Lasagna is one of the ultimate comfort foods. When made with homemade pasta it is light as can be, even if it has an extra layer. If you live in an urban area you probably know a store where you can purchase sheets of fresh pasta. If you live in the last fort on the edge of the frontier, you’ll have to break out the hand-cranked pasta machine. Either way, there just isn’t any comparison between tender fresh pasta and boxed supermarket pasta.A good Chianta, Barbera, or deep–colored Shiraz would pair well with the complex flavors of the lasagna. A copper-colored American Amber lager would be light enough, yet provide a suitable balance of caramel and crispness. A green salad dressed with vinaigrette rounds out the meal.
Ingredients for 8 to 10 servings
¼ cup olive oil (60 mL)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 medium carrot finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb ground beef (454 g)
1 lb bulk Italian sausage (454 g) or remove from casing
½ cup red wine (120 mL)
28 oz can crushed tomatoes (794 g)
2 cups water to rinse out can and add to sauce (475 mL)
Few grinds black pepper
2 Tbsp fresh basil leaves, chopped (30 mL)
Salt to taste
1½ lb whole milk ricotta
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup grated Asiago
1 Tbsp chopped Italian parsley
8 oz mozzarella, grated
2 cups flour
½ tsp. salt
3 large eggs
1 T olive oil
Preheat oven to 275° (135°)
Chop the vegetables as finely as you can. The idea is for them to melt into the sauce. Heat olive oil in a heavy, non-reactive pot over low heat. Cook the prepared vegetables, stirring occasionally, until wilted and onion is transparent, about 10 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the beef and sausage. Break up the meat as it cooks, and mix with the vegetables. Stir while cooking, and continue to break up the meat for 5 minutes, or until it starts to give up its juices. At this point, increase the heat to high, and cook for a further 5 minutes to gain some color on the meat. Continue to break up the meat as it cooks.
Add the red wine, and scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook until the wine has evaporated. Add the crushed tomatoes, pour 2 cups of water into the can to rinse out the tomato clinging to the sides and add to the sauce. Add a few grinds of black pepper to the sauce. Bring to a boil, cover, and put on the center shelf of a preheated oven. You won’t have to stir the sauce as it cooks. Heat will bear down equally on all sides of the pot for even cooking. Water will evaporate from the sauce even though it is covered. The object is to braise the meats to exquisite tenderness while they are doing their part to flavor the sauce. Cook for 2½ hours.
Remove from the oven and place on the range. Uncover, and check the consistency of the sauce. If it is too thick, add some water to thin it. If it seems too thin, place on low heat, uncovered, and cook until reduced to your liking. It needs to be spreadable. Remember to stir it, and scrape the bottom to ensure that it isn’t sticking. When done, remove from the heat, cover, and reserve.
Sift the flour and salt together onto a cutting board. Make the flour into a doughnut shape and add the eggs and olive oil to the center. Gradually incorporate the flour into the eggs until you have dough that holds together. Knead the dough for at least 5 minutes; it should be neither dry nor wet, but a consistency like modeling clay. Cover and leave to rest for half an hour.
Cut the pasta dough into 4 equal pieces. Cover pasta until ready to roll it out. Flatten a piece of dough into a rectangle and roll through a pasta machine on the #1 setting. Fold the dough like a three section wallet.
Run it through the machine again at the #1 setting and fold it again. This is the last setting at which you need to fold the dough. Run the dough through your machine at each setting three times making it thinner and longer until it is 1/16 inch thick (1.5 mm), about the thickness of a credit card. This is the #6 setting on my machine.
Cut pasta to a length that fits your pan. Place on a lightly floured sheet-pan, dust the surface of the pasta with a little more flour, and cover with a sheet of parchment or waxed paper. Collect all the trimmings. You can work them back into a piece of dough, and roll it out. It is always good to have some if you need patches. If it’s extra, you can bag it and freeze for an impromptu meal.
Combine all ingredients for the cheese filling except the mozzarella—that will be the topping. Stir to combine into a smooth, thick filling, reserve.
Preheat oven to 350° F (175° C)
Spread one third of the sauce over the bottom of a 4-quart casserole dish.
Top with 2 pieces of pasta, cut to fit the pan. Spread half of the cheese filling with a rubber spatula over the pasta. Top with another layer of pasta, and then another third of the sauce. Top with a third layer of pasta and then the rest of the cheese filling.
Top with the final layer of pasta, and then the remaining sauce. Finally, sprinkle the grated mozzarella over the sauce. Bake on the center shelf of a preheated oven for 40 minutes, or until lightly colored and bubbling. Remove from the oven and rest for 10 minutes before serving.