A cool, rainy Sunday during the COVID-19 lockdown—perfect for us to spend time together cooking in the kitchen. While The Mr. made his homemade chicken stock, I started assembling this wonderful Lasagna Bolognese recipe by Diane Unger, found in an issue of Milk Street Magazine.
Yes, it is time-intensive, but it makes enough ragù for the lasagna with plenty of leftovers for another night’s pasta dinner. And given all of the statistical data showing most of this country still in lockdown, time is one thing you do have plenty of (unless of course you’re one of the heroes out there keeping this country safe and operational).
The velvety besciamella was simply awesome! You can make it ahead of time and rewarm it when assembling the casserole. It’s amazing how light this lasgana was considering all of the meat. But in retrospect, there’s really not a lot of cheese—just the 3 ounces in the white sauce, along with any you sprinkle on as a garnish.
Try to purchase pancetta in a large chunk from the deli counter, and if it comes in casing-like plastic, make sure to remove and discard the wrap before use. The next best option is packaged already diced pancetta; if pre-sliced is the only option, it will work, but will cost a lot more and requires less time in the food processor.
Don’t trim the fat from the beef and pork. The fat makes the ragù rich and supple, and carries the flavors of the other ingredients. Don’t process the beef and pork too finely; a coarse grind yields the best-textured sauce. It may seem a bit thin after the long braise, but don’t fret because a bit of powdered gelatin gives the ragù a rich, velvety body that otherwise would require an even lengthier simmer to achieve.
We went a step further and bought bone-in short-ribs, cutting the meat off the bones, then tossing those bones in with the ground meats to simmer for 3 hours.
You may wonder why not just used already crushed canned tomatoes instead of going through the step of blending canned whole tomatoes in a food processor. The simple answer? Whole tomatoes are generally sold peeled, in either juice or puree. This is usually the highest quality tomato product. Crushed tomatoes are a mixture of diced tomatoes and tomato puree or paste. Furthermore, crushed tomatoes are unpredictable. With some brands they’re crushed almost to a purée, while other brands might still have big chunks.
You’ve probably run into bare shelves at the grocery store during these crazy times. Well, when I was shopping for this recipe, almost the entire selection of pasta was gone! There were two boxes of lasgana, (not the no-bake variety as indicated below), so I grabbed one and made the best of it. If you are fortunate enough to get them, don’t use the noodles without first soaking them. Unsoaked noodles absorb moisture from both the ragù and besciamella, leaving the lasagna too dry. But don’t soak them for longer than 10 minutes.
Enjoy, then enjoy again!
To make the lasagna:
- 12 No-boil 6½-by-3½-inch lasagna noodles
- 1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- 6 Cups ragù bolognese, warmed (see recipe below)
- 3 Cups parmesan besciamella, warmed (see recipe below)
- Finely grated parmesan and/or Pecorino-Romano cheese, to serve
- Heat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle position.
- Place the noodles in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, then add hot water to cover, along with the oil and 1 Tbsp. salt; swish the noodles around to dissolve the salt. Let stand for 10 minutes, moving the noodles around halfway through to ensure they do not stick together.
- Remove the noodles from the water and arrange in a single layer on a kitchen towel; pat dry with paper towels. Wipe out the baking dish.
- Distribute 2 cups ragù evenly in the baking dish, then place 3 noodles in a single layer on top.
- Spread ¼ cup besciamella onto each noodle, all the way to the edges. Pour 1 cup ragù on top and spread evenly.
- Repeat the layering 3 more times, using the remaining noodles, besciamella and ragù, then cover the baking dish tightly with foil.
- Bake until the edges of the lasagna are bubbling, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- Transfer to a wire rack, uncover and cool for about 30 minutes.
- Cut into pieces and serve sprinkled with Parmesan.
Our lasagna pan was filled to the brim and we knew it would probably overflow so we set the casserole dish on a rimmed baking sheet. We also neglected to cover the dish with tinfoil before cooking it in the oven. It was done perfectly after 35 minutes, even without the foil!
This white sauce is packed with flavor from bay, basil and Parmesan and gets a hint of heat from red pepper flakes. The finished besciamella can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to two days.
Don’t allow the sauce to cool completely before straining. It flows more easily through the mesh of the strainer when warm and fluid.
- 6 Tbsp.s (¾ stick) salted butter, cut into 6 pieces
- ¼ Cup all-purpose flour
- 1 Quart half-and-half
- 3 Bay leaves
- ½ Tsp. red pepper flakes
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper
- 3 Oz. parmesan cheese, finely grated (1½ cups)
- 6 Large fresh basil leaves
- In a large saucepan over medium, melt the butter.
- Whisk in the flour, then cook, whisking constantly, for 2 minutes. While whisking, gradually add the half-and-half and bring to a simmer.
- Add the bay and pepper flakes, then reduce to low. Cook, whisking often, until thickened and reduced slightly and no longer tastes of raw starch, 10 to 15 minutes.
- Off heat, whisk in the Parmesan and basil. Cool for 5 minutes, then set a fine mesh strainer over a medium bowl, pour the sauce into the strainer and press on the solids with a silicone spatula; discard the solids.
- Taste and season with salt and pepper.
This recipe makes enough ragù for lasagna Bolognese with enough leftovers for another night’s pasta dinner. Try to purchase pancetta in a large chunk from the deli counter, and if it comes in casing-like plastic, make sure to remove and discard the wrap before use. The next best option is packaged already diced pancetta; if pre-sliced is the only option, it will work, but will cost a lot more and requires less time in the food processor. We add a bit of powdered gelatin to give the ragù a rich, velvety body that otherwise would require a lengthy simmer to achieve. The finished ragù can be cooled to room temperature and refrigerated for up to three days.
Don’t trim the fat from the beef and pork. The fat makes the ragù rich and supple, and carries the flavors of the other ingredients. Don’t process the beef and pork too finely; a coarse grind yields the best-textured sauce.
- 4 Tbsp. (½ stick) salted butter
- 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 Large yellow onion, cut into rough 1-inch pieces
- 1 Medium celery stalk, cut into rough 1-inch pieces
- 1 Medium carrot, peeled and cut into rough 1-inch pieces
- 2 28-Ounce cans whole tomatoes
- 1½ Lbs. boneless beef short ribs, cut into rough 1-inch chunks
- 1 Lb. boneless pork shoulder, cut into rough 1-inch chunks
- 8 Oz. piece pancetta, cut into rough 1-inch chunks
- ¼ Cup tomato paste
- ½ Cup dry white wine
- 2 Cups low-sodium beef broth
- 4 Bay leaves
- ½ tsp. red pepper flakes
- 2 Tbsp. unflavored powdered gelatin
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper
- In a large Dutch oven, combine the butter and oil. In a food processor, pulse the onion, celery and carrot until roughly chopped, about 5 pulses. Transfer to the Dutch oven.
- One can at a time, add the tomatoes with juices to the food processor and puree until smooth; transfer to a medium bowl.
- Add half the beef to the food processor and pulse until coarsely ground, 5 to 10 pulses, then transfer to another medium bowl; repeat with the remaining beef.
- Repeat with the pork, in batches, adding it to the beef.
- Finally, process the pancetta to a coarse paste, about 30 seconds; add to the other meats.
- Set the pot over medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are lightly browned, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in the tomato paste and cook, stirring, until the paste begins to brown, about 5 minutes.
- Add the wine and cook, scraping up any browned bits, until the pot is almost dry, about 1 minute.
- Stir in the ground meats, then stir in the broth, tomatoes, bay and pepper flakes. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover, reduce to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tender, the sauce is thick and the volume has reduced to about 8 cups, 2½ to 3 hours.
- Pour ¼ cup water into a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the top; let stand for 5 minutes to soften.
- Meanwhile, taste and season the ragù with salt and pepper, then remove and discard the bay. Stir in the softened gelatin until fully dissolved.