Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lasagna Bolognese. Buon Appetito!

XKT came out for an overnight visit Tuesday.
In honor of her visit and Mardi Gras, I decided to indulge a bit, take the day off, and spend it making Lasagna Bolognese. Bolognese sauce is a rich, robust Italian meat-based sauce for pasta, originating in Bologna. The earliest recorded use of a sauce called "alla Bolognese" dates back to the 5th century. The name "alla Bolognese" means "in the style of Bologna," Bologna being not the lunchmeat, but the city. Bologna, wedged in the north of Italy between Florence, Venice, and Milan, is the capitol of the Italian culinary epicenter of Emilia-Romagna, the region which also gave us Balsamic vinegar, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, Pasta Fresca, and Mortadella, which is the grandfather of American "bologna." The sauce was originally called Ragù, not the jarred stuff and not to be confused with ragoût, which is a French meat stew. The original Ragù was actually made with milk and had no tomatoes, since the tomato, a New World food product, was not introduced to Italy until the 16th century. The version of the sauce now thought to be "classical" does, indeed, contain tomatoes. As for the authenticity of this dish, from this point on, cooks can get passionate and opinions start to diverge. I imagine a true Bolognese chef might look at what I'm doing and possibly call it sacrilege, but it's my kitchen and my blog, and I can do what I want. Some chefs argue that it must contain porcini mushrooms; some argue it should be made with white wine, not red. Some would consider not adding the milk to be heresy. And then there's the question of what to serve it with. The classic tradition in Emilia-Romagna serves it with a flat noodle called tagliatelle, wider than linguine, but narrower than fettucine. I'm making my own lasagna today, with all-purpose flour, which I imagine is very, very wrong in the traditional way of making pasta, which would be with durum wheat or semolina flour. My recipe is adapted from Anne Burrell's Pasta Bolognese. I'll, of course, be giving you my step by steps later. Here's Chef Anne's recipe:


  • 1 large onion or 2 small, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 2 large carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 3 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for the pan
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 pounds ground chuck, brisket or round or combination
  • 2 cups tomato paste
  • 3 cups hearty red wine
  • Water
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 bunch thyme, tied in a bundle
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • High quality extra-virgin olive oil, for finishing


In a food processor, puree onion, carrots, celery, and garlic into a coarse paste. In a large pan over medium heat, coat pan with oil. Add the pureed veggies and season generously with salt. Bring the pan to a medium-high heat and cook until all the water has evaporated and they become nice and brown, stirring frequently, about 15 to 20 minutes. Be patient, this is where the big flavors develop.

Add the ground beef and season again generously with salt. BROWN THE BEEF! Brown food tastes good. Don't rush this step. Cook another 15 to 20 minutes.

Add the tomato paste and cook until brown about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the red wine. Cook until the wine has reduced by half, another 4 to 5 minutes.

Add water to the pan until the water is about 1 inch above the meat. Toss in the bay leaves and the bundle of thyme and stir to combine everything. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. As the water evaporates you will gradually need to add more, about 2 to 3 cups at a time. Don't be shy about adding water during the cooking process, you can always cook it out. This is a game of reduce and add more water. This is where big rich flavors develop. If you try to add all the water in the beginning you will have boiled meat sauce rather than a rich, thick meaty sauce. Stir and TASTE frequently. Season with salt, if needed (you probably will). Simmer for 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

During the last 30 minutes of cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat to cook the spaghetti. Pasta water should ALWAYS be well salted. Salty as the ocean! TASTE IT! If your pasta water is under seasoned it doesn't matter how good your sauce is, your complete dish will always taste under seasoned. When the water is at a rolling boil add the spaghetti and cook for 1 minute less than it calls for on the package. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.

While the pasta is cooking remove 1/2 of the Ragù from the pot and reserve.

Drain the pasta and add to the pot with the remaining Ragù. Stir or toss the pasta to coat with the sauce. Add some of the reserved sauce, if needed, to make it about an even ratio between pasta and sauce. Add the reserved pasta cooking water and cook the pasta and sauce together over a medium heat until the water has reduced. Turn off the heat and give a big sprinkle of Parmigiano and a generous drizzle of the high quality finishing olive oil. Toss or stir vigorously. Divide the pasta and sauce into serving bowls or 1 big pasta bowl. Top with remaining grated Parmigiano. Serve immediately.

Of course, I changed Anne's recipe. I'm adding a classic sauce, a Béchamel, which is one of the Mother Sauces of French cuisine and is used in many Italian recipes, particularly lasagna, and I'm using Mozzarella and Monterey Jack cheeses, in addition to the Parmesan.
In case you want to know all the Mother Sauces: We have Béchamel, which is the classic white sauce. Béchamel was named after its inventor, Louis XIV's steward, Louis de Béchamel. Basically, milk is added to a roux, which is a cooked butter and flour combo. Add some cheese, and think mac 'n' cheese. A velouté is a stock-based white sauce, made from chicken, beef, veal, or fish. Enrichments, such as cream or egg yolks may be added. Think meat sauce. Pair the stock with the same meat you are using. An Espagnole is a brown sauce, made of a nicely browned roux, a rich meat stock, a mirepoix of browned vegetables (say, diced carrot, celery, and onion), herbs, tomato paste. Think Cajun/Creole. Mayonnaise and Hollandaise are both made with an emulsion of egg yolks and fat. Mayonnaise is a thick, creamy dressing- an emulsion of egg yolks, lemon juice or vinegar, seasonings, and oil. Think ... mayo. Hollandaise is an emulsion of egg yolks and lemon juice, with cold butter gradually whisked into the mix. Think Eggs Hawthorne. A vinaigrette is a simple blend of oil, vinegar, mustard, spices, herbs, shallots, salt and pepper. Think salad dressing. Sorry, I digest. Back to the beginnings of my Bolognese sauce. I needed two large carrots.
Wow. What pretty carrots!
I wonder where they came from.
I had to go out a second time. For the second carrot. I should've read the recipe closer.
Just to show you the relative size of the carrots, here's my Raynaud-riddled hand next to them. It was cold that morning. First time we've had frost this year. And the next day it was 70 degrees here. I'm tackling Lasagna Bolognese. Hang on. It's going to be a bumpy day. Ambitious? Yes. I love a challenge. This was an all-day-long event. And what I like to think of as a labor of love.
It is 9 o'clock in the morning and Rosie is starting on her adventure. First, she foraged in her yard for two carrots and added 3 celery stalks and 1 large onion to her mise en place.
Coarse chop all and don't forget to add the garlic.
I placed all the veggies in my Blue Ninja and Ninja'd away to a nice pureé.
That's the ticket.
I zig-zagged some oil in my medium hot pan and added the veggie purée. Gave it a few twists of salt. Brought the heat up to medium high.
See all that water?
You want that water to evaporate. This took about 15-20 minutes and this is what it looks like. As Chef Anne Burrell says, BROWN is GOOD. Please be diligent in scraping up the browny goodie bits stuck to the bottom. That's flavor!
Chef Burrell's recipe calls for 3 pounds of meat. I actually went out and bought meat for this recipe. I didn't get quite 3 pounds of meat, but that certainly was not a problem. As it was, I reduced the sauce over the entire day, reducing and adding more water and reducing and adding more water all day long. What I'm using today is 1.25 pounds of beef chuck (80% lean 20% fat) and 1.13 pounds of a meatloaf mixture (beef, veal, and pork). Remember, this is Rosie's kitchen. And this is how Rosie rocks and rolls.
I added in the meat. I'm expecting the fat from the meat to help me loosen up the goodie bits on the bottom of the pan.
I'm smokin'!
See the goodie bits? That's what you want to scrape up. That's where all the flavor is. That's where you add your liquid in to deglaze the pan and incorporate all that devilish goodness into your dish.
Next, I'm adding a 10-something ounce can of tomato puree and a 12-ounce can of tomato paste.
Paste goes in.
Tomato purée in. Cook 4-5 minutes.
Scrape and mix together. Incorporate the goodie bits.
I filled up two 12-ounce tomato paste cans with a nice Cabernet Sauvignon.
You want to get every bit of the paste out of the can. Swirl the wine around and scrape it out.
Pour in the 3 cups of wine.
Reduce the wine by half. Takes about another 4-5 minutes.
I added about 2 cups of water to the mix. You want to cover the meat by about an inch of water.
I picked a handful of thyme from my herb garden and pulled off 3 bay leaves from my bouquet hanging and drying in the utility room.
Herbs in the pot.
Cover the herbs so they can release their goodness.
And simmer. I started simmering at 10 AM.
As the water evaporates, you need to gradually add more, about 2 cups at a time. It's important to scrape those goodie bits on the sides of the pan down into the mix.
Scrape, scrape, scrape.
And add more water. I'm checking out the level by watching that little screw in the back.
This simmering reduction and adding of more water went on all day long. About every hour or so I'd come back in, scrape, and add more water. Give it at least a five-hour simmer.
Sit back. Have a glass of wine. Relax. Go outside. Come back in and smell how wonderful your house smells. Next up, I'm making my own pasta. All pasta is is flour, eggs, some water and oil. So it's amazing to me that with just those few ingredients how much superior homemade pasta is to the boxed stuff. No comparison. Plus homemade cooks in a fraction of the time.
Ingredients for pasta: 1 pound of flour 4-5 eggs, room temperature water and/or oil as needed
Make a well in the flour. I always like my eggs to be room temperature. A quick way to do this is set the eggs in a bowl of hot water.
Add the eggs to the well.
I forked the eggs a bit.
And the rest, I mixed by hand.
My dough is a bit dry here, ...
... so I'm adding a little oil ...
... and a little water.
I turned my dough out onto a lightly floured surface and tried to get it into a ball, but it's still a bit too shaggy for my tastes.
This is better, but I think it needs another egg. This comes from experience.
I added an egg ...
... and worked it in.
You need to add some more flour for balance. Keep kneading.
Until you get this. Let the dough rest, covered, for about 15 minutes. Then divide into four balls.
Take the first ball and run it through the pasta machine on the widest setting twice. Back and forth.
Here's the pasta after its first roll through.
I've never been all that comfortable when I get to the thinner settings, so I got Mr. Hawthorne to lend a hand.
Here's the first pasta sheet.
Here's the dough after going through the 1st setting. Lightly dust with flour as needed.
Here it is after going through the second setting.
Third setting.
Fourth setting. I was getting very confident at this point. I didn't need Mr. Hawthorne's help anymore.
This is my pasta going through the fifth setting.
Fifth setting.
What's missing in this picture? Hint: She's not in her bed in front of the sliding glass door.
There are two more settings on my pasta machine - #6 and #7. I didn't want to press my luck. These sheets looked pretty good already. I'll try settings 6 and 7 another time when I'm feeling more aggressive.
I cut the the strips of pasta into manageable pieces and let them dry out a bit on my counter.
Just think what this would look like if I'd braved settings 6 and 7. Like I said, I didn't want to chance it.
I added a good dose of Kosher salt to my pot of water. Bring water to a boil.
I decided to cut the lasagna into squares.
I dropped a few squares at a time into the boiling water. Two minutes is all it takes. Drain the pasta and place in ice water bath, then put on oiled pan.
Here's my set up. Pasta sheets on the left. Next is my Bolognese sauce. Boiling water for the pasta. Then an ice bath on the right. And behind that, an oiled pan with the cooked pasta. Next, I'm making a Béchamel sauce. 4 TB butter 1/4 cup flour 2 cups whole milk (I used 1 cup skim and 1 cup heavy cream since that's what I have on hand.) freshly ground salt and pepper to taste 1 small garlic clove, minced freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
Melt butter over medium heat, then add flour, cooking the mixture, stirring constantly, for 1-2 minutes.
You want to cook the flour to get the raw taste out.
Slowly, whisk in milk, stirring until thickened.
Add in minced garlic.
Freshly ground salt and pepper and nutmeg.
Then I gave the Béchamel a handful of grated Parmesan.
Bolognese sauce on left. Schwann's baguettes in center. Béchamel sauce on the right.
I'm ready for assembly.
First, a layer of the Béchamel sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch pan.
Next, a layer of pasta and the Bolognese sauce..
Add some cheese.
Another layer of pasta and more Béchamel.
Keep layering.
Ready for a 400 degree oven.
Bake about 45 minutes, until browned on top and bubbly.
It's 8:30 PM now.
Let it rest about 10 minutes before slicing.
And here's my Lasagna Bolognese.
Buon Appetito!
Here's the cold lasagna the next day so you can see the layers.
It just gets better.


Kathy said...

As it turns out, M&M & I are going to Carrabba's tonight for lasagna & blackberry sangria, and whatever he orders. Even if it's not as good as yours, I will still love it because it's lasagna. Hard to go wrong.

Anonymous said...

This was the best lasagna I've ever had. You could taste the love. Thanks for sharing it with me Rosie.

SweetPhyl said...

That, dear Rosie, is a work of art. A lot of work and I'm sure it was worth every bit of it. Nice job on the pasta, BTW--I've yet to attempt it myself. Yours looks as delicate as phyllo. You GO girl!

Marilyn said...

I love lasagna. You really should make your own ricotta. The ricotta is what puts lasagna over the top.

And I am so jealous that you can grow carrots. Our soil is far too hard and clay-ey for carrots to be able to grow here.

Rosie Hawthorne said...

Mar, I make ricotta every time I try to make mozzarella.

Haven't mastered the mozzarella yet.

Rosie Hawthorne said...

Oh, and Mar, as for growing carrots,
I grow everything in one big assed sand box with a few amendments - manure, peat moss, compost, humus.

Rosie Hawthorne said...

SweetPhyl, Imonna try settings 6 and 7 next time. I'm feeling quite confident now.

And I have made my own phyllo when I make baklava. Nothing like it!