy was I wrong! Lasagna is everywhere in Italy. Not only the refined kind like the lemony-light nettle noodles in Bologna layered with a creamy ragù, but also the kind I thought of as “red sauce” lasagna. Comfort food lasagna. You know what I mean: Layers of noodles baked until the mozzarella runs all over the pillowy ricotta and the meaty sauce.
Last week I was craving exactly that “pasta al forno” (baked pasta). Since we were having our neighbors over with their two little ones, I thought it was the perfect occasion. The day before our dinner, I made a simplified version of my ragu recipe, using just ground meat (beef, pork, and sausage), so the day of I just needed to make the pasta and layer it. Easy! And the eight of us polished off the whole pan. Which doesn’t sound impressive until you realize that two of our eight were under 5-years-old.
Suffice it to say, it was marvelous.
Here’s how you can make it too!
What you’ll need:
about eight cups of ragu or meatless tomato sauce (which you can whip up by sautéing a few garlic cloves and a one diced onion in garlic oil with a pinch of red pepper flakes and some oregano, adding a few cans of tomatoes which I prefer to buy whole and then blend to the right texture, salt and pepper, then let cook down for about a half hour). I’d have extra on hand, just in case.
two cups of ricotta mixed with a beaten egg, two tablespoons of grated parmesan, 1/8 teaspoon of grated nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste
one pound of mozzarella, shredded (not the wet ball here, but the block kind you can easily shred)
one recipe for pasta, but unlike the hand rolling I describe in the recipe, I put the noodles through a pasta machine to get them thin enough. You can, of course, purchase fresh pasta noodles in many grocery stores nowadays, or even in a pinch buy the dried kind. Those, however you have to cook before layering. Fresh noodles have the advantage of not requiring this extra labor. Depending on how chunky your sauce is, you’ll want between twelve and eighteen sheets of lasagna noodles.
extra grated parmesan
1. In a 11 by 9 inch buttered pan, spread about 3/4 to one cup of the tomato sauce (the amount will depend on how chunky the sauce is).
2. Place 3 lasagna noodles on the bottom of the pan (no need to cook noodles if they are fresh!)
3. Spread about a half to 3/4 of a cup of the ricotta mixture over the noodles.
4. Spread another 3/4-1 cup tomato sauce over the noodles
5. Sprinkle with 1/3 to 1/2 cup (or more!) of grated mozzarella.
6. Add another layer of noodles, then ricotta, then sauce, then mozzarella. Repeat as many times as you can given your ingredients and your pan.
7. After your place your final layer of noodles, sprinkle them with mozzarella and then parmesan. I like a little oregano dusted on at this point.
8. Pop the lasagna (uncovered) in a 400 degree (F) oven until brown and bubbling, about 25 minutes. Let it rest for a few minutes when it comes out of the oven to let it solidify.