This thing is a prooooooject, let me tell you. The slow-braised meat sauce; the velvety béchamel; the injunction on oven-ready lasagna noodles (ya, for real, deal with it). It demands time.
Your reward for such culinary piety and time investment will be this: a lasagna so hearty yet so silky; one that’s somehow just a bit airy but also, like, very rich and lip-smacking. It’s different from other meat sauce lasagnas that I’ve had in the past. No layer of melted cheese (instead there’s a healthy dose of parmesan in the béchamel) and not even an attempt at anything vegetal as a layer. It holds up very well as leftovers, and I actually found that I was able to slice up much prettier slabs after an overnight chill in the fridge. Also it should be said that when the meat sauce is ready, you will stand over it in a blissful trance, repeatedly eating warm spoonfuls and half-heartedly entertaining thoughts like “the lasagna couldn’t possibly use up ALL of this delicious meat sauce…surely me ladling some over a quick bowl of spaghetti wouldn’t affect that lasagna’s bottom line in any way…”
As with any meal that is a time investment, there need to be some options for prepping the components ahead of time and separately in case you are not amongst those in the specific category of lunacy that enjoy taking a full day to make a single item of food. Here’s how you prep ahead for serving this:
· Meat sauce: you can make this up to 4 days ahead; reheat before assembling the lasagna.
· Béchamel: you can make this the day ahead and re-warm before assembling the lasagna.
· Unbaked lasagna: you can make this up to a month prior to serving it (once the sauces have cooled down, wrap the lasagna in plastic and freeze); thaw in the fridge overnight prior to baking as described below.
BA’s Best: Lasagna Bolognese
Taken directly from BA’s Best arsenal, with some very small tweaks
Serves, at the very least, 8 hungry people
2 lb ground pork
1 lb ground beef chuck (~20% fat)
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 oz pancetta or thick bacon, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped
6 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 tbsp tomato paste
¾ cup dry white wine
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup whole milk
7 tbsp unsalted butter
¼ cup + 3tbsp all-purpose flour
6 cups whole milk
4 oz parmesan cheese, coarsely grated (~1 cup)
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Olive oil, for greasing the pan
1 ¼ lb dried lasagna noodles (sorry – you can’t use oven-ready for this recipe)
Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F. Combine the pork and beef gently with your hands in a large mixing bowl; season generously with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper and mix again. Roughly roll the meat into 18 large meatballs. Do not worry about making them perfect at all. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven (or deep, heavy, ovenproof pot) set over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches, start browning the meatballs on all sides, turning occasionally and monitoring the heat to prevent scorching. Cook the meatballs for ~6 minutes per batch and remove to a baking sheet when done (don’t worry if the centres are still undercooked). Reduce the heat to medium and add the pancetta/bacon to the Dutch oven, cooking and stirring until lightly browned and crisp, ~4 minutes. Add the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic; cook until softened, 6-8 minutes. Add the tomato paste and keep cooking, stirring constantly until the paste darkens, no more than 2-3 minutes. Add the wine and keep everything simmering until the liquid has nearly evaporated, ~5 minutes. Use your hands to crush the whole tomatoes (carefully!) into the pot and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is thick, “jammy”, and reduced by roughly half, ~10 minutes. Add the broth and milk, then add the meatballs back to the mix. Bring the sauce to a simmer, cover the pot, and transfer to the oven. Crack the lid back just a bit to leave it slightly ajar (if your pot doesn’t have a lid, just do a double layer cover of tinfoil and peel it back a smidge). Bake until the meatballs are absolutely falling apart when forked, ~3-4 hours, checking after the first hour or 2 to ensure that the liquid is simmering away. Break the meatballs apart a bit so that the sauce takes on a ragu consistency. FYI, cooking the meat in balls helps prevent over-cooking and (tragic) drying out consequences. Just letting you know in case that at all eases the blow of having rolled out 18 meatballs just to break them up into meaty oblivion.
Make the béchamel next. Melt the butter in a large saucepan set over medium heat until foaming. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking occasionally, until the flour smells nutty and becomes slightly golden, ~4 minutes. Quickly whisk in the milk and increase the heat to medium-high. Bring to a simmer and keep cooking, whisking every so often, until the sauce has thickened, another 4-ish minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, whisking occasionally, until the sauce is smooth and velvety, ~10 minutes. Mind that the sauce doesn’t boil over - do not go far while it cooks! Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the parmesan, cayenne, and nutmeg. Season the sauce generously with salt and pepper. Transfer the béchamel to a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Use it within an hour or chill and reheat before using.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Have a large flat dish (like a casserole dish or even a loaf pan) full of ice water at the ready for shocking the noodles in. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil then, working in 2-3 batches (depending on the size of your pot) cook the lasagna noodles for 3 minutes, stirring and separating the noodles gently so they don’t stick together. The noodles should be softening but still snap rather than bend. Working only 1 or 2 noodles at a time, shock the noodles in the ice water bath, then lay them out flat on a lined baking sheet. Be SO SO careful when placing the noodles in the ice bath; they will quickly solidfy, sometimes into very unfortunate shapes – encourage them to be as flat as possible. Repeat the cooking and shocking process until all of the noodles are cooked, placing sheets of parchment paper between layers of noodles on the baking sheet. If some noodles break, fret not, just save them for the lower layers, keeping the more intact noodles for the top.
Lightly oil a 9x13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Spread 1 ½ cups bolognese in the bottom of the dish. Lay a single layer of noodles over the bolognese, cutting some noodles if needed to fill all of the gaps and completely cover the sauce. Spread 1 ¼ cups béchamel over the noodles, covering them completely. Top the béchamel with 1 ½ cups Bolognese. Repeat the layers: noodles – béchamel – bolognese until you have achieved as many layers as your dish can accommodate (6 is ideal) and the lasagna is right up at the brim of the dish. My dish was shallower and I only managed 4 layers, but it was still impressive AF. Cover the dish with a well-oiled piece of tinfoil and set on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until bubbling around the edges, ~1 hour. Remove from the oven and set aside. Increase the heat to 425 degrees and set a rack in the top of the oven. Uncover the lasagna and place back in the oven, baking until the top is browned and crisp around the edges, ~10-15 minutes. Let sit at least 15 minutes before serving unless what you actually wanted was lasagna soup, in which case, what a lot of effort you went to for that end goal.