I'm sure you all remember my post about Christmas Lasagna. I love lasagna, especially in the winter time, but my luck with lasagna (as you may recall) has been less than favorable.
When I found this recipe in Gourmet last year, I earmarked it and waited for a time when I would have enough people (about 6, I figured) to eat it.
Finals week at Laura and my apartment was a little less than traditional. I spent most of Monday and Tuesday in the library, writing papers, and then had very little to do for the rest of the week. Our house ended up as the "study house", which really meant that Aaron, Laura's boyfriend, and a few of our other friends came over, listened to Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, and celebrated the end of the semester. I've been lucky enough to live somewhere that feels like home to more than just me--a place where people know they're always welcome, and there will always be a dessert or two lingering. While part of the magic lies with Laura, I'm proud to say I think some has rubbed off on me, as people continue to come for dinner (actually, Aaron is here doing laundry right now--we just finished some apple pie. He reminded me that I should finish this blog post).
After unfolding our dining room table and searching for extra chairs, we sat down for a meal--a big, family dinner. It was lovely, and one of my fondest memories from college thus far. In not so many words, it became apparent that this was the family the lot of us had chosen. I remember praying over the meal (something I don't do often with friends who are otherwise religiously unaffiliated) because I really did want to thank God for these people--and for this lasagna.
Oh yes, this lasagna was indeed that good. I'm pretty critical of my own dishes, and while I thought the meat filling was a little on the dry side, I'm pretty sure a second try would find it close to perfection.
Lasagne Bolognese with Spinach
From Gourmet, January 2009: In the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, lasagne bolognese is usually made with a besciamella sauce. Italian-American cooks often replace that time-consuming step with ricotta. In this wickedly good interpretation, food editor Melissa Roberts combines the two traditions by whisking milk into some of the ricotta, creating a billowy pseudo-besciamella (the remaining ricotta mixture is stirred together with spinach). We rarely call for specific brands, but we did find that widely available Barilla no-boil dried noodles produced an exemplary lasagne. An egg pasta, this one comes very close to the flavor and delicacy of homemade.
For bolognese sauce:
1/4 cup olive oil
3 ounces sliced pancetta, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 pounds ground beef chuck (not lean)
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves
For Ricotta filling:
2 (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach,thawed
2 (15-ounce) containers whole-milk ricotta
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3/4 cup whole milk, divided
For assembling lasagne:
12 Barilla no-boil dried lasagne noodles (from 1 box)
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Equipment: a 13- by 9-inch baking pan (3 inches deep)
Make Sauce: Heat oil in a 12-to 14-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until it shimmers. Cook pancetta, onion, carrot, celery, and garlic, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are golden and softened, 12 to 15 minutes. Add beef and cook, stirring occasionally and breaking up any lumps, until meat is no longer pink, 6 to 10 minutes. Stir in wine, milk, tomato paste, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until most of liquid has evaporated but sauce is still moist, about 1 hour.
Make ricotta filling: Put spinach in a kitchen towel (not terry cloth) and twist to squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Whisk together ricotta, eggs, parmesan, nutmeg, 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Transfer 1 1/2 cups ricotta mixture to another bowl and whisk in 1/4 cup milk; set aside. Whisk spinach into remaining filling with remaining 1/2 cup milk.
Assemble and bake lasagne: Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle.
Soak noodles in a bowl of very warm water until pliable but not softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Place on a kitchen towel (it's not necessary to pat noodles dry).
Spread 1 1/2 cups bolognese sauce in baking pan and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon parmesan. Cover with 3 noodles, leaving space in between. Spread half of spinach filling on top, then 1 cup bolognese sauce, and top with 1 tablespoon parmesan and 3 noodles; repeat. Top with remaining bolognese sauce, 1 tablespoon parmesan, and remaining 3 noodles. Pour reserved ricotta mixture over top and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup parmesan.
Cover pan tightly with parchment paper and foil (or just buttered foil) and bake 50 minutes. Remove foil and bake until top is browned in spots, about 15 minutes more. Let stand 15 to 30 minutes before cutting.
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