Sunday, August 16, 2009

Lasagna: The first steps

On Friday we had a dinner party and earlier in the week, I had decided to make lasagna for it. My lasagna, which is really my mom's lasagna, is not just dinner; it is an event. And though it is all made from scratch and a bit time consuming, it is really very simple to make. It can also be made ahead of time and frozen for up to a month, making it perfect for dinner parties ( especially work night dinner parties).

The first step to lasagna is to make the sauce.
For this particular version of lasagna we need two sauces: Meat sauce and Besciamella sauce. The recipes are exactly the right amount to make a large lasagna ( for 8 hungry people).
We'll start with the meat sauce ( which, incidentally is actually vegetarian, but, meat can be added for a more robust flavor).

Meat Sauce:
2 28oz cans of tomato puree
1 small onion
1 carrot
1 stalk of celery
1/4 cup of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp fresh basil leaves ( chopped)

Finely chop the onion, carrot and celery ( this can be done in a food processor).
Heat olive oil in a large stockpot and add the onion, carrot and celery. Cook until golden, stirring occasionally. ( This should take 3-4 minutes).
Add the tomato puree plus one can of water per can of tomato ( just fill the can after adding the puree to the stockpot and add the water).
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Simmer on medium heat for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
Add basil to the sauce and allow to cool before using it in the lasagna.

yields 8 servings

The sauce will keep in the fridge for 4 days and can be frozen for up to 6 months. I always keep some in freezer.
If you like Bolognese sauce or Ragu, just saute some ground meat until brown and add to the sauce.

Besciamella Sauce

This sauce is slightly more involved but don't worry, its worth it. I usually make this sauce the same day that I am making the lasagna because it tends to thicken and doesn't keep well in the fridge.

1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup of flour
2 cups of warm milk
1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
1 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Warm milk and set aside.
Melt butter in a medium stockpot. Add flour and stir together to form a rue ( this allows the flour to "cook" so the sauce will not be clumpy).
Add warm milk and nutmeg and stir slowly until thick. ( try to stir the milk in only one direction). Once thick, add the cheese, salt and pepper. Stir to incorporate. Remove from heat and set aside.

The sauce will tend to thicken as it cools. If it is too thick, add some pasta water when you start cooking the pasta.

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