What’s better than using up leftovers? Realizing the mystery tupperware isn’t that weird soup you shoved into the freezer months ago- but sweet, sweet, bolognese sauce! I’ve made a point to label these buried plastic treasures, but that was only recently…some items skipped their identification process, thus making it a grab bag within my freezer. Today I pulled the metaphorical golden ring out of the treasure/freezer chest.
Despite it being so close to national over-indulge week (Christmas and New Years) this lasagna doesn’t feel like a lush, butter rich meal. Sure there’s a lot of cheese, but this time of year, one needs a steaming, molten cheesy plate of pure and utter comfort. The creamy béchamel sauce and robust, meaty bolognese is sandwiched between thin noodles. The pasta gives just enough structure for your piece to remain as one marginally-ragged, slightly-gingantic, portion of heaven. With a fresh dusting of snow and perhaps the duty of shovelling that lovely white stuff, there’s few things that would satisfy as much as this lasagna on a winter evening.
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Serves 12 (in hearty portions) to 15 (in generous 3-inch squares). You will have freezable leftovers/lunches until you almost get sick of eating it. Almost.
I’m not going to lie; this is a time consuming endeavour. The bolognese sauce is actually terrific by itself over pasta. But if you’re feeling really ambitious you can be the super chef and put it into a lasagna. If you’re feeling really, really ambitious you can make your own pasta too. I haven’t tackled that just yet. I didn’t included the pasta recipe; if you feel so inclined to make it however, let me know and I’ll post it! Whichever direction you take, you’re guaranteed a delicious meal ahead.
- 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped (1-inch pieces are fine)
- 1 large or 2 slim carrots, coarsely chopped
- 2 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
- 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 pounds ground chuck, brisket or round or combination
- 1 1/4 cups tomato paste (from 2 6-ounce cans)
- 2 cups red wine, preferably hearty but really, anything you like to drink
- Water as needed
- 2 bay leaves
- A few sprigs thyme, tied in a bundle
- 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups whole milk (I used 1% and it was fine)
- 1 teaspoon table salt
- 1 clove minced garlic
- Freshly nutmeg, to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 4 cups grated parmesan + mozzarella cheese blend*
- 16-20 lasagna standard lasagna noodles, par boiled + cooled
- 1 cup caramelized onions**
Make Bolognese sauce
- In a food processor, pulse onion, carrots, celery, and garlic until finely chopped. (I have a vendetta against food processors and usually opt to chop by hand)
- Heat a moderate-sized Dutch oven (4 to 5 quarts) over medium-high heat. Once hot, coat the bottom of the pan with two to three tablespoons of oil.
- Once it is hot, add the chopped vegetables and season them generously with salt and pepper. Cook the vegetables until they are evenly brown, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes.
“I’m going to insert my favorite Burrell-ism here: Brown food tastes good! Don’t skimp on the cooking times as this creates the big flavors the will carry right through to your plated lasagna. And now I’m going to insert my own-ism: Don’t worry about sticking bits of food or uneven pieces or anything. It’s all going to work out in the end.” – Deb
- Add the ground beef and seasoning again with salt and pepper. Brown the beef well and again, don’t rush this step. Cook for another 15 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste and cook for 3 to 4 minutes.
- Add the red wine, using it to scrape up any stuck bits in the pan. Cook the wine until it has reduced by half, about 5 more minutes.
- Add water to the pan until the water is about 1 inch above the meat. Toss in the bay leaves and the bundle of thyme and stir to combine everything, bringing it to a low simmer.
Here’s how the next 3 to 4 hours will go: You’ll keep a pitcher of water near the stove. You’ll stir the sauce from time to time. As the water in the sauce cooks off, you’ll want to add more but you don’t want to add more than 1 to 2 cups at a time or you’ll have boiled meat sauce (bleh) rather than something thick and robust with flavor. Taste it from time to time and add more seasoning if needed. Simmer for 3 to 4 hours.
You’ll have about 8 to 8 1/2 cups of sauce but will only need 4 for the lasagna. Discard the thyme and bay leaves and put half in the fridge for lasagna assembly tomorrow and the other half in the freezer for up to a couple months. Hence today’s dinner!
- Melt your butter in the bottom of a medium-to-large saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, add your flour and stir it into the butter until smooth.
- Cook the mixture together for a minute, stirring constantly. Pour in a small drizzle of your milk, whisking constantly into the butter-flour mixture until smooth. Continue to drizzle a very small amount at a time, whisking constantly.
- Once you’ve added a little over half of your milk, you’ll find that you have more of a thick sauce or batter, and you can start adding the milk in larger splashes, being sure to keep mixing.
- Once all of the milk is added, add the salt, garlic, nutmeg (if using) and few grinds of black pepper, and bring the mixture to a lower simmer and cook it, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a 9×13-inch or equivalent rectangular baking dish, spread a generous 1/4 cup of the béchamel. I mostly use this to keep the noodles from sticking.
- Add your first layer of cooked noodles, patching and slightly overlapping them however is needed to form a single layer.
- Ladle 1 cup bolognese sauce over the noodles, spreading it evenly. Drizzle 1/2 cup béchamel over the bolognese; don’t worry about getting it perfectly smooth or even. I usually mix it together so there’s no pockets.
- Sprinkle the layer with cheese to your taste. Repeat this process three more times, then add one more layer of pasta.
- Finish with remaining sauces and cheese, I tried to ration the last layer just so I could do this.
- Bake your lasagna for 30 to 45 minutes, until bubbly all over and browned on top. Let set 10-30 minutes. Honestly it still is hot after an hour, so you have a pretty large window to eat it.
Do ahead: Lasagna can be prepared right up until the baking point a day in advance, and kept wrapped in plastic in the fridge. Theoretically, you could also freeze it at this point but I haven’t tried this. I’m sure it’d knock the socks off of PC brand lasagna though.
*I know this seems like a crazy amount of cheese, but the recipe called for 1 2/3 cups which I used in one layer….needless to say, use your own judgment and be prepared to grate more cheese if needed.
**Lasagna is an extremely versatile vessel for flavour. I happened to have caramelized onions left over, but spinach, olives, broccoli or cheese (the list is endless) would work fine. You can just mix and match to you and your family/guests’ taste.