May 13, 2021

Luccan Lasagne (with béchamel sauce)

Lasagne?  Lasagna?  I prefer the former, even though the WordPress autocorrect doesn’t like it.

So our summer vacation last year was, for the first time, a cruise, specifically, in the Eastern Mediterranean.  One of the stops was Tuscany, that is, Livorno, with tourist buses that take you to the Tuscan cities of your choice (hint:  you don’t need to pay for the ship’s overpriced shore excursions, but can pay a much reduced price in town; for more, you can read the commentary at my regular blog).  We had lunch at a restaurant in Lucca, and ordered a lasagne that was exceptionally delicious, but not at all like the lasagne in an American cookbook:  no ricotta cheese to be found, but instead a béchamel sauce.  When, for his 13th birthday, my son asked for lasagne like we had in Lucca, I hunted around and found a recipe which, as it happened, as an all-day affair:  a 3 hour bolognese sauce, homemade pasta, etc.  (Eventually I also found out that a bolognese lasagne is very northern Italian; the ricotta version is southern, and, well, that’s where America’s Italian immigrants came from.) It was mother-son bonding, so that was fine, but I looked for ways to simplify it.  Tonight we ate the fruits of my labors, which was very tasty but with much less effort.

It starts with this magic:

To be clear, this is not the standard “oven-ready” or “no-boil” noodle; these are flat and thin and match what you’d get when making homemade pasta.

This is also an Instant Pot recipe; could you use a crock-pot instead?  Maybe.

And the original recipe prior to modifications comes from Bon Appetit, though identical recipes appear elsewhere on the internet too, because, again, recipes aren’t copyrightable.

Step 1:  Bolognese sauce

These amounts make double the quantity needed; freeze half or halve the recipe.  Also, it’s recommended to make the sauce 12 hrs – 2 days ahead of time, to enhance the flavors.

1 large onion

1 medium carrot

1 celery stalk

1 pound ground chuck

1 pound ground pork

4 oz bacon (4 strips center-cut bacon)

salt

1 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup evaporated milk

1 14.5 oz can crushed tomatoes

3/4 cup water

1 tbps chicken soup base

Finely chop onion, carrot, and celery (or use a food processor, but I concluded getting the food processor out and fussing with it would actually take longer).

Cook bacon in large skillet until fat is rendered, then add beef, pork, and vegetables.  (There’s too much meat to try to cook this in the Instant Pot itself.)  Break up meat with spoon and cook until moisture is almost completely evaporated and meat is browned (“browned bits” on the pan).  I drained the juices and fat partway through rather than waiting for this all to cook away.  Season with salt and pepper.  (I added a somewhat arbitrary amount of salt and, really, I’m not a fan of guessing the amount of salt.  I wish recipes would just give a measurement.)

Add wine, bring to a boil, scraping up the browned bits, and simmer until mostly evaporated.  Transfer to Instant Pot, add tomatoes, water, and chicken soup base.  Cook at high pressure for 30 minutes, then release the pressure (or let it release itself; I did the latter so am not 100% sure you can just release the pressure right away without splatters).  Add in the evaporated milk, set to sauté, and cook until the sauce thickens.   (Note that the original recipe calls for 1 cup whole milk. I substituted evaporate milk thinking that this alternative could be tossed in the IP where regular milk would curdle, but then I second-guessed myself; even then, I preferred the evaporated milk because it required less additional time to cook down, though I’m now stuck with the rest of a can and no recipe to use it for.)

Chill sauce in fridge.

Before making lasagne, reheat sauce.

Fussy extra step:  I prefer recipes for layered-type recipes that specify quantities rather than fractions of the whole.  In order to get the math right, you need 3 cups sauce, or 6 cups total for the whole recipe.  The approach I took was, first, to weigh the total sauce on the kitchen scale to divide in half accurately for freezing the second half.  Then, I warmed up the first half, and measured it out with a cup measure; I had 2 full cups and the third cup was mostly full, so I filled up the rest of the cup measure with water, and combined all together to get to three cups total.  You could, of course, eyeball it.

Step 2:  Béchamel sauce

4 tbsp unsalted butter

1/2 cup flour

4 cups whole milk

pinch nutmeg

salt

Warm milk in microwave.  In a medium saucepan, melt butter until foaming.  Add flour and cook, whisking constantly, for 1 minute.  Add milk in, 1/2 cup at a time, whisking.  Bring sauce to a boil, more whisking, and simmer for 8 – 10 minutes.  Add nutmeg and — arrgh — season with an indeterminate amount of salt.

Step 3:  Assembly

Spray cooking spray onto 13 x 9 baking dish.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

There are 15 noodles in the Barilla package (actually 16 – was this an oops?), so that means 5 layers of 3 noodles.

Spread 1/2 cup béchamel on the bottom of the baking dish.

Then layer the following:

1 layer uncooked noodles — three noodles side-by-side

3/4 cup bolognese (1/4 on each noodle)

1/2 cup béchamel

3 tbsp fresh grated parmesan

for four layers total.

Finish with a final layer of noodles, a further 3 tbsp parmesan, and the rest of the béchamel.

Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 35 minutes.  You might want to uncover partway through and push the noodles into the sauce, though I didn’t and it turned out fine.  Then remove the foil and bake for another 10 -15 minutes, and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

I was honestly not sure how the recipe would turn out because the right proportions for making a béchamel lasagne that used no-boil noodles, and this specific kind in particular, were a mystery to me, and the recipe on the package was for a ricotta lasagne, but it turned out so well that I don’t think there was anything that needs changing for next time.

 

lasagne

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