We had 3 different nationalities sitting around our Xmas table this year. And I wanted all three countries represented also in the food. I have showed you Portuguese dishes, Maltese dishes and now I’m adding another dish from the other country: Italian lasagna… made by my boyfriend! Yes, you know he cooks, so he wanted to give his contribute to the festive meals. And my family always wants a touch of Italian food when he goes to visit 🙂
As we may all know, lasagna originated in Italy, more precisely in Naples, all the way back in the Middle Ages, and straight away became a traditional dish. Traditional lasagna is made by interleaving layers of pasta with layers of sauce, made with ragu (meat and tomato sauce), bechamel sauce, Parmigiano-Reggiano and chopped hard boiled eggs. In other regions and outside of Italy it is common to find many variations of lasagna. Several other ingredients are used such as ricotta, mozzarella, tomato sauce, various meats, spinach, zucchini, mushrooms and flavored with wine, garlic, onion and oregano. The common factor in all these recipes is the pasta sheets and that it’s oven baked.
Traditionally, in the South of Italy, the pasta dough was made with semolina while in the North they used flour and eggs. Nowadays, lasagna sheets are made of Semolina due to commercials regulations. The growth of the farming economy in places like Bologna, allowed the use of more dairy and meat products in the Italian cuisine. Consequently, lasagna in Emilia-Romagna is made with meat and tomato ragu which became one of the most common variations of the dish.
We tried to follow the most traditional recipe. But sometimes, my boyfriend also uses mozzarella in the layers or he adds other ingredients in the ragu such as mushrooms. But I think that a dish should always have different variations according to the person cooking or to the people eating the food. In any case, this Italian lasagna made in Portugal by a Maltese boy was a great success!!!
1kg Bolognese sauce
- 1 small piece of celery
- 1 small carrot
- 1 small white onion
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- 400 g of minced beef meat
- 100 g of minced pork
- 100 ml of red wine
- 1 kg of tomato puree/passata
- Salt & pepper to taste
- A pinch of sugar
800g Bechamel sauce:
- 50 g of butter
- 50 g of flour
- 500 ml of whole milk
- 50 g of grated Parmesan cheese
- Nutmeg and salt to taste
- 500 g Lasagna sheets dried and uncooked
- Butter for the pan
- 100 g of grated Parmesan cheese
- Preheat the oven: 200C
- Chop the celery, carrot and onion very finely.
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot and add the vegetables. Fry it, at very low heat, for about 10 min, stirring occasionally.
- Halfway through cooking, add a pinch of salt. Leave the pot covered throughout this phase.
- Meanwhile wash the rosemary, select the leaves and chop finely.
- When the vegetables have browned, raise the heat and add the meat, a little at a time, stirring.
- Add the chopped rosemary and cook the meat until it dries all its cooking water and begins to stick to the bottom. Continue to mix continuously to prevent burning.
- Add the red wine and continue cooking over high heat until it is completely evaporated and the meat browns.
- This phase is very important because you create the aromatic compounds that make a good the sauce. It is also very important to let the alcohol evaporate as it would give the sauce an unpleasant taste.
- When the alcohol has evaporated, add the tomato puree, a few pinches of salt, a generous grinding of pepper and mix.
- Cover and bring again to a low simmer.
- You should now now transfer the pot on a smaller fire than his size and lower the flame little by little until it cooks slowly, just simmering.
- If you have the time, the sauce should cook for 3 hours, with the lid on, but we left it for around 1 hour. Turn occasionally with a wooden spoon.
- After this time, taste it and season with salt. At this stage, add a pinch of sugar to help neutralize the acidity of the tomato. The sauce is now ready to be used.
- Place the butter in a saucepan, preferably nonstick, and bring to medium heat.
- When the butter has melted and starts to foam it means that water in it is evaporating.
- Let it bubble for about 1 minute and when the bubbles begin to disappear, incorporate the flour gradually, removing the pan from the heat for a few moments if the mixture begins to brown too much. Keep stirring with a whisk to avoid lumps.
- Pour the milk at room temperature, little by little, always stirring with a whisk.
- Raise the heat to medium and stir until boiling. Then add the Parmesan cheese and grated nutmeg. Season with salt.
- Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the mixture acquires the desired consistency.
- With 500g of dried lasagna sheets we made 5 layers in a 35x25cm baking dish, enough for 8 people.
- The preparation of lasagna starts with the sauce which we prepared a day before so we would have it ready at the time of assembling the lasagna.
- On the day, we just warmed up the sauce over low heat.
- Butter the baking dish and spread tomato sauce all over the bottom. Then start to assemble the lasagna.
- Put a layer of pasta, a layer of bechamel sauce, a layer of meat/tomato sauce and a handful of grated Parmesan.
- Repeat this process until you have made 5 layers (or you have used all of the ingredients), ending with the Parmesan.
- Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 200 ° C for 30 min.
- Remove the foil, and continue cooking for another 10 min.
- If necessary, if you want a nice browned surface, turn on the grill and cook for another 5 min.
- Once out of the oven, let stand the lasagna at least 10 min before serving.