So, two weeks ago I got the chance to go to an Italian cooking class. It was pretty much a dream come true... I mean, I love cooking, and I love Italian food... I was in heaven. We learned how to make REAL Italian lasagna from Jessie (check out her Facebook page for more info. on her classes. She's awesome!)
Anyway... the title of this post comes from a conversation we had right after the class. I told Jessie that I had never made lasagna. I told her that, in fact, I had only made frozen lasagna. I thought she might keel over and die from shock when I said that... needless to say, I think I had reached a point in my life when I needed to make lasagna from scratch. For reals.
This recipe, then, is an Italian recipe. It is a little different from what I was used to (no ricotta or cottage cheese, for example), but it was AMAZING.
There are three things that really make this lasagna work. First, the bolognese sauce (also known as the red or meat sauce). Jessie taught us that this is the KEY to a good lasagna. If you get the bolognese sauce down, you will be fine.
Second, the besciamella, or white sauce. Yes, this lasagna has red AND white sauce in it. Get excited.
Last (at least in my opinion), CHEESE. Don't skimp on it. You're making lasagna. Don't fool yourself into thinking this is going to be a healthy meal. You will use around 2 cups per lasagna.
The biggest thing with the bolognese sauce is letting it cook... forever. The longer, the better. Jessie's recipe said 1-3 hours, but she said you could cook it pretty much all day and it just keeps getting more and more delicious.
I made it on a Sunday, so I decided to do an experiment with the crock pot while I was at church. I took three 28 oz. cans of Hunt's diced tomatoes, pureed two of them, and poured them all into a large pot. I then added the spices - 1 tbsp. oregano, 1 tbsp. basil, 1 tbsp garlic, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. ground pepper, and 2 bay leaves. I added more of the seasonings to taste, but those were good amounts to start with.
I also threw in two fresh tomatoes...
I then added the wine. This was the first time I've used wine in cooking, and it won't be the last. Jessie told us she likes to use white wine in her red sauces even though people usually use red wine... so I tried it out and was not disappointed. After adding the wine (1/2 cup white cooking wine), I brought it to a boil and let it cook for a few minutes without a lid, to let some of the alcohol cook out. Then I poured it all into the crock pot and let it cook on low for another half hour without the lid, to let any additional alcohol cook out. We didn't seem too crazy after eating it, so I think we were good. At least we weren't any more crazy than usual. After a half hour, I put the lid on the pot and left for church, leaving my delicious sauce to simmer for a good three hours.
When I got home from church, I finished up the red sauce. I decided to use Italian sausage mixed with ground beef. Some random guy in the store told me it was amazing, so I trusted him. It ended up being a good choice.
Before cooking the meat, I had to make the soffritto. This is a basic seasoning for your sauce that is used in a lot of Italian cooking. It is made up of the "holy trinity" - onions, celery, and carrots. First, you sautee one large white onion, diced, in 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
Can we take a moment of silence to contemplate how wonderful olive oil is? I truly love it.
Cook the onion for a few minutes alone, and then add 2 medium carrots and 2 stalks of celery, chopped. You will cook this combination until the onions are translucent and the celery and carrots are soft (about 5 min). I also added Italian spices to this mixture (the same ones I added to the sauce) as well as some crushed red pepper flakes for a little kick. Once that was cooked, I added 1 lb. each of ground beef and Italian sausage, and then cooked until browned.
I added the meat to the sauce, and moved it all to a pot on the stove (set to low). I let the bolognese sauce cook for another 2 hours, covered, while I finished the rest of the ingredients. Like I said... the longer the red sauce cooks, the better.
Now for the besciamella. First, you bring 4 cups whole milk (don't use skim or 1%... you can maybe get away with 2%) to simmer in a saucepan and cook until a very thin skin forms on the top. Make sure it's barely simmering, so as not to scald the milk. In another pan, melt 8 tablespoons of butter until it is just barely brown. Make sure not to burn the butter. You will then slowly add 6-8 tablespoons of flour to the butter, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Once this mixture (the rue) is formed, you will add it slowly to the milk, whisking constantly. The heat should be lowered slightly at this point, and you will mix it until it is thick. Add salt and NUTMEG to taste. (Nutmeg? Those Italians are geniuses.)
When the mixture starts to stick to the whisk, it is ready. I also added some parmesan cheese to the sauce... you can never have too much cheese.
Last, you will cook the lasagna sheets. You will use around one box per lasagna. Follow the package directions--but make sure the pasta is cooked al dente. This means it is soft, but still has a little bit of "bite" to it. No one likes mushy pasta.
To finish off the lasagna, you will do the different layers. I started out the pan with just a little bit of besciamella to keep the pasta from sticking. Then I did the pasta sheets, the bolognese sauce, the besciamella, and a mozzarella/parmesan cheese mixture. Keep layering until your heart is content (or until the pan is full). I found it was extra delicious when I was generous with the pasta and cheese. Go figure...
This recipe makes two pans, which seems like a lot... but, somehow, I had no problems getting rid of the extra.
Finish it off with a LOT of cheese. Think pizza.
Stick the lasagna in the oven (375 degrees) for 45 minutes to an hour, until all the cheese is melted and slightly browned on the top. Delizioso!!