Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Lasagna - totally from scratch!

Lasagna or Lasagne? It's spelled with an "e" in Italy and the UK and with an "a" in North America. Lasagne also implies it is plural. I have seen it both ways. Either way it's delicious!

I understand why people buy frozen lasagna...sort of. 
If you make lasagna entirely from scratch it is an all day event. I will admit it is alot of work however, I make it on a weekend when I am not rushed and once you taste it you will understand why it's worth your time. I will also show you where you can cut corners and replace with some quality bought products so it may not be entirely as much work. Once you taste this you will understand why you want to make it even if it's just for special occasions.

So, when I invite you over for lasagna you want to come! 

There are lots of components and you may want to make all the pieces one day and then assemble and bake the following day.

You will need:

Meat filling:

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 3 Italian sausages (casings removed) or 1/2 pound ground pork 
  • 1 large onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup chopped mushrooms
  • 5-6 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 2 slices of bacon or pancetta
  • olive oil
  • 1 tsp chili flakes
  • 1 tbsp Italian seasonings
  • salt/pepper
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh basil
* could also add 1 carrot and 1 stalk celery


  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tsp chili flakes
  • 2 cans of crushed tomatoes (1x 14 oz and 1x 28 oz)
  • 1 tbsp pesto
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar

Cheese/Spinach filling

  • 1 tub of ricotta cheese 500 gr- drained 
  • 1 bag of  fresh spinach 6 oz/170 grams
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • salt/pepper
  • fresh nutmeg
  • 1 egg yolk


  • 1 ball of pizza mozzarella (not bocconcini or fresh) grated fresh
  • 3/4 -1 cup fresh grated Parmesano Reggiano


  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Bechamel Sauce
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp all purpose flour
  • pinch of fresh nutmeg
  • salt/pepper
* you will need 1 large Pyrex dish or lasagna pan or in my example I made 1 medium sized lasagna in and 8x10 glass Pyrex dish and 1 7x10 oval dish. You could make several small portions and freeze them all for several meals.  This recipe could easily feed 8 people.

Step 1: prepare the soffrito or the flavour base in a food processor. You are looking to create a vegetable paste to flavour the meat. The normal base is carrot, celery, onion and garlic.In this lasagna I have used:
onion, garlic, mushrooms, fresh thyme, bacon as my base. Add chunks to food processor and puree until it is a chunky paste. Add to pan with a few tbsp olive oil and cook until you remove some of the water from the vegetables and they just start to brown. This will take approx 5-7 minutes on medium heat.

Step 2: add ground beef and sausages with the casings removed. I removed the casings from the sausages and then I pulsed them in the food processor 3-4 times to break apart the sausage meat so its more consistent with the ground beef texture. Add chili flakes, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Saute on medium/high until all the water has evaporated from the pan and the meat starts to fry and brown. This will take 10-15 minutes in a large pan. Once it starts to brown you add the white wine scraping any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Cook a few minutes. Remove from heat and add fresh chopped basil and parsley. Reserve for later.

Step 3: prepare the ricotta filling. First you need to empty the ricotta into a stainer to drain the water. You can do this while you are preparing the spinach. 

Step 4: add 1 cup of water to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the bag of spinach to the boiling water. Cook 2-3 minutes pressing leaves into water until spinach is wilted. Strain, let cool so you can handle. Wrap the spinach in paper towel or a clean tea towel and squeeze as much water out as you can. Once the spinach has most of the water out you can chop it. It will be a tiny little ball.

Step 5: in a bowl add chopped spinach, drained ricotta, egg yolk, crushed garlic, salt, pepper and 5-6 gratings of nutmeg (seen on the rasp/grater)

Step 6: mix all ingredients and set aside for assembly.

Step 7: grate the mozzarella cheese and the Parmesan. If you want to buy pre-grated cheese try to get one with no preservatives in it and if you buy grated Parmesan buy it from a place that sells lots to ensure it is fresh. The taste is best if you do it yourself but, I know this is a pain for many people so you decide.

Step 8: if you want to buy fresh lasagna noodles go to a good market that makes it fresh if you have this option. It takes 10 seconds to make the dough in a food processor. Add flour, eggs, salt and oil and process 10 seconds until it starts to form a ball in the machine.remove the dough and wrap in plastic wrap and let rest  at least 30 minutes before rolling out.

Step 9: make sauce. In a saucepan add olive oil, chili flakes and garlic cook 1 minute and add tomatoes.

Step 10: add good store bought pesto or homemade. I make mine in the summer when basil is abundant and freeze them in ice cubes and leave in freezer for the winter months.

Step 11: add salt, pepper, sugar, balsamic vinegar and cook 5-10 minutes. Taste it and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Step 12: cut dough into 8 pieces. I cut the ball in half and then those halves into halves etc. This allows the pieces to be somewhat equal in size

Step 13: I have a pasta attachment on my Kitchenaid mixer but you can buy cheaper hand crank versions that sit on your table or you can roll out the dough by hand. I start with lots of flour on the piece of dough and start with the largest opening and keep going down to the thickness I want. I go to 6 on my machine. Thin but not so thin that you can see through it.

Continue until all pieces are done. Make sure you rub lots of flour on both sides of the noodle before leaving on the counter or it will stick and rip. If you leave them on the counter they dry a bit before cooking.


Place some sauce in the bottom of your dish.

Have a large pot of salted water boiling. Add 1-2 lasagna noodles (I cut mine in half for ease) at a time and cook for 1 minute. I remove from the water with a spider/hand strainer.

I place the hot noodles on top of the bottom layer of sauce. Work quickly to avoid sticking or you can strain and add a bit of oil to the noodles if your hands are sensitive. I strain then and place them flat on the counter and then as soon as I can handle them I layer. I only cook one layer of noodles at a time because its easier. keep the water going and just add 2 each time.

I add most of the ricotta filling to the top of the noodle (I have reserved a portion for my smaller second lasagna because I made two) Use an off set spatula to spread out the cheese. You can also use the back of a large spoon. 

Add a bit of sauce and cheese , spread evenly.

Boil 2 more noodles, strain and layer on lasagna

Top with the ground meat and more sauce

Boil more noodles, strain, layer on top of meat layer

add all  bechamel ingredients in a small saucepan and whisk for 2 -3 mins stirring constantly until thickened and you have made your quick bechamel

Top the final layer of noodles with bechamel,  tomato sauce and grated cheese to finish. 

Do the same for your second dish or keep layering until you have used everything. I used every thing perfectly in these two pans. Sometimes you might have a bit of one thing or the other left. I am just good at estimating how much because I have done it so many times.

Bake at 350 degrees for approx 50-60 minutes or until bubbly and as browned as you like it. let it rest 5-10 minutes before cutting and serving.

You know you want to eat that!!

 andiamo mangiare!!! (come on let's eat!!)

1 comment:

    Maybe when I retire or when pigs fly! Even the pasta, really, looks so amazing though..will wait til i come to your house!