We're firm believers that anything that gets you in the kitchen and cooking is a good thing. Life is hectic, and shortcuts are often useful and necessary to get dinner on the table. But when life slows down enough, there are few pleasures more rewarding than taking the time to make a dish the old-school way—slowly, and with lots of love. This lasagna recipe is perfect for doing just that.
The first thing that sets this lasagna apart is the tomato sauce. While store-bought sauces are perfectly fine in a pinch, there’s no contest between them and a simple sauce made in your own kitchen from chopped ripe tomatoes simmered for hours and finished with fresh basil.
As you simmer your tomatoes, the most important thing is that you not use an aluminum pot, which reacts with acids and imparts some of its metals to your food. Go with heavy bottomed stainless steel. We used a beautiful Lagostina hammered copper stockpot lined with stainless steel.
The next most important consideration is to not let the sauce boil, and to make sure to simmer it at a giggle, not a laugh. Otherwise the bright flavor of the tomatoes will be flattened. This is a good rule to follow for almost every liquid except water and certain reductions.
After your tomato sauce has been simmering for about two hours, start your filling. If you eat meat, go for this simplified bolognese sauce using ground meat, whichever you prefer. We used ground beef, but a mixture of beef, pork, and veal would be especially delicious. Remember that the quality of your dish is only as good as your ingredients—get the highest quality meat you can afford!
If you don’t eat meat, or don’t want to indulge, mushroom ragout and fresh spinach are just as tasty (we opted for bolognese, mushrooms, and spinach).
Next, begin the Bechamel sauce. If you’re unfamiliar with it, Bechamel is a French mother sauce that begins with a blond roux (equal parts butter and white flour)and is thickened with milk, then seasoned with salt and flavored with freshly grated nutmeg. Besides being the ultimate mac n’ cheese sauce, Bechamel is a canvas that can be endlessly manipulated to create tons of rich, creamy sauces for all kinds of dishes.
As with the tomato sauce, your Bechamel’s success depends on attention and gentleness. Maintain low heat while keeping an eye that the roux doesn’t take color, and stir constantly while the sauce thickens to prevent scorching.
You can keep the bolognese and Bechamel covered off to the side while the tomato sauce finishes. When it’s close to finishing, cook the pasta sheets in water at a rolling boil. Your pasta water (all pasta water, always) should be heavily salted with Kosher salt, so that it tastes like the sea. Cook the pasta to al dente, as it will continue to cook as the lasagna bakes. Drain the pasta thoroughly.
We assembled our lasagna in this order: tomato sauce on the bottom > pasta > Bechamel > bolognese or filling of your choice > Parmigiano Reggiano > repeat. Our top layer was pasta sheets smothered in Bechamel, which browns nicely in the oven.
Cover with foil and bake at 350°F for 45 minutes, then uncover and bake for another 15 minutes, or until the Bechamel is golden brown.
Let the lasagna cool for about 15 minutes, and then enjoy the fruits of your labor with your favorite folks! They’ll taste the love in every bite.