Sunday, September 9, 2012

Lasagna al Forno

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Traditional baked lasagna al forno
For many years my husband refused to eat lasagna.  It's one of my favorite meals.  This was a problem.  He didn't like it because most recipes have ricotta or cottage cheese.  Then I discovered the traditional way of making it, and there could finally be peace in our house.  Lasagna al Forno is simple.  Still takes half a day when making from scratch, but the result is worth it.  Fresh pasta sheets, bolognese sauce, bechamel sauce and parmesan cheese.  That's it.

Daryl and 2 of his buddies were heading out to canoe/kayak Ross Lake in the North Cascades National Park for a week over Labor Day.  I wanted to send them off with a great dinner the night before they left.  I was thinking I would carb load them so they could sleep well that night and have good energy in the morning, and I saw the food they were packing for the week. 

homemade crusty breadI also made a crusty fresh loaf of bread.  This is hands down the easiest and best tasting homemade bread.  I discovered it on Pinterest.  Oh my.  Follow the link above for detailed instructions, options and photos.  In a sentence: Flour, yeast, salt, water; Rise; Bake in a heated cast iron dutch oven.  Crusty on the outside, tender on the inside.  The first time I made it Daryl came into the kitchen and when he saw it said: "Is this the bread you made"?  "It looks like it came from the bakery".  That was a proud moment!

For the lasagna, first make the bolognese.  While that is simmering make the fresh pasta.  Then make the bechamel.  I only have one cast iron dutch oven, something that will be remedied in the near future.  I use this thing far too often to only have one.  First I baked the bread.  Then I used the D.O. for the bolognese:

1.5 pounds ground beef, browned
2 Tbsp butter
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 pkg thinly sliced Pancetta, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely diced
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 large onion, finely diced
4 garlic cloves, finely diced
salt and pepper
1 1/3 cup red wine
1/2 cup cream (or half and half)
2 (14 oz) cans diced tomatoes (or San Marzano whole peeled)
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves

Directions: Heat the butter and oil in a heavy saucepan or porcelain coated cast iron dutch oven.  Add the onion and cook over moderate heat for 3-4 minutes.  Add the pancetta, and cook until onion is translucent.  Stir in the carrot, celery and garlic.  Cook 3-4 minutes more.
Add the beef and crumble it into the vegetables.  Season with salt and pepper. 
Pour in the wine, raise the heat slightly and cook until the liquid evaporates.  Add the cream and cook until it evaporates.
Stir in the tomatoes with their juice, and the herbs.  Bring the sauce to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered for 1.5 - 2 hours, stirring occasionally.  Correct the seasoning before serving/using.

Next make the pasta sheets.  See my homemade pasta blog post for instructions.  Cut the sheets to fit the lasagna pan.  Do not let the pasta sheets dry out before cooking.
Start a large pot of salted water to boil.

Then make the Bechamel sauce:

3 cups milk
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup flour
salt and pepper
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

Directions:  Gently heat the milk with the bay leaf in a small saucepan.  Melt the butter in a medium heavy pan.  Add the flour, and mix it in well with a wire whisk.  Cook for 2-3 minutes.  Remove the bay leaf, pour the hot milk into the butter/flour mixture, and combine smoothly with the whisk.  Bring the sauce to a boil, stirring constantly, and cook for 4-5 minutes more.  Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Set aside, but cover with the lid to keep a skin from forming on the bechamel.

Both sauces
Homemade Pasta
Shredded parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400.  Once the water is boiling, add pasta sheets 2 at a time and cook for about 30 seconds.  Remove from water to drain on wax or parchment paper.  Start the layering process with a scoop of the sauce on the bottom of the pan.  Place lasagna sheets in the pan, cover with a thin layer of bolognese, then a layer bechamel, and a handful of parmesan.  Repeat the layers in that order ending with a layer of pasta coated with bechamel, and top with parmesan.  Don't make more than about 6 layers.  Bake in the preheated oven, checking after 20 minutes, looking for the top to be nicely browned.  Mine usually takes between 30-40 minutes.  Allow to rest 10-15 minutes before serving.

Sauce recipes (slightly adapted) from Italian.

~ Enjoy ~

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