Many things can be said about lasagna, but ‘easy’ is not one of them. It is a comfort food. It warms the soul on a cold evening. Or, as Garfield says, “Lasagna, the world’s most perfect food.” Whatever you call it, lasagna makes a hearty and delicious family meal. No, I am not talking about the lasagna from the grocer’s freezer section with the thick cardboard-like noodles. I am talking about real homemade lasagna.
Several months ago, I wrote about my close friend and expert cook, Danelle Garraway. We are neighbors now, but she grew up in New Orleans and enjoys cooking and sharing her fabulous Italian family recipes. In that article, I wrote about her husband, Kendall‘s, birthday party where she brought what I thought was a simple dish of lasagna. Her lasagna blew me away. I did not include the recipe for her lasagna in that article but have received many requests for it.
After weeks of begging and several schedule changes, we were finally able to gather for our lasagna lesson. ‘Real homemade Lasagna’ takes some time to prepare, but if you take the time and focus on the little details to make it extra special, it is worth every minute.
Like most really good cooks, Danelle really did not have a recipe for her lasagna. She had always taken several of her favorite sauces and recipes and added them together to make the dish. During the lesson, I made some notes and tried to record each step. This is my attempt to record that day’s version of her homemade lasagna.
Danelle’s Lasagna Lesson
Danelle’s Homemade Pasta
I have tried several recipes for homemade pasta but Danelle’s recipe is quick and easy. It turns out perfect pasta dough every time. You can make the pasta dough the day before and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Store in the refrigerator until ready to roll.
Making homemade pasta may not seem necessary, but think it is one of the keys to this special dish. You roll the lasagna noodles very, very thin and they almost melt into the lasagna.
2 cups of all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon of salt
Put eggs, oil and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to mix well. Add the flour and process until mixture holds together. Remove from the food processor and use right away or wrap in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.
When ready to assemble lasagna, divide the dough in several pieces. Put small sections of the dough through the pasta machine beginning on the widest setting, repeat with all the dough moving pasta rollers closer together each time until you reached the desired thickness. Danelle’s dough is very thin (to setting #6 or #7.) Once all the dough is rolled, boil the sheets a few at a time for about 30 seconds to a minute in well salted water. Remove from water and immediately put in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and keep pasta separated on towels.
Danelle’s Classic Bolognese
1 pound ground chuck
1 pound high-quality Italian sausage. (Danelle gets a brand from Dorignac‘s her favorite grocery store in New Orleans)
1 cup celery, finely chopped
2 cups onion, chopped
1/2 cup carrots, finally chopped or shredded
1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning or 2 tablespoons fresh mixed Italian herbs such as thyme, rosemary and oregano
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
2 - 28-ounce cans San Marzano tomatoes
8 ounce can tomato paste
6 to 8 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 cup fresh chopped basil
6 bay leaves
1 cup red wine
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream or milk
In a large pan, sauté the ground chuck and Italian sausage. Drain if necessary. Add celery, onions, and carrots. Cook over medium to high heat for about 20 minutes stirring occasionally. Stir in Italian herbs and parsley. Cook for about a minute. Stir in tomatoes and tomato paste. Add garlic, wine, milk, and bay leaves. Simmer on low covered for two to three hours until mixture reduces and turns a darker shade of red. Stir in fresh chopped basil, salt and pepper to taste and additional garlic. Remove bay leaves.
You can make the Bolognese sauce several days ahead and store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator. You can also freeze.
While, most of the recipe can be prepped a day or so before, this sauce needs to be made the same day that you plan to assemble the lasagna.
4 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Melt butter in a large sauce pan over low heat. Add flour and mix well until light golden color. Slowly whisk in milk making sure there are no lumps. Whisk until sauce becomes thick. Add salt and pepper, nutmeg and Parmesan cheese. Stir and set aside until ready to use.
34 ounces or 3 cups of whole milk ricotta cheese
8 ounces whole milk mozzarella, shredded, plus more for topping
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded, plus more for topping
1/2 cup bechamel sauce (recipe above)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly ground
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and set aside until ready to assemble lasagna setting aside what will be used for the final topping.
You will need about 1-2 cups of extra mozzarella and Parmesan cheese to assemble the lasagna.
When ready to assemble the lasagna, begin by making the lasagna noodles. Roll out using your pasta machine very thin to approximate number seven on the machine. Use plenty of flour and boil pasta in small batches removing each piece, shocking in cold water, and draining lasagna sheets on a towel. Keep sheets separated on kitchen towels until ready to assemble.
Once pasta is cooked and all the other parts are at hand, you can begin to assemble the lasagna. In the bottom of a large and deep casserole dish (sprayed with non-stick spray) spread, 1 cup of the meat sauce on the bottom of the dish. This will help keep the lasagna from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Layer with lasagna sheets overlapping the edges and cutting the sheets as necessary. Cover first layer of lasagna noodles with about 1 cup of the cheese filling. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese and 1/2 cup of the bechamel sauce.
Next, begin another layer starting with meat sauce, pasta, cheese filling, mozzarella, and bechamel sauce, and continue to make layers in deep casserole dish with the final layer as bechamel sauce, mozzarella cheese, and about 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
Once you have finished all the layers, add a little salt and pepper on top for taste, and pour about 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream on the top.
Cook uncovered for about one hour on 375°. Allow it to sit for at least 15 to 20 minutes to cool before cutting and serving.
Have vegetarian or just want to make something different? Try Artichoke lasagna. Simply simmer 2 – 12 ounce bags frozen artichoke hearts (or 2 - 14 oz cans artichoke hearts, drained) in about 1 cup of water, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice for about 10 minutes or until hearts are very tender. Chop hearts and add to bechamel sauce. When ready to assemble, omit Bolognese meat sauce and assemble and bake just as you would the other lasagna.
My lasagna lesson taught me a lot. Lasagna is about a lot of work, good ingredients, and extra effort, but it’s also about a love of food and friends. It is worth all the effort and more fun with friends. Host your own lasagna party and be sure to make enough for everyone.