Monday, October 21, 2013

Lasagna Bolognese (or, Lasagna the Hard Way)

Source: Food Network
Yield: 1 11x13 pan, 12 servings
Time: 5 hrs 10 min (prep: 1 hr, cook: 4 hrs 10 min)

The only change that I'm making here is to the amount of salt. I'm significantly decreasing it. Parmesan and Mozzarella can both bring a fair amount of salt to the equation so go light. And it may seem like there's a lot of liquor in play here but don't worry, all of the fun aspects of the alcohol cook off. If you want to skip it feel free to substitute equal amounts of stock (veggie, beef, chicken... pretty much anything but seafood stock). This lasagna takes a lot of time and some of the ingredients are pricy but it's absolutely worth the effort and investment.

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 extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound ground beef chuck
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 San Marzano tomatoes*

The Béchamel 
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons grated nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cups whole milk

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

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 stock pot or dutch oven over high heat. Cook the ground beef and pork in batches, with a couple of pinches and salt and a few grinds of pepper. Crumble the meat as is cooks with a wooden spoon and cook until browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the meat to a large 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 a couple of pinches of 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 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 béchamel: Melt the butter in a wide saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour, nutmeg, 2 pinches 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 oven 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. (Barilla no-bake lasagna sheets are a lot less hassle and taste just as good to me.)

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 béchamel. Repeat with 3 more layers each of pasta, parmesan, mozzarella, ragu and béchamel  Top with a layer of pasta, then cover with the remaining béchamel  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.

*I used one 32 oz jar of my homemade canned tomatoes and 12 sheets of Barilla no-bake lasagna sheets with excellent results. If you use the no-bake sheets, bake the lasagna for 50 minutes and while assembling make sure that each sheet of pasta is completely covered with ragu or béchamel.

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