Weekend recipe: we have lasagna
In 2001, Regina Schrambling went on a week long odyssey in search of the ultimate lasagna recipe. She tested several, and finally found her ideal in a mash-up of recipes from Giuliano Bugialli and Elodia Rigante, both Italian cookbook authors.
“If there were central casting for casseroles, this one deserved the leading role. But its beauty was more than cheese deep. This was the best lasagna I had ever eaten. The sauce was intensely flavored, the cheeses melted into creaminess as if they were bechamel, the meat was just chunky enough, and the noodles put up no resistance to the fork. Most important, the balance of pasta and sauce was positively Italian. At last I could understand why my neighbor Geoff had told me, as I dragged home more bags in our elevator, that all-day lasagna is the only kind worth making.”
FOR THE SAUCE:
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 medium red onions, finely diced
- 2 large cloves minced garlic
- 8 ounces pancetta, diced
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 ½ cups good red wine, preferably Italian
- 2 28-ounce cans Italian plum tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- ¾ pound ground sirloin
- ¼ cup freshly grated pecorino Romano
- 2 eggs
- 10 sprigs fresh parsley, leaves only, washed and dried
- 2 large whole cloves garlic
- ½ cup flour
- 1 pound Italian sausage, a mix of hot and sweet
FOR THE LASAGNA:
- 1 15-ounce container ricotta cheese
- 2 extra-large eggs
- 2 cups freshly grated pecorino Romano
- ½ cup chopped parsley
- 1 pound mozzarella, grated
- 16 sheets fresh lasagna noodles, preferably Antica Pasteria
- For the sauce, heat 1/2 cup oil in a large heavy Dutch oven or kettle over low heat. Add the onions, minced garlic and pancetta, and cook, stirring, for 10 minutes, until the onions are wilted. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Raise heat slightly, add the wine and cook until it is mostly reduced, about 20 minutes. Crush the tomatoes into the pan, and add their juice. Add the tomato paste and 2 cups lukewarm water. Simmer for 1 hour.
- Combine the sirloin, cheese and eggs in a large bowl. Chop the parsley with the whole garlic until fine, then stir into the beef mixture. Season lavishly with salt and pepper. Using your hands, mix until all the ingredients are well blended. Shape into meatballs and set aside.
- Heat the remaining oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Dust the meatballs lightly with flour, shaking off excess, and lay into the hot oil. Brown the meatballs on all sides (do not cook through) and transfer to the sauce.
- In a clean skillet, brown the sausages over medium-high heat. Transfer to the sauce. Simmer 1 1/2 hours.
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, eggs, pecorino Romano, parsley and all but 1 cup of the mozzarella. Season well with salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly.
- Remove the meatballs and sausage from the sauce, and set aside to cool slightly, then chop coarsely. Spoon a thick layer of sauce into the bottom of a 9-by-12-inch lasagna pan. Cover with a layer of noodles. Spoon more sauce on top, then add a third of the meat and a third of the cheese mixture. Repeat for 2 more layers, using all the meat and cheese. Top with a layer of noodles, and cover with the remaining sauce. Sprinkle reserved mozzarella evenly over the top. Bake 30 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.