Lasagne is my comfort food, without question. I think of birthdays and holidays whenever I make it, and in general, just feel special--the true test of comfort food. It's one of the few dishes I grew up learning to cook with my mom, and it will always represent love and family. There are so many different versions of lasagne, catering to whatever you find most appealing, but this is what I grew up with. It doesn't use béchamel or the secret sprinkling of nutmeg, which many recipes do. The taste is fresh and not quite as heavy as some. The bolognese is the star and I always end up doing something a little different with it each time. I, also, make fresh ricotta, unless I'm pressed for time: it's cheaper and, then, you have left over ricotta to snack on while you're assembling layers.
2014: It's November and the cold weather and holidays have taken over New York again. The heat in my building starts to creak back to life and my neighbors start firing up their stoves to cook winter foods. The smells of Italian cooking waft through the apartment and invite me to cook again as well. I think of family and friends and home. Sharing food is like sharing memories, and here in New York, where everyone has a story to share, the best moments are those spent around a table with friends.
The lasagne this year was made with no-boil noodles, and a bolognese that used ground pork, fennel, and parsley, which was browned and deglazed with a red wine. The ricotta was fresh (using lemon and vinegar for the curd), and I mixed in half dried and half fresh parsley. The mozzarella was a fresh cow's milk cheese, which is slightly less salty than other familiar brands.
Share and enjoy!
Lasagne is made up of 4 layers: Noodles, Ricotta, Mozzarella, and Bolognese. When assembling the layers, start with the noodles and finish with the bolognese. Try to be consistent with the amount used in each layer, otherwise the lasagne could become too heavy on the bottom. Repeat the layering once more, for a total of 2 layers each, and then bake for 30 minutes at 375 degrees F.
Below are some tips for prepping the four layers. I suggest starting with the bolognese, which usually takes the longest to prepare, and mixing, cutting, or boiling the other layers while the meat sauce simmers.
1. Noodles: Forming your own noodles is recommended if you have the time. The other, faster, options are boiling dried noodles (al dente) or using no-boil noodles.
2. Ricotta: Make your own ricotta and drain off most of the liquid. Beat in eggs, cheese, parsley, salt, and pepper.
3. Mozzarella: Thinly slice. Keep the cheese cold and use a cheese cutter to achieve a uniform cut.
4. Bolognese: Brown meat over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, basil, salt, tomatoes, and tomato paste, and simmer for 30 min.