Quite awhile ago, I received an e-mail from Tiel, a regular reader of this little blog. Tiel asked if I could share a lasagna recipe. What Tiel wants, Tiel gets!
As it happens, lasagna is a dish near and dear to my heart. When I was small, I had the pleasure of enjoying my grandmother’s lasagna on a regular basis. Hearty and bold, my grandmother’s lasagna featured a rich tomato sauce, tiny meatballs and chopped egg. A piece of Nonna’s lasagna was a meal unto itself.
At a certain point, my grandmother stopped making lasagna as regularly. My mother, thank goodness, inherited the lasagna gene and began making it often. As with everything she makes, my mother’s lasagna is flavourful and delicate. While not as rich or substantial as my grandmother’s lasagna, my mother’s has an airy quality to it that makes it unforgettable. It also makes it possible to have more than one piece at one sitting!
As with all great lasagna, my mother’s begins with fresh pasta dough. It is possible, today, to buy some very good quality prepared lasagna noodles. Even so, I recommend using fresh pasta. For those of you already making fresh pasta, I’m sure you’ll agree with me. For those of you that are uninitiated, look at this as an opportunity learn a new life skill!
Once you have the pasta down, the next step is the tomato sauce. Both my mother and grandmother use a tomato sauce that is cooked slowly, over a low flame. The sauce is cooked with meat, usually veal, which gives the sauce depth and richness, but you can certainly use a more basic tomato sauce. Either way, make the sauce yourself as there is nothing better than homemade tomato sauce. At this time of year, you can take advantage of beautifully ripe local tomatoes. Alternatively, you can use canned tomatoes which are usually of a high quality as the tomatoes are canned at their ripest.
With the pasta and tomato sauce at the ready, the other key ingredient for a perfect lasagna is the cheese. My mother uses two kinds of cheese: mozzarella and Parmigiano Reggiano. Both should be fresh and grated just before using. We are fans of whole-milk mozzarella, which you should be able to find in well-stocked grocery stores and of course in specialty stores. Parmigiano, often referred to as the "King" of cheese, should be also be fairly easy to find. If it’s not already a staple in your house, consider making it one. A few shavings of Parmigiano on pasta, soup or even salad is heaven. With these three basic elements (pasta, tomato sauce and cheese), you have all that you need to create the best lasagna you’ve ever had.
My mother’s lasagna, for me, is the very best. I hope you enjoy her recipe!
My Mother’s Lasagna
Treasured family recipe.
For the tomato sauce:
- 5 to 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 pounds veal shoulder, bone in, cut into pieces (about 3 to 4 inch pieces â€“ if you donâ€™t feel comfortable cutting the meat yourself, have your butcher do it)
- 1 large onion or 2 smaller onions, sliced
- 8 cups tomato puree
- freshly cracked black pepper
- In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion slices and sautÃ© for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add the veal and brown for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the meat has been seared on all sides.
- Add the tomato puree and increase the heat to high. Bring the mixture just to a boil and then add 2 tablespoons of salt and 2 teaspoons of freshly cracked black pepper. (If you want to add less salt or pepper, feel free to do so. Itâ€™s entirely up to your own tastes.)
- Stir the sauce well after adding the salt and pepper and then reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring often, for an hour and a half. As the time goes by, your sauce will reduce considerably. If your sauce reduces too much, or is too thick, you may want to add a bit of water. What youâ€™re looking for is a sauce that is smooth but not too thick. It should be deeply red in colour.
- After the hour and a half is up, remove the veal from the sauce. Set aside. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings according to your own tastes, adding more salt and pepper if necessary. Remove the sauce from the heat and set aside to cool while you prepare the pasta dough.
For the pasta:
- Use the pasta recipe in my post about Tajarin. Follow steps 1 through 14.
- Once you have rolled out all the pasta sheets, lay them flat on floured waxed paper. Dust the tops with flour and cover with a cloth.
- Set a large stock pot, filled with water, to boil.
- Once the water is boiling, salt the water generously and begin boiling your pasta sheets, one or two at a time.
- Boil each pasta sheet for 2 minutes. With a large spoon, remove the pasta sheet and place in a colander to drain for a few seconds. Immediately pick up the pasta sheet and lay flat on a plate. Repeat with all the sheets of pasta.
- Once all the pasta sheets have been cooked, you are ready to assemble the lasagna.
To assemble the lasagna:
- 1-1/2 to 2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- 1-1/2 cups freshly grated mozzarella
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a rectangular baking dish or pan (use a pan that’s 12 x 15 with sides that are at least 3 inches high or a similar-sized dish or pan), spread 1 cup of tomato sauce across the bottom of the pan.
- Using the cooked lasagna noodles, create a layer over the tomato sauce. If there are any gaps cut off small pieces of from a piece of lasagna noodle that you haven’t used yet to fill in the gaps.
- Spread 1/2 a cup of tomato sauce over the noodles.
- Sprinkle a 1/4 cup of grated mozzarella and 1/3 of a cup of grated Parmigiano over the sauce.
- Repeat with another layer of noodles.
- Repeat with 1/2 a cup of sauce and then the mozzarella and Parmigiano.
- Continue repeating steps 4, 5 and 6 until you have used your last layer of noodles.
- Spread a cup of sauce over the final layer.
- Sprinkle any remaining Parmigiano over the sauce (do not sprinkle mozzarella on the final layer).
- If you’re using a metal pan, bake the lasagna for 1-1/2 hours, our until the sauce starts to bubble and it becomes golden on top. If you’re using a baking dish, the baking time will likely be less so you’ll only need to bake it for 1 hour or so.
- Let the lasagna cool for 10 minutes before digging in. This will allow the lasagna to settle.
Note: This lasagna will easily serve 8 to 10 people. You can make it in smaller, disposable pans and then freeze them before baking. To prepare, simply defrost the lasagna and then bake following the directions listed above. Alternatively, you can bake the lasagna, let it cool down completely and then freeze it. To serve, let the lasagna defrost for half an hour at room temperature and then place in a preheated, 325 degree F. oven until heated through.
If you have tomato sauce left over, it can be frozen and used for pasta or pizza. Or you can store it in the refrigerator for up to a week.