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Bolognese and Bechamel - a perfect pair for Lasagna

Lasagna built with a Bolognese and Bechamel I was committed to creating a Lasagna with the fresh homemade pasta that we  have come to enjoy.  My original blog - Ode to Homemade Pasta,  shares the recipe for this special treat....

Lasagna built with a Bolognese and Bechamel
Lasagna built with a Bolognese and Bechamel

I was committed to creating a Lasagna with the fresh homemade pasta that we  have come to enjoy.  My original blog - Ode to Homemade Pasta,  shares the recipe for this special treat.

I wanted the right ingredients for this velvety smooth creation.  I knew I did not want a layer of Ricotta cheese in this dish, but instead I wanted to keep this lighter and more dream-like.  I opted for the "B" team in Bechamel and Bolognese and these options did not disappoint.

I had searched high and low and had settled closest with Anne Burrell's classic treatment of the Bolognese.  But the comments on blogs and the many recipes reviewed had me still wanting  to try a few changes to the classic.  I had the trinity of the three meats on my mind and made a substitution here that was more than worthy.  For water, I substituted my homemade vegetable stock.  I was holding back nothing for this pot of sauce that would be major  component to my Lasagna layers.  I also amped up the vegetables in the onions, carrots, celery and garlic.  I wanted big, bold and memorable and this changes did not disappoint.

Classic Bolognese

- Adapted from Anne Burrell's classic

Tomato Paste plays a leading role
Tomato Paste plays a leading role

 Ingredients:

  • 3 -4 Large Onions, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 4 large carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 5 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for the pan
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 pounds ground chuck, brisket or round or combination ( ***this is where I made the big changes.  I went with 1 pound of lamb, veal and beef all ground as my meat combo for this sauce)
  • 2 cups tomato paste
  • 3 cups hearty red wine ( yes, this is a bottle)
  • About 6 – 8 cups of homemade vegetable stock, divided
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 bunch thyme, tied in a bundle
  • 1 1/2 - 2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • About 8 ounces of fresh mozzarella

Directions for the Bolognese:

  1. In a food processor, puree onion, carrots, celery, and garlic into a coarse paste.  Do not omit this step.  This texture is so important to this sauce and the creation of the end goal of lasagna.   In a large pan (I opted for my Dutch oven) over medium heat, coat pan with oil. Add the pureed veggies and season generously with salt. Bring the pan to a medium-high heat and cook until all the water has evaporated and they become nice and brown, stirring frequently, about 15 to 20 minutes. Be patient, this is where the big flavors develop. (I can hear Anne reminding us to be patient cooks....for the best outcomes).
  2. Add the ground  meats and season again generously with salt. BROWN THE MEATS! Brown food tastes good. Don't rush this step. Cook another 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. Add the tomato paste and cook until brown about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the red wine. Cook until the wine has reduced by half, another 4 to 5 minutes.
  4. Add homemade vegetable stock to the pan until  is about 1 inch above the meat. Toss in the bay leaves and the bundle of thyme and stir to combine everything. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. As the stock  evaporates you will gradually need to add more, about 2 to 3 cups at a time. Don't be shy about adding stock during the cooking process, you can always cook it out. This is a game of reduce and add more stock. This is where big rich flavors develop. If you try to add all the stock in the beginning you will have boiled meat sauce rather than a rich, thick meaty sauce. Stir and TASTE frequently. Season with salt, if needed (you probably will).
  5. Simmer for 3 1/2 to 4 hours.  This is best to rest at least overnight if not two - three days.  Trust me on this one!

Béchamel 

Béchamel as the Mother Sauce
Béchamel as the Mother Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • pinch of fresh ground nutmeg
  • kosher salt

Directions for the Bechamel:

  1. Heat butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until foaming.
  2. Add flour, whisking constantly for about 1 minute.
  3. Whisk in warmed milk, about 1/2 cup at a time.  Then bring this sauce to a boil, reducing the heat and simmer, whisking often, until the consistency of cream ( about 8 - 10 minutes).
  4. Add in nutmeg and salt and remove from heat.
  5. If you are not using this immediately, transfer this to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Place the plastic wrap directly onto the surface so that a skin does not form.  let cool slightly.  Chill this sauce if you will not use this right away.

Assembly of Lasagna:

Start by re-heating the sauces.  I created my Bechanel that morning along with my fresh pasta, so I was only re-heating the Bolognese.

FYI -- I made one batch of dough for a 9 x 13 x 2 lasagna pan.  This provided me 9 layers.  Again, here is the link to my Ode to Homemade Pasta.

1. Cook the noodles in batches.  I opted to cook four noodles at a time. (This was enough for two layers).  This only took less than one minute in the heavily salted water.  From the boiling water, I carefully moved them to an ice bath and then set them on tea towels for drying.

2.  Assembly started with a thin layer of Béchamel on the bottom of my Lasagna pan, about 1/4 cup.   I generously buttered the bottom and sides of the pan as I did not want this creation to stick to the pan.

3. Top this Béchamel with a layer of noodles.  I used two noodles per layer.

3.  Top the noodles with about 3/4 cup Bolognese sauce, then 1/2 cup béchamel, and top with 1/4 cup of grates Parmesan.

4.  Repeat this process at least 8 more times ( I had enough noodles for nine layers and enough of the fillings too) .

5.  You wish to end with the layer of Parmesan.

6.  If you are not baking immediately, place in the refrigerator to hold.  This can be assembled up to 12 hours in advance.  Let this sit at room temperature for 2 hours before baking for best results.

7.  Bake at 350 degrees  for about 30 minutes covered with foil.  Then, remove the foil and add grated fresh mozzarella cheese ( about 8 ounces ).  Bake this uncovered for the last 20 - 25 minutes.

8.  Let the Lasagna sit and settle at least 20 - 30 minutes before cutting into squares.

9.  Serve any remaining shredded cheese as the finish.

10.  Mangia!

I will not lie and say that this was a quick and easy dinner.  I welcomed that the Bolognese was made days ahead and just re-warmed that morning.  The morning of the dinner party was action packed with creating the homemade pasta, the Béchamel sauce and then the quick cooking, cooling and drying of the noodles for assembly was rather labor intense, but so worthy of the time.  I will create this treat again when I have a table of guests who appreciate this effort.