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tommy

Some Lasagna Questions

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so i'm thinking about making lasagna today. i log onto epicurious, and as it turns out, lasagna is front page news over there. now at egullet, *everything* is front page news...you just have to ask about it.

so i'm asking about lasagna. i'm not making my own pasta, so don't bother getting too involved with that aspect of the discussion just yet. i'm not very fond of "pot cheese," so anything recipe that steers clear of ricotta as much as possible would be nice. which brings up a question: should this dish veer too far from its "classic" preparation? are artichokes and black beans really acceptable? i dunno. these questions and more, to be answered here today, on "the ballad of nice and cheesy." stay tuned.

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Instead of a ricotta based lasagne I've recently taken to the version made with a bechamel sauce that's been cheesed up with grated parmigiano reggiano. I also layer with more parmigiano and a little fresh mozzarella. It's far creamier and nicer and the cheese packs a flavor punch, unlike the ricotta.

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Marcella Hazan: "Properly made lasagna consists of several layers of delicate, nearly weightless pasta spaced by layors of savory, but not overbearing fillings made of meat or artichokes or mushrooms or other fine mixtures. The only pasta suitable for lasagna is paper-thin dough freshly made at home."

Well, never mind the last sentence. In Marcella gives only one recipe The Essentials of Italian Cooking," she offers only one recipe using ricotta and notes that it is not classic. Bechamel (balsamella) is the essential binder. I think the secret of a really good, classic dish is restraint. Resist the temptation to pile on the ingredients. Layer the par-boiled noodles with bechamel flavored with parmesant and two or three other ingredients, applied rather sparingly and you'll have something delicious, but not too heavy.

I used to make the old-fashioned Southern Italian immigrant version, with tomato sauce, ricotta, mozzarella and sausages. People loved it, but it turned you comatose for the rest of the day. Who needs that anymore?

When is dinner?

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I haven't found a lasagna I like better than bolognese. If you're not making your own noodles (which is incredibly easy, it turns out), use the no-boil noodles. Make a bolognese sauce (make tons and freeze it) and bechamel, grate some parmesan, and you're basically there. The layering is fun and it bakes quick.


Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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Tommy, I've made a delicious roasted vegetable lasagna (although I think you could use this with many different lasagna variations) where I've used a goat cheese mixture instead of ricotta. In a large bowl combine 1 1/4 lbs room temp goat cheese with 3 eggs, 2tsp minced garlic, 1/4 cup olive oil and s and p to taste. In this particular recipe you assemble in an oiled baking pan as follows:

layer of pasta

spread enough tomato sauce to cover pasta

layer of roasted vegetables (I use eggplant and zucchini)

spread half of goat cheese mixture over veg's

layer of oven dried tomatoes over cheese

repeat above steps (could substitute a diff roasted veg layer for variety)

finish top with a layer of pasta and 2/3 cup tomato sauce, grated parm

Cover with foil and bake at 350 1 1/4 hours, uncover and bake another 15-20 minutes. Pour some of remaining tomato sauce over each piece once "plated".

I've made this with cooked noodles, but you could probably use the no-boil ones instead since it cooks for so long. As far as the sauce goes, a basic tomato sauce works fine, or add some sauteed red peppers and puree it all together to a smooth consistency. Bolognese with this might be a bit much. Now I'm ready to switch our dinner plan to this instead of coq au vin... :rolleyes:

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Tommy, to answer your question, I'm one who likes the classic Italian-American lasagna rendition. So while I find radical departures interesting I'm rarely tempted to make them. My departures tend to be more modest and introverted.

I don't much like ricotta plain (although the fresh ricotta from Calandra on Arthur Avenue is good eating), but as a component of lasagna it provides creaminess and lusciousness. The trick is you have to make a cheese mixture rather than just layer the cheeses one on top of the other. Combine ricotta, diced mozzarella, and grated parmesan in a bowl with eggs and parsley. Mix this up thoroughly to form your cheese filling. When it all melts together you get a terrific synergy.

I like chunks of things in my lasagna so one departure I advocate is meatball lasagna like they do at Fresco by Scotto. You make small meatballs in marinara sauce and you quarter the meatballs so they're in manageable chunks. Then you use that as your sauce/meat filling. So you layer plain sauce on the bottom, then three layers of pasta/meatballs-in-sauce/cheese, then another layer of pasta, then plain sauce, and lots of parmesan on top. Very nice. You can also do meatball and sausage lasagna; same idea.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I grew up eating my mother's facsimile version of my Aunt Carmella's Italian American - style lasagne, even though her version didn't come close to my aunt's. This type of ricotta-based cheesey lasagne is wonderfully American in it's heavyness and excess. But as I wrote earlier, once I tried making a bechamel-based, Bolognese lasagne I switched for good. It's lighter, the flavor of the cheeses packs more of a wallop, it's far creamier than any ricotta-based lasagne could ever hope to be, and, umm, I like it better.

I hope Tommy makes lasagne today, and I hope he reports back what he decided to make and how it turned out, and I hope he posts a picture.

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I actually really like the eggplant variation. Peel, slice, salt, drain and cube Italian eggplant. Place on baking sheet with a bit of olive oil and seasonings and bake to reduce, stirring a few times. Roast a big clump of garlic cloves in foil or a clay roaster until they're mushy and sweet. half a big pile of good fresh plum tomatoes and bake on flat sheet until skin peeling off. Remove skins, throw in blender with olive oil and the garlic. Blend until pureed. Create layers of this sauce with the eggplant and the noodles and use your favorite cheeses with discretion. Withhe right amount of garlic and good tomatoes this is really pungent but sweet - much lighter than any other lasagne I'e ever tried.

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So do lengthwise slices of zucchini; but it helps to salt them first to get out some of the water.

And I'll bet slices of winter squash would be pretty good, too.

But then, can you really call it lasagna? That's the noodle. So like "pineapple carpaccio" you'd have to put it in quotes as "lasagne" di zucchine. :wink:

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Just a couple of days ago, I again made Mario Batali's Lasagna Bolognese. It consists of layers of pasta, a ragu of ground meats, a bechamel sauce, and freshly grated parmesan. It's the easiest thing to put together -- I have another of his lasagna recipes which, though excellent, is way more complicated -- and it is totally delicious. The recipe is on the New York Magazine site. Here it is:

Mario Batali's Lasagna Bolognese

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Another great Mario Batali lasagna is pesto and asparagus. It is a non-tomato version that uses fresh pesto mixed with bechemel, layered with pasta, blanched asparagus, and topped with breadcrumbs. (parmesan is in there, too.)

I love this version of lasagne--it is our standby to serve to vegetarians, but I could eat it anytime. (I also love the more traditional bolognese version, and the tomato/cheese version--but no black beans, please.)

The bechemel is easy to make and makes the lasagna really rich but not so heavy. I bet you could blend some ricotta in with the bechemal to great effect.

Please tell us what you make.

edit: Here is the recipe--I used parmesan instead of pecorino and had good results.

http://www.ochef.com/r42.htm#Baked%20Lasag...s%20and%20Pesto

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thanks to everyone for the discussion and ideas.

i'm not afraid to admit that i used a recipe from epicurious, just as posted. and i'm also man enough to admit that i had no part in the thing as mrs. tommy took the controls. i don't even like lasagna, and this was pretty good. the fresh basil and hot sausage set it off for me.

this be the recipe

a simple dish, and quite tasty. the next time around, i'm looking foward to introducing mushrooms or artichokes to the mix.

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Instead of a ricotta based lasagne I've recently taken to the version made with a bechamel sauce that's been cheesed up with grated parmigiano reggiano. I also layer with more parmigiano and a little fresh mozzarella. It's far creamier and nicer and the cheese packs a flavor punch, unlike the ricotta.

I also use the bechamel method, in a recipe from "The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food" by Lynne Kasper.

Her recipe calls for a ragu of prosciutto, pancetta, pork, veal and beef with onions, milk, red wine, and stock. Very, very good although time consuming as I tend to roll the pasta as well. Big hit with dinner guests, however.

Link to the book:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0688089631

-s

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I use a ricotta-parmesan-mozarella based mixture along the lines FG describes above, and a slowly simmered sauce of gently sauteed garlic slivers and diced onions, san marzano tomatoes, red pepper flakes, oregano, red wine and a half a dash of cinnamon stirred in at the end.

I often add a layer of Eggplant (roasted slices) and Zuchinni (sauteed in olive oil and a little white wine) to the lasagna

Its always better the second day.

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I grew up eating my mother's facsimile version of my Aunt Carmella's Italian American - style lasagne, even though her version didn't come close to my aunt's. This type of ricotta-based cheesey lasagne is wonderfully American in it's heavyness and excess. But as I wrote earlier, once I tried making  a bechamel-based, Bolognese lasagne I switched for good. It's lighter, the flavor of the cheeses packs more of a wallop, it's far creamier than any ricotta-based lasagne could ever hope to be, and, umm, I like it better.

I hope Tommy makes lasagne today, and I hope he reports back what he decided to make and how it turned out, and I hope he posts a picture.

This is the only way to make lasagna-- bechamel. I like mine made with homemade pasta layered with a nice bolognese sauce, bechamel, parmeggiano, reggianno (lots of it) and maybe some mozzarella (just so it melts and makes those strings when you take a piece out). It comes out exceptionally creamy, rich and yummy. Let us know how it turned out.

FM


E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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Just a couple of days ago, I again made Mario Batali's Lasagna Bolognese.  It consists of layers of pasta, a ragu of ground meats, a bechamel sauce, and freshly grated parmesan.  It's the easiest thing to put together -- I have another of his lasagna recipes which, though excellent, is way more complicated -- and it is totally delicious.  The recipe is on the New York Magazine site.  Here it is:

Mario Batali's Lasagna Bolognese

Between drooling over the Tommy Family lasagne and having a batch of leftover bolognese, we were inspired to make the above mentioned Batali recipe on Tuesday. It came out well, but I think the bechamel he calls for is way too runny. I cooked it down a fair amount to thicken it, but the end product was still more liquidy than would have been ideal. (I don't want it to be so stiff that it comes out in cubes, but I don't want to have to serve it in a bowl, either!) Next time, less milk in the bechemel. (Or maybe bake longer?)

The results were still delish--bolognese makes it very meaty. :raz:

If you are up to making it, the fesh pasta really makes the dish. It is so tender!

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in the past, bechamel was supposed to cook for hours - at least that's what i think e. david says somewhere? - and this would make sure that it is very creamy, with no taste of flour. but who has the time these days?

home made pasta is the best for most dishes, but not, i think, for lasagne, as it tends to cause a lack of structure. or perhaps i should let it dry prior to using it?

try the bolognese version with a topping of both parmesan and mozzarella. this will keep the parmesan from getting bitter.

try also a version that substitutes the bolognese ragu with a no-meat ragu plus a sauce of finely chopped spinach and champignons. lots of layers! it's one of the few things i still cook from my vegetarian youth. that, and a pesto lasagne served with a salsa cruda.


christianh@geol.ku.dk. just in case.

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Yes, I too have recently made lasagna on account of this discussion, more or less.

A veg version with roasted red bell peppers and caramelized onion that I hadn't made in a while...nice tomato sauce and lots of bechamel, some smoked mozzarella, Pecorino Romano.

Lots of layers, using a no-boil Italian noodle from Audisio, I think the company is, very nice and thin, although homemade is always superior but these ain't bad.

More lasagna in my future, I predict.


Priscilla

Writer, cook, & c. ● #TacoFriday observant ● Twitter Instagram

 

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His Bechamel has half the flour you actually need and the ragu should be done with stock. A couple of finely chopped chicken livers in it would also be nice. Finally, the cooking time should be a lot longer (2-3 hours) over very low heat. There's a better recipe in "Italian Family Cooking" by Anne Casale


M

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So I tried my hand at homemade pasta for lasagna last night. 3 cups of a.p. flour, and 4 eggs, mixed on the counter, and then kneaded and rolled out with a pasta machine. The pasta had the right consistency, and looked good. According to several resources on the web, I didn't need to parboil the pasta before making the lasagna.

This was a mistake. The layers of pasta on the bottom and the top ended up stiff and cardboardy... the inner layers were fine though. Still, it wasn't as good, I thought, as previous lasagnas with storebought lasagna noodles.

What can I do to make the noodles taste like they were worth the extra effort of making them from scratch?

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I've never tried homemade lasagna noodles without briefly cooking the noddles first, and it always comes out better than store-bought (though I confess that I only make it once a year or so and in between times I use packaged lasagna noodles without cooking first). When I get home I'll check the recipe I use, but your ratio of eggs to flour sounds a little off. Were you using regular all purpose flour or unbleached? Also, I sometimes find it's preferable to make two separate batches of dough rather than doubling the recipe for one batch.

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You have to boil the noodles first.

I always make green noodles for lasagna. Marcella Hazan suggests 3/4c flour to one large egg. Of course, the amount of liquid the flour will absorb depends on the type of flour, the humidity, etc.

Store bought ingredients just can't compare with handmade noodles, a long-simmered ragu, and the rest of the items custom made. People are amazed with the result.


Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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I almost always use fresh pasta when making lasagna, I also don't pre-boil the noodles. For the noodles I usualy use 1/2 head of spinach chopped in the food processor, a couple of cups of semolina, an egg or two, a bit of salt, and a little olive oil. If it's not coming together just add another egg, or some water.

Let the dough rest for a bit then kneed it and roll it out with a rolling pin, if the dough is too wet just work some more semolina into it as you kneed/roll. The key to not having the bottom noodle come out like cardboard is putting enough sauce in the bottom of the pan before layering the rest of the ingredients in. I think it's also important to not let the pasta dry out before using it.

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melkor is correct. Putting an adequate layer of sauce in the bottom is essential.

But par-boiling the noodles is fine too.


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Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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