Lasagne al ragu’

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I made this dish this past mother’s day.

It’s a classic “mom’s” recipe and I thought the occasion was perfect.  I had over Hellai and her family.  There were about 12 of us.  Good size party.

Lasagna is another of those dishes that have probably 200 variations and interpretations. I favor the basic approach.  This means that I stay away from any bechamel or cream, keep the sauce to the basic flavors and don’t overload the lasagne with too much stuff.  Fundamentally I focus on having a great sauce with good ingredient and cooked with lots of love.

Now, back in the days my granma (and my mom) would have woken up at 6am to cook the all thing…but that does not work for me.  So, I took the two-day approach.  I made the sauce on Saturday (took about 5 hours cooking) and the lasagna Sunday morning.   It made for a much nicer Sunday.

Here’re the ingredients for the ragu’ sauce (sauce for about 2 1/2 pounds of lasagna):

  • 3 12 big cans of crushed tomatoes (the ones you buy a QFC, Safeway, etc…)
  • about 2 pounds of good ground beef (i got the angus one)
  • about 1 pound of beef chunks, the same one often used for beef stew (stick to the good stuff)
  • 6 chicken drumsticks (get the organic stuff)
  • 2-3 pork chops
  • 8 fresh tomatoes
  • 4 sticks of celery
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 onion well chopped
  • 2-3 garlic cloves
  • Salt, pepper, oregano, basic
  • olive oil (at leave half cup…I think I used 3/4 of a cup)
  • fresh spice pepper

The immediate question would be: what’re you doing with all that meat?  The meat serves two purposes (1) gives lot of good flavor to the sauce (2) makes the sauce richer (3) i find beef only too strong, the port and chicken help to smooth it (4) it makes for a great “second dish” which goes really well with the lasagne.  Anyway a win-win-win-win type of situation.

Phase I – The sauce

The sauce is made using a fairly standard process. Here’re the basic steps:

  1. Start the “soffritto” (the basic of every italian dish).  This means in a (very) large sauce pan put the olive oil, onion, garlic, celery and carrots.  Let it cook for a few mins.  Keep the heat at medium at most…you don’t want to fry the ingredients, just simmer them.  You can tell that it’s being cooked because the onion gets translucent. 
  2. At this point add the chicken, port and beed chunks.  You will add the ground beef later (less cooking time).  As the meat is cooking and the water starts to dry up a bit add a little white wine (about half cup).  This is about the time when I add the ground beef.  Overall you’ll want to cook the meat for about 30mins or better yet “until it’s done” (I usually just take a piece of chicken and beef, cut it and see if it’s cooked).   Once the meat is cooked.  Take it out, cover it and keep it warm.  Leave the ground beef, since it will cook with the sauce the entire time.
  3. At this point we move to the tomato sauce part.  First step is to add the chopped freshed tomatoes.  Leave them cook for a few mins (probably 5 or so).  
  4. Add the crushed tomatoes and the spices (salt, pepper, oregano, a few pieces of spicy pepper and a few leaves of basil).  At this point I am not overly concerned about the amount of spices…we do have lots of time to calibrate the flavor.
  5. You’re on your way to be done.  At this point you just want to simmer the sauce for at least couple of hours.  Make sure you stir it every few minutes (it would not taste too good if the bottom burns).
  6. After couple of hours add back the meat and leave it simmer it for another hour or so.
  7. You are done with the sauce.  The question is…when is the sauce done?  The timeframe I specified here is a reference, but it really depends on many factors.  Here’re some of the things I looked at: (1) density (or viscosity): you don’t want it to liquid or dense.  You should be able to feel a good texture.  (2) oil factor:  when I see a little oil condensing on top of the soap it usually mean that we are almost there (3) bread test: take a bite of bread with some sauce and taste it…how does it taste?  To get an idea of how this could look like:[email protected]/149140778/in/set-72057594117429374/

OK. The sauce is done.  If you are making the lasagna the day after, just rest the sauce in the fridge.

Phase II – Lasagna day

It’s the day to make the lasagna.  Ingredients:

  • 2-3 packages of lasagna (I used the Barilla brand.  I like the “flat” type)
  • a cup of grated parmiggiano reggiano (get the good stuff…go to PCC/Wholefood)
  • a log of Mozzarella, chopped (get the good stuff!)
  • the sauce we made (warm it up a bit, but don’t cook it again!)

Here’re the steps:

  1. Boil the lasagna for 2-3 minutes.  I know the box says that you don’t need to, but my mom said it’s better doing it, so we just do it.
  2. Take the boiled lasagna and lay it out on paper towel or cloth.  This will dry it, keeping it moist.  Make sure that you put the cooked lasagna under cold water so that it stops cooking.  Check this out to get an idea of what the lasagna should look like after this step:[email protected]/149140748/in/set-72057594117429374/
  3. It’s about time to start putting this thing together.  I used a big foil pan. Add a little oil and sauce at the bottom…just to keep it moist. 
  4. Lay out your first layer of lasagna.  Now add the sauce, make sure that you cover the entire area.  Don’t be to shy with the sauce, but don’t put too much either.  You want a good balance.  I really never liked a lasagna that is too saucy.  Also…in the layer don’t put the big chuncks of meat (or chicken or pork) stick with the sauce with ground beef.
  5. After the sauce add some the parmiggiano and mozzarella. For the mozzarella I usually follow the “handful” rule…in other words I take an handfull of the chopped mozzarella and equally spread it around (of course you could add more).
  6. Repeat the step above for 5 times (I usually do about 5 main layers).
  7. The last layer is the lasagna, with just a bit of sauce on top and a good chunk of parmiggiano.  This is the layer that will get slightly burned.  Good stuff.
  8. Ok…you are done.  Pre-heat the over to 400F and stick it in there for about 40mins.  After the forty means I do the “fork test”…if the fork can go through without much resistance, than it’s done!  I turn on the broiler to high, put the lasagna back for couple of mins and it’s done![email protected]/149140847/in/set-72057594117429374/

NOTE:  Don’t serve the lasagna right away.  Let it rest for about 5 minutes.  It will be much better.

Don’t forget that you also have that great meat that has been cooking in the sauce. That’s good stuff.  Serve it on the side and all the guest will be super-happy!

Let me know how it goes…

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Showing 3 comments
  • Claudio

    This is a great and delicious dish!!! I agree with everything in the recipe apart from not using the bechamel. In my opinion it gives the extra-kick in flavour if prepared with the right ingredients and a little bit of spices.
    It gives you also a nice touch to the presentation being a contrasting color.
    I come from the north of Italy and this could be the reason why I’m used to the bechamel. It makes the dish heavier but filling and warmer. Exactly what you need on a cold winter day!
    Excellent blog BTW

  • existentialmoo

    This recipe is WONDERFUL. Years ago, in Glamor Magazine or some magazine that I read in my teens had a great food editor. I have no idea what she was doing there, but she gave THIS recipe for lasagne. I long ago lost the recipe but have made the dish hundreds of times, and everyone loves it. Its a great and unique recipe. I would love to publish this recipe on my webpage, with proper credit and a link to you if that’s okay. I just love how you wrote it. If its not okay, don’t hesitate to tell me: i’ll just copy the recipe for my own use. Its so great to see it all written out properly and god, it saves me tons of time.

    I’m so delighted I found your lovely site and will visit here often.

    Linda aka

  • Max

    Hi Linda!

    Glad to hear that you liked the recipe. I will pass along to my mum in Italy. She’ll be pleased as well 🙂

    Sure, please go ahead and share it on your site. I just checked it out and added it to my reader.

    Ciao, Max

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