One of my favorite cold weather foods is lasagne. There’s something so satisfying about the entire experience: aromatic herbs wafting up from your plate, a savory, meaty tomato sauce with pockets of sweetness from not so hidden carrots, tender carby pasta that’s absorbed all the flavors of the sauce it’s been baked in all interspersed with melty gooey mozarella and ricotta. Even if this didn’t taste just slightly better the next day as the flavors have had time to meld and further infuse into the pasta, it also tastes great a couple weeks later as reheated frozen TV dinners. Mmm, leftovers!
This is a variation of a recipe that I learned from my sister which was given to her by her German-Norwegian Mom-in-law so while it may not be Puglian let’s not quibble since lasagne was probably a Greek import, so opa or oofdah! Or maybe even England, crikey 😉 I’ve morphed it from a beef-lover’s delight to a beefy, porky, spinach-layered pasta with bits of carrot for sweetness and texture. I’ve added a green layer of spinach “pesto” sans pine nuts to help cut through some of the richness of the bolognese as well as the fact that it tastes shallot-y and garlicky good. You can just ignore the fact that 1 serving contains 90% of the RDA for vitamin K, 28% vitamin A, 7.5% folate, and 2.5% iron ‘kay? 😉 (Sadly, my iPhone didn’t pick up the greeness of the spinach layer cuz it really does stay a nice green after cooking.) And vegetarians, never fear, I have a gluten-free “lasagne” with roasted eggplant masquerading as pasta noodles I’ve been tweaking in the works.
Tricks of the trade:
1) Since I’m all about making life easier, by spreading the ricotta onto a pasta sheet and then adding it to the lasagne instead of trying to smear it onto a wiggly pasta sitting on top of sauce it’s not only faster and easier but you also get a more even coating onto the pasta.
2) Texture-phobes can use grated carrot instead of finely diced but don’t skip the carrot cuz it really does provide a nice, round sweetness that tempers some of the acidity from the tomatoes making your bolognese taste smoother.
3) What? Bolognese without celery? Technically you can add a stalk of finely diced celery, I’ve just always made it this way but given how much tinkering I do, a starfruit mirepoix may be just around the corner, hehe. I’ve also gone the fresh route, making the bolognese with fresh tomatoes, but unless it’s summer or you’ve got a surfeit of ripe tomatoes, canned tomatoes with a sweet carrot will still taste amazing.
4) Lasagne, lasagna, let’s call the whole thing semantics. Just in case it’s driving you batty, lasagne is the plural of lasagna (a single pasta), so since this dish has more than one noodle, lasagne is it 😀
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 lb lean ground beef
1/2 + 1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 + 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 lb sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1 medium-sized sweet onion, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and finely diced
3 tsp (5-6 cloves) crushed garlic
1/2 c red wine (I prefer Shiraz or Pinot)
3 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes
2 tbsp fresh (2 tsp dried) thyme
2 tbsp fresh (2 tsp dried) oregano
2 tbsp fresh (2 tsp dried) basil
Season beef with 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.
In a large, ~5-6 quart pot heat oil over med-hi heat till aromatic but not smoking. Brown beef and sausage. Break up meat with your spoon and sauté onion and carrot till onions are soft and translucent ~8-10 minutes. Stir in garlic and sauté for another 1-2 minutes till garlic is golden.
Add wine and crushed tomatoes then mix well and simmer till carrots are tender and the sauce is thickened by about 20-30%. Stir in herbs and simmer for another 10-5 minutes. Turn off heat.
4 c packed baby spinach
1 shallot, roughly chopped
2 tsp (3-4 cloves) crushed garlic
1/8 tsp sea salt
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
While bolognese is simmering, pulse pesto ingredients in a blender or food processor until puréed. Set aside.
15-oz container low fat ricotta (you’ll only need ~2/3 of the amount)
1/4 c milk (I use 1%)
3 sheets fresh lasagna or 12 oz no-boil lasagna noodles
16-oz fresh mozzarella ball or shredded mozzarella cheese (you’ll only need ~3/4 of the ball)
Preheat oven to 350F.
In a small bowl, stir together 2 c ricotta and milk so that you get a mixture thin enough to spread over the lasagna sheets. On a large cutting board or clean flat surface, spread ricotta in a thin layer over a sheet of lasagna, ~1/3-1/2 c of ricotta per sheet.
Cut mozzarella into 1/4-1/2 inch thick rounds. You’ll need 24 rounds.
Pour a thin layer of bolognese, ~1/2-2/3 cup, into a 9 x 13-inch lasagna pan so that it just covers the bottom (it’s okay if you can see the bottom of the pan) to prevent the lasagna from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Place a lasagna sheet that has been “frosted” with the ricotta mixture in the pan, ricotta side up. Cover with ~2 c bolognese so that the edges are covered. Place 8 pieces of mozzarella over bolognese, it doesn’t have to completely cover but should be evenly spaced. Dot half of the pesto around the mozzarella and carefully spread to cover between the mozzarella.
Repeat with remaining two layers. Cover final sheet of pasta with bolognese so that pasta is completely covered. Place 8 pieces of mozzarella evenly spaced on top. Bake till golden brown and sauce is bubbling ~60-75 minutes. In a glass lasagne pan with convection it takes me 65 minutes. Makes 8 servings.