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Lasagna -- eG Cook-Off 52


Chris Amirault
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We were wondering what a good next cook-off would be when Restaurants and Institutions posted this list of the Top 10 Most Googled Recipes of 2009. We compared it to our eG Cook-Off Index and realized that we'd hit most of those main dishes save one. So:

Welcome to the latest eG Cook-Off 52, lasagna! We've had a few discussions on the dish (click here and here) but long ago. Given the poke from Restaurants and Institutions, it seemed an update was in order.

I've often made both the bolognese & bechamel version as well as the Italian-American red sauce & ricotta, mozzarella, and parmiggiano version, and I love 'em both. I'm also a convert to using as many fresh ingredients as possible, most especially the pasta itself. With kids in the house, it's a fun dish to assemble, and they wolf it down.

So is anyone up for some lasagna al forno?

Chris Amirault

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I love making homemade lasagna: when I'm feeling REALLY ambitious I even go full-Bugiali on it and do alternating layers of spinach and plain egg pasta, which looks fantastic. But the last couple times I've used those no-boil noodles Barilla sells, and they sure do cut down on the effort involved. Anyone else use these? Or have a preference for the thicker, "normal" dried lasagna?

Chris Hennes
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chennes@egullet.org

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Anyone else use these? Or have a preference for the thicker, "normal" dried lasagna?

I have a preference for the thicker pasta and a very high pasta to other stuff ratio. I like my lasagna to be pasta with some stuff, not casserole with a few layers of pasta in it. That said, I have used the "no boil" before and didn't hate it.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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I've read varying opinions on some of the pasta discussions here at eG as to whether fresh pasta sheets need to be cooked before using in lasagne...

I must admit that the idea of boiling each sheet of pasta I roll out before trying to assemble the dish, and avoiding them sticking together, sounds quite frustrating and has dissuaded me from trying it so far.

Are there any tips for how to manage the par-cooking and bench-space issues for this? Or perhaps I will go for the no-cook method, which apparently leaves a bit of tooth in the pasta.

I think I would like to try this style of whisper-thin pasta sheets from the recipe on 101 Cookbooks blog.

Edited by stuartlikesstrudel (log)
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Are there any tips for how to manage the par-cooking and bench-space issues for this? Or perhaps I will go for the no-cook method, which apparently leaves a bit of tooth in the pasta.

What I've done is get a pot of salted water boiling, drop three sheets of the fresh pasta in, and then lay them onto a clean kitchen towel to dry off briefly before laying them into the pan. Sauce, cheese, repeat. I have a rolling cart that provides counter space that I can move to the stove, which makes it easier (no dripping sheets to carry around).

Having said that, I've never tried the no-cook method, so I can't comment on whether it's worth the trouble.

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I'll go you one better than the no boil noodles. Something I picked up from Kim Shook, and it works a dream. Try using egg roll wrappers instead of noodles. Seriously.

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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I have a preference for the thicker pasta and a very high pasta to other stuff ratio. I like my lasagna to be pasta with some stuff, not casserole with a few layers of pasta in it. That said, I have used the "no boil" before and didn't hate it.

Interesting. I wouldn't say that I am the "opposite", but I generally make the recipe out of Bugiali's "The Fine Art of Italian Cooking." I think it is probably 50% pasta by weight, and has many layers of thin homemade pasta, rather than a few layers of the thick dried kind. I find the Barilla no-boil to be an OK substitute for the fresh in this recipe in a pinch (e.g. when you don't have time to go whole hog). I've never though of using egg-roll wrappers, but I guess it makes sense, thanks for the idea, Marlene, I may have to give that a shot.

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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I'll go you one better than the no boil noodles. Something I picked up from Kim Shook, and it works a dream. Try using egg roll wrappers instead of noodles. Seriously.

So, you use the egg roll wrappers uncooked, or do you cook them first?

I have to admit that I've never made lasagna, so my questions may seem naive. Is cooking and draining the pasta hard to time, or is there some other issue with it? It seems to me that of all the steps in making lasagna, the pasta would be the easiest. Am I missing something?

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One challenge with lasagna is keeping the pasta al dente: you pre-boil it, assemble the dish then bake it. If you make a big, deep dish of the stuff it might take half an hour or more to heat through. Meanwhile the pasta is getting softer and softer.

Marcella Hazan decries the use of dried pasta at all for lasagna (though she accepts the dried in general), and instructs that you dunk it in cold water after boiling and bake for no more than... was it 15 minutes ?

Recipes seem to differ on whether to mix the bechamel and ragu, or to layer them. For example: Marcella - combine, layer with grated parmesan; in "The Delights of Good Italian Cooking", published in English in Italy by Bonechi, editor Paolo Piazzesi chooses a recipe that layers ragu, bechamel and parmesan.

The latter source also suggests variations: a lighter version (tomato sauce, diced mozzarella, a basil leaf); Campania (rounds of sausage, crumbled ricotta, sliced hard-boiled egg); Liguria (pesto, bechamel).

QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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My lasagna is of the variety of my Brooklyn grandmother -- loaded with lots of meat. The last time I made it was this past Christmas. It included homemade meatballs and sausage, both of which were browned, then cooked in a stockpot of tomato sauce for hours, sliced, then layered into the lasagna along with homemade noodles, tomato sauce, and a ricotta mixture loaded with shredded, fresh mozzarella, parmigiano reggiano, egg, parsley, etc. Takes forever to make, as evidenced by the fact that Christmas dinner was served at 11:50 p.m. that night. :unsure:

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I have only had the "Italian/American" style of lasagna except for one time. I thought the bechamel thing was some invention of the Irish chef that had made it :rolleyes:

My husband is a trip when he makes lasagna...he uses the recipe off the Ronzoni box... He covers all the counters with tinfoil so he can lay the cooked noodles out so they dont stick together. It comes out good enough that my grandmother approved it, but I just can't watch.

I usually par-cook enough pasta per layer and pull them out with tongs and a spyder, then drop the next layer's worth into the pot.

Definately the 3 cheese kind over here, I mix the Ricotta with a few eggs and season with garlic powder, parsley,and Romano cheese. Start with sauce on the bottom then layer noodles, Ricotta, Mozzarella, and sauce till done...lots of cheese on top and bake.

If baking right away no foil on top...if making ahead of time cover with foil till bubbly then remove to brown a little

You can add thin slices of veg to the layers or if you wanted to hide veggies you can julienn them into the sauce

Baked ziti is the same same except mix it all in your biggest bowl and dump into sauced baking dish...top with extra cheese

tracey

Edited by rooftop1000 (log)

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My lasagna is of the variety of my Brooklyn grandmother...

It sounds like the Italians see you as Neapolitan.

Right on. Well, one quarter Neapolitan and one one quarter Sicilian.

Edited to add that my other Brooklyn grandmother, the one actually born in Naples and who rarely made lasagna, always prepared her giant pot of pasta sauce with the addition of braciole and meaty bones.

Edited by abooja (log)
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The lasagna recipe I've gotten the most raves for is a take on something from Cook's Illustrated: it's a no-tomato, bechamel and spinach lasagna. I usually do a variation with added mushrooms. I'm not thrilled with the flavor of the cottage cheese they use, so I generally go for ricotta instead.

For the pasta, I use no-bake noodles---but I give them a bath in hot tap water for about five minutes, then pull them out onto kitchen towels to drip-dry. The texture seems to be less leathery that way, and you don't need to walk that fine line between too-much-liquid-soggy-lasagna and not-enough-liquid-yucky-noodles. That, to me, was a big revelation.

MelissaH

MelissaH

Oswego, NY

Chemist, writer, hired gun

Say this five times fast: "A big blue bucket of blue blueberries."

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Count me in as someone who believes absolutely in blanching fresh pasta for lasagne al forno. I think it makes a big difference.

I also don't think it's much of a pain to do. The way I do it is to have a big pot of simmering salted water on the stove, and a big bowl of cold water right next to it. As I finish rolling out each sheet of pasta, I chuck it in the simmering water, stir it around a bit so it doesn't stick to itself, wait until it starts to firm up, then take it out with tongs and plop it into the bowl of cold water. After that, you can just take out the sheet of pasta and flatten it out on some tea towels to dry out a bit. It doesn't matter all that much if the pasta sheets tear a bit, since it's going to be layered anyway. I layer the dish with the lasagne as they come out of the water. So it's: make one gigantic broad noodle; blanch; chill; blot; cut; layer; top with ragu, etc.; make another gigantic noodle; etc.

Personally, I don't care for the dried, semolina pasta sheets of lasagne for lasagne al forno. Almost invariably one of two things goes wrong: either the noodles aren't tender enough, and it's difficult to cut with a fork without the filling oozing out all over the place; or if the noodles are tender enough to cut with a fork, they're water-logged and insipid. The lasagne in lasagne al forno aren't supposed to be al dente. One should be able to cut all the way down through all the layers with the side of a fork without squirting the fillings all over the plate.

One note of pedantry: One noodle is a lasagna (much like one noodle is a spaghetto). More than one noodle is lasagne (note the "e" ending). The dish, "wide noodles baked in the oven" is lasagne al forno. A dish described as "lasagna" or "lasagna al forno" would consist of a single noodle. The al forno part is almost always used with reference to the baked dish, because there are plenty of non-baked lasagne dishes that use these broad noodles much like any other noodle (I like fresh lasagne with butter and asparagus, and it's also good tossed with ragu).

--

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So, if I'm going to make pasta for lasagne al forno (with ragu and bechamel), should I make a pasta with egg or without? And how thick or thin should the noodles be rolled?

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So, if I'm going to make pasta for lasagne al forno (with ragu and bechamel), should I make a pasta with egg or without? And how thick or thin should the noodles be rolled?

Yes, with egg and AP flour.

The thickness depends somewhat on the effect you would like to achieve. If I were going to make lasagne al forno with spinach, asparagus and a light bechamel, I'd probably like to have many layers of very thin pasta. For ragu, parmigiano and a more robust bechamel, I'd go thicker. This is similar to the differences in thickness I'd have were I going to make tagliatelle with those two different treatments. And actually, making the lasagne right around the same thickness you would use for tagliatelle with the same ingredients is a pretty good rule of thumb. Overall, IMO, you always want the pasta to be thinner than the pre-made sheets of "fresh" lasagne you can get in grocery stores.

It goes a little something like this...

gallery_8505_416_20202.jpg

Edited by slkinsey (log)

--

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For the pasta, I use no-bake noodles---but I give them a bath in hot tap water for about five minutes, then pull them out onto kitchen towels to drip-dry. The texture seems to be less leathery that way, and you don't need to walk that fine line between too-much-liquid-soggy-lasagna and not-enough-liquid-yucky-noodles. That, to me, was a big revelation.

MelissaH

My MIL bathes them right in the sugo, albeit, not for 5 minutes. But it works. When she is using No bake noodles, she usually makes the sugo a little looser.

I prefer fresh pasta though. And I prefer them thin, even when making classic lasagne because I like many layers. And I don't want it to be heavy in the sense that I would rather eat a big piece of thin sheeted lasagne than a small piece of thick! heehee

Edited by ambra (log)
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I'll go you one better than the no boil noodles. Something I picked up from Kim Shook, and it works a dream. Try using egg roll wrappers instead of noodles. Seriously.

So, you use the egg roll wrappers uncooked, or do you cook them first?

I have to admit that I've never made lasagna, so my questions may seem naive. Is cooking and draining the pasta hard to time, or is there some other issue with it? It seems to me that of all the steps in making lasagna, the pasta would be the easiest. Am I missing something?

I've only done it once, and I used them uncooked. Otherwise I buy fresh pasta sheets, which I do not boil first. I made my own pasta once for lasagna and decided it wasn't worth the effort. The taste of the pasta gets lost with the sauce and cheese, so I just buy it now. But then, I don't really like making pasta anyway.

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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My 12-year-old daughter, Lulu, got me a $50 gift certificate to Whole Foods for Xmas with a note saying that she'd spend the day shopping and cooking with me -- a great present. She chose lasagna, so we recently did the deed using fresh pasta, a three-meat sauce, parmigiano reggiano, and fresh ricotta.

Mincing onions for the sauce:

4385892751_11fa1d3129.jpg

Sautéing the homemade pancetta and onion:

4385892933_9866454552.jpg

Grinding the pork, beef, and veal:

4386656424_3304e388f0.jpg

Tomatoes, meat, herbs, spices, pepper, bottle of chianti...:

4385893317_1a6f11965d.jpg

Ricotta draining:

4385893491_b679246722.jpg

Getting ready for the pasta dough:

4385893717_712feaab58.jpg

Sister Bebe: "But where's the bowl?!?"

4385894181_e43827a64c.jpg

Rolling, rolling, rolling, keep that dough a-rolling:

4385894351_c3e5774193.jpg

I didn't get a shot of the final dish, so here's a shot of the leftovers:

4385866353_8e8bde7cf5.jpg

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Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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So, this is probably going to get me kicked out of the Society, but here goes: May I call it lasagne if I use thinly sliced zucchini or eggplant? I press as much liquid out of the slices as possible, and grill them lightly before assembling the dish. (I use a bolognese sauce and spinach and ricotta.) Nah, I guess if the noodles are the lasagne, as slkinsey says, then my dish would have to be called Faux Lasagne (or maybe "Zuchini Sottilmente Affettato al forno").

It's not the same as with noodles, of course, but I'm trying to stay away from starchy foods right now. It's pretty good!

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