I was feeling a little adventurous because of the new snow on the ground this Sunday. I decided to make a traditional lasagna from the Italian region of Umbria. This recipe is a little different from what we usually make in America for lasagna because there is no ricotta used for this lasagna. While some people are put off by this, I can assure you it is still lasagna and yes, it is still delicious.
The real trick to this dish is making fresh pasta dough. If you haven't made fresh pasta before it is probably because you know it is not an easy thing to do. However, it can be easily learned after one or two tries as long as you pay attention to your ingredients. I looked on youtube for awhile to find the best hand made pasta instructional video I could find. Here is what I found:
Follow exactly what she did and you'll have no problem. At the end when we have the dough rolled out we will cut it into our lasagna pasta. If you don't feel like making your own pasta, dried lasagna from the store is fine too. Please don't use those "no boil" noodles though. If you have time to make homemade sauce, you probably have time to boil some water and dunk some pasta in.
Since I am not trained in the Italian culinary arts, I decided to lift Deborah Mele's recipe from Italian Food Forever for Umbrian Lasagna. (Which can be found here.) I use this website a lot since it is chock-full of reliable and authentic recipes from Italy. I am going to omit the prosciutto form her recipe for its cost and also start with a mirepoix to boost the aromatics in the sauce.
Deborah Mele's Umbrian Lasagna:
1 cup onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup carrot, finely chopped
1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced/crushed
1 lbs ground pork
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2/3cup dry red wine
28 ounces chopped tomato (I prefer Pomi.)
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley or 1 tbs dried
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil or 1 tbs dried
1. Heat oil in pan on medium-high heat until the oil shimmers.
2. Add onion. carrot, and celery and saute until vegetables begin to caramelize.
3. Add pork and brown it with vegetables.
4. Once vegetables and pork are caramelized, add wine and scrape the bottom of the pan for any fond. Let the wine evaporate completely. (You shouldn't see any leftover liquid from the wine.)
5. Reduce heat to medium and add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a simmer and leave it on very low heat for two hours, stirring as needed.
6. Remove from heat and let it cool while the rest of the lasagna is being made.
5 large eggs
4 cups Flour
1 pinch salt
Just as in the video:
1. Mound flour on top of counter and make a hole in the middle for eggs. Sprinkle the salt around and in the hole.
2. Crack the eggs into a separate bowl and thoroughly mix them.
3. Slowly add the eggs to the hole making sure that all of the egg fits in and does not spill over. (If this happens, you mind as well start over again.)
4. For the motions of mixing the eggs and flour refer to the video. Basically you want to slowly mix the eggs and flour with a fork until you are able to work it into a ball. From the ball kneed and add flour until the ball of dough is ready to be rolled. (The dough is ready to roll when it is not too dry, and not too wet/sticky. DO NOT use all of the flour unless you need to.)
5. Once the dough is ready to roll use a machine or rolling pin to get flat sheets as thin as you like your lasagna noodles to be.
6. Take your lasagna pan out and flip it on top of the dough. Trace out the pan with a knife for perfect length and width lasagna. Cut the noodles in thirds lengthwise.
7. Boil the noodles in a pot of boiling hot, well salted water** for 30 seconds. Plunge noodles into ice bath immediately. Remove from ice water and reserve on paper towel while you make the Bechamel sauce.
**Note: Use your largest pot and fill it 90% of the way with water. Get it to a rolling boil and then salt the water with one tablespoon of salt for every quart in your pot. This is the way to properly boil water.
5 tablespoons Butter
4 tablespoons flour
4 cups milk
1 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Nutmeg to taste
1. Melt butter in pan on medium heat.
2. Add 1 tablespoon of flour and mix completely, repeat three more times.
3. Let the butter and flour take on some color while stirring lightly. (Be sure not to burn this! Start over if you do.)
4. Add a few drops of milk into butter and stir until incorporated. Keep doing this to avoid a clumpy sauce.
5. When 2 cups of milk are in the sauce, add milk 1 cup at a time until well incorporated. Add the pepper, salt and last cup of milk and incorporate.
6. Keep stirring and reducing the bechamel until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
7. Remove from heat and let it sit 20 to 30 minutes.
Make the lasagna:
2-3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1.5-2 cups pecorino cheese (It's really important to use pecroino if you want to make this true to the region of Umbria but you can always use parmesan too.)
1. Preheat oven to 375F
2. Spead 3/4 cup of bechemel sauce on the bottom of the lasagna pan. Cover the bottom with one layer of lasagna noodles.
3. Take less than a third of the red sauce and spread it evenly on the pasta. Layer with another layer of pasta.
4. Take less than a third of the bechemel sauce and cover the pasta. Sprinkle a little less than a third of the parmesan and mozzarella on the bechemel sauce. Add another layer of pasta.
4. Repeat steps 3 and 4 twice.
5. Add the remaining red sauce to the bechemel sauce. Spread on top of pasta and finish with the rest of the pecorino. (Add extra pecorino on top if you would like a little chrunch on the top layer.)
6. Put this in the oven, uncovered for 40 minutes. Do not open the oven until 40 minutes has passed. Check the top. If it is covered in brown spots of cheese on top it is ready to take out. If it doesn't, wait until it does and take it out. This should take any more than an extra 15 minutes.
7. Let it cool for at least 10 minutes up to 30.
To make the red sauce, (and most Italian red sauces) two things are important:
1. Have the correct pans. Many people use pots to make red sauce and this is completely fine. I prefer using a pan with a high side to make sauce though. A pan is wider and therefore browning (caramelization) is enhanced because of a greater amount of heat distribution to a constant amount of meat and vegetables. A wider pan also aids in evaporation because of the greater surface area. We want this sauce to be thick, so evaporation is our friend here.
2. Brown that base! When you make the meat and vegetables, make sure they aren't just cooked, make sure they're browned. How do we do this? Use the right pan, use the right heat and cut your vegetables correctly; that's it. We talked about the pan, so now about heat. Saute does not mean throw it in a pan and cook it. No, saute means high heat cooking with some fat. To saute you first put oil in your pan and heat the oil until it is hot. Then add your food. While the food cooks you wait. No constant stirring. You need the vegetables to be in contact with the pan for a little while to get some browning. (Chefs do that pan flipping trick for a reason.) Once you get some color from the stuff on the bottom then you can stir. Continue in this fashion until everything is caramelized. As for vegetable cutting the only main thing were concerned about is uniform size. As long as your vegetables are cut to the same size and they aren't too big or too small, you're good to go. We want a uniform size so it will look and taste better.
If you have left over noodles from making the pasta boil them and cut them up. You can use these to test the flavors of your sauces before you assemble the lasagna, giving you a chance to tweak your seasonings before you put it in the oven.