Long recipe, but it worth the effort. Delicious and not technically difficult to prepare, although you may want to prepare your Bolognese ahead.
I already mentioned in another post that, for many years, I did not like pasta with tomato sauce. That was until I met the Capillis. They were the ones who taught me how to eat pasta, after they had their share of laughs watching me wrestle a plate of spaghetti. For years, we used to go to their house in Malaga to spend New Year’s Eve and they would always prepare lasagna. Pasticcio di lasagna, to be precise. After trying it, not only did I start liking pasta with tomato sauce, I even had it for breakfast! A few months ago, Debbie and Nicko came home for New Year’s Eve and she made that dish again. It was as good as I remembered it. I am not going to post Debbie’s recipe yet, as it is slightly more complicated, but I will post my lasagna that is inspired in that unbeatable one, not as good but still incredibly yummy. From her I learned that I didn’t need to precook the lasagna sheets and that the tomato sauce needs to be cooked for a looooong time to be good (in my case, it took more than 6 hours, but I have seen her cooking it for longer).
Lasagna is not difficult to prepare, although the first time I cooked it, trying to follow my friend Diego’s recipe –no tomato sauce, super creamy, I’ll keep it for another post- it was so dry that was hardly edible…. And we had my husband’s boss for lunch! I learned from that experience that the pasta needs liquid to cook, so you must be generous with the sauce.
The Bolognese sauce I make follows the original recipe, suggested by the Accademia Italiana della Cucina for ragú alla Bolognese, with little variation, apart from adding the chorizo (but only at the end, and just to the sauce I will use for the lasagna), which gives it a boost of flavor.
It takes some time, but does not take much effort; you can be watching your favorite show while it slowly cooks for a few hours, and you can use the spare Bolognese for other recipes –just add it to pasta, use it for an eggplant casserole or prepare cannelloni- so if you have the time, you will not regret preparing this recipe. The only problem is that you will want more!
Ingredients (4-6 servings)
For the Bolognese (better if prepared beforehand):
1 pound of ground beef
1/3 pound bacon bits (optional, because you will also be using chorizo, but always good)
2 liters (66 fl.oz) passata (uncooked tomato puree). If you cannot find it use canned tomatoes (2 large cans)
1 ½ cups shredded carrot
2/3 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
½ cup white wine
½ cup cooking cream
1 cup chicken/vegetable stock
olive oil, salt, pepper
For the béchamel
4 tbsps. butter
4 tbsps. flour
1 quart (liter ) milk
salt, pepper, nutmeg
For the lasagna
1 large zucchini
1 small Spanish chorizo or ½ regular one (about 4 oz)
12-15 lasagne sheets (better if fresh)
2 ½ cups shredded cheese
1 tbsp. butter
STEP 1.- Prepare the Bolognese. This step can take several hours, so it can be prepared ahead and kept in the refrigerator or frozen.
When it is nicely browned, add 2 or 3 tbsps. olive oil, wait until it is hot and add the beef, stirring for a few minutes until it has changed color and turned evenly brown.
Add the vegetables and toss gently, until all the ingredients are well mixed.
Add the white wine and lower the heat to medium. Cook until the wine has evaporated.
Add the tomato passata or the canned tomatoes and let simmer over low heat for at least 2 hours.
Keep checking and stirring every 15 minutes and add some broth if it becomes too dry. When almost done, season to taste and add the cream.
STEP 2.- Prepare the béchamel. Melt the butter in a deep pan or pot. When hot (but not brown, be careful not to burn it), add the flour, stir and cook for 3-4 minutes, over medium low heat. When the flour starts to turn slightly darker, add half the warm milk, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Keep stirring until smooth, add the rest of the milk, whisk until totally incorporated and cook for another 5-10 minutes. You want a dense liquid, but still a liquid, not a blobby mix, so turn of the heat a couple minutes before you think it is ready. Don’t worry, you can always add more milk.
STEP 3.- Prepare the chorizo. Cut the chorizo into small pieces and fry in a pan over high heat until it starts to brown. Remove excess fat placing on a paper towel. Mix the chorizo with 4 cups of Bolognese. Reserve.
STEP 4.- Prepare the zucchini. Peel and dice the zucchini and sauté with 1 tsp. butter or olive oil over medium high heat for 3 or 4 minutes, until slightly brown. Add a pinch of salt and reserve.
STEP 5.- Prepare the lasagna. I use a pyrex 11 cup baking dish (8.38 inches x 10.38 inches x 6.5 inches). Start with a bechamel layer. That way the lasagna will not stick to the bottom.
Cover with a layer of pasta, trimmed to fit (normally 2 sheets horizontally and one vertically).
Add more béchamel and half the zucchini.
Cover with another layer of pasta, varying the position of the sheets (if the vertical one was on the left side, place it on the right side this time).
Continue with a layer of bolognese/chorizo and top with a layer of cheese.
Place the next layer of béchamel and top with the other half the zucchini.
Repeat the Bolognese and finish with the lasagna sheets covered with plenty of béchamel and cheese.
STEP 6.- Bake in the preheated oven at 180ºC (350ºF) for 45 minutes. Check with a knife if the pasta is ready. Try different spots. If it is not ready yet, bake for 10-15 minutes more, adding some of the stock if necessary and covering with aluminum foil if the cheese on the top is already melted and toasted.
STEP 7.- Let it cool down for 10 minutes before serving. You will save your guests from burning their tongues and it will be easier to cut.
– You can also prepare the lasagna the day before baking it and keep it in the fridge overnight, so it is a fantastic recipe if you have guests.