Monday, February 18, 2008


I know people who make lasagne with jarred tomato sauce cooked with ground beef. If you're satisfied with something like that, then don't read this recipe, because this is a little bit of work. But, oh, the flavors....divine! This will ruin you. You'll never be able to eat the mass-produced sauce again. The Bolognese Meat Sauce recipe is from my "Romagnoli's Table" cookbook, a wonderful cookbook of Northern Italian recipes. Though this dish takes some work, the reward is a large amount of lasagne when finished. I prepare the lasagne in glass loaf pans and freeze them. One loaf pan will easily feed 4-6 people, depending on what else you are serving. We had a friend for dinner the other night and used one of the loaf pans. First I served semi-homemade chicken noodle soup, then a green salad, garlic bread and the lasagne. Dessert was apple strudel. We were all stuffed, and there was a piece of lasagne left over that became part of the next night's dinner.

Bolognese Meat Sauce (Serve this over spaghetti, fettucini or stuffed shells or use as the sauce for lasagne; it's quick work if you have a food processor.)

INGREDIENTS: 2 cups onions (3 small)
1-1/3 cups carrots (3 small)
2 cups celery (3 stalks with leaves)
olive oil
hearts, livers, gizzards, necks from 3 chickens (if you have them; I only had one chicken, so
consequently, I only had 1 of each; you can add chicken wings if you want.)
1 lb. lean twice-ground beef
1 lb. mixed twice-ground beef, veal, pork (I used 1 lb. pork)
1/2 lb. twice-ground lean turkey (my addition)
1 cup dry red or white wine (I used Barefoot Chardonnay; it's what was in my fridge)
4-5 tsp. salt, or to taste
freshly ground pepper to taste
2-28-oz. cans crushed low-sodium tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
2-1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

DIRECTIONS: Chop vegetables coarsely and pulse in food processor till they're very finely chopped, almost a paste. Saute' gently until golden in a big heavy pot, the bottom of which you cover with olive oil. Skin and chop the gizzards; add to workbowl of food processor with the other chicken parts (not wings of course); pulse till finely ground. Regrind the meats if they haven't been twice ground. When the vegetables are golden and limp, put in all the meats and the chicken necks (if you have them) and brown thoroughly. Work the meats over with a wooden spoon, breaking up any possible lumps to ensure a smooth sauce; and when the meats are well browned, add the wine and let it evaporate. Add the salt and a good grind of pepper, and then the tomatoes, tomato paste, and water. Bring to a boil, cover and lower the heat. Simmer for 2 hours.

Remove the chicken necks, taste the ragu' for salt, adding more if necessary. Simmer another hour without cover to reduce the liquid. If the ragu' turns out to be fattier than it should be, you can skim off the fat at the end of cooking, or chill the ragu' and then easily slip off the congealed fat. The less fat in your sauce, the better your pasta dish.

Spinach-Mushroom Lasagne
There are many variations of lasagne out there. The Romans use ricotta instead of a besciamella sauce (white cream sauce), so I guess this recipe is Roman. But instead of the traditional green and yellow noodles which are homemade, I use regular store-bought lasagne noodles and mix the spinach with the ricotta. There is no doubt that homemade noodles will make a better end-product, but I have yet to tackle them. If you like the lazy way of making lasagne (using the no-boil noodles), then I am happy for you that you are so easily pleased and sorry for you that you can't taste the difference. I can't eat the no-boil noodles. They have no texture; they taste gummy. Yes, it's more work to boil the noodles. What a pain! I put in 1/3 of a box at a time so they have plenty of room. I transfer the boiled noodles to a baking pan sprayed with non-stick cooking spray and spray the tops lightly before adding more noodles over them. I get all the ingredients ready and form an assembly line, as below:

1 lb. Lasagne noodles (the thinner the better -- I used Barilla this time)
15 oz. part-skim Ricotta cheese (If you like cheese, double this; Guy doesn't like cheese so much; and I'm somewhat, but not totally, lactose intolerant, so I go light on the cheeses)
1/2 cup finely chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
1-1/2 cups frozen spinach, cooked, drained and chopped
1/4 tsp. grated fresh nutmeg
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 cup 6-Cheese Italian blend, pre-shredded cheese
1 cup Mozzarella pre-shredded cheese
2-1/2 cups sliced mushrooms sauteed in olive oil
1/2 - 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS: Boil the lasagne noodles, 1/3 package at a time, according to package directions. Transfer boiled noodles to a baking pan that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Spray the tops of the noodles before placing more noodles over them.
Mix the Ricotta, parsley, spinach, seasonings and other cheeses in a medium bowl till well combined. Make an assembly line with all the ingredients: noodles; Bolognese sauce; Ricotta mixture; mushrooms; Parmesan cheese. Lay out your baking pans; spray them lightly with non-stick cooking spray.
Spoon a small amount of Bolognese sauce in the bottom of each pan. Cover with noodles. Spoon dabs of Ricotta mixture and Bolognese sauce over noodles. Scatter some mushrooms over. Repeat layers, ending with Bolognese sauce only. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over tops of all.
Cover and freeze those pans you won't be using in the next few days. Freeze small containers of extra sauce (you should have sauce left over) to serve with the lasagne when you bake it. If you use the sauce sparingly in the lasagne, you will have enough left over that you can heat separately and serve over each lasagne slice. (There is no sauce over the photo at top because I again forgot to take the photo at dinner time. The photo shows the slice of lasagne straight from the fridge, not heated up, later when I remembered.) When you are ready to bake the lasagne, take it out of the fridge 1 hour ahead of time (If frozen, put it in the fridge the night before.) Preheat oven to 350F. Bake the lasagne for about 45 minutes - 1 hour, or till bubbly and cooked through and hot in the middle. (If you are using glass pans and the glass feels very cold when you are ready to bake it, then you should start with a cold oven instead of preheating.) Transfer to cooling rack for 15 minutes-1/2 hour before cutting, or it will be runny and gooey. Serve with extra sauce.

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