I’ve had Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Bastianich for a while but I don’t use it that often… for no reason. The few times I”ve made stuff out of the cookbook they’ve been pretty yummy like these spaghetti and meatballs.
I was bored one day and looking for meal ideas when I thought making a lasagna was a perfect idea. I hadn’t had lasagna in ages and I was up to the task of making my own sauce and everything. I figured Lidia would have a great recipe and of course she did.
I will admit, this was an intense endeavour. The sauce alone is a three-hour project (most of it simmering time, but still) and involves ground beef, ground pork and pork bones… YUM! I had to stop myself from just eating a bowl full of sauce. It smelled wonderful cooking and I loved the depth of flavour from the different types of meat and the wine. So good.
The instructions for assembling the lasagna were kind of intense, lots of wrapping and folding. I just layered as I usually do but used Lidia’s order of filling.
The results were pretty darn good. I kind of wish I had used more delicate lasagna noodles but the ones I bought were adequate. This was the perfect heart warming winter dish. I ate this for days and was barely sick of it by day 4! Worth the effort if you’re up for a project.
Lidia Bastianich’s Lasagna
Makes 12 servings, plus leftovers
2 lb fresh or packaged whole-milk ricotta cheese
Italian-American Meat Sauce (see below)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 lbs lasagna noodles
2 large eggs
2 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 lb mozzarella cheese, preferably fresh, sliced thin
I am always telling you not to add oil to the water when you cook pasta because it will reduce the adherence of sauce to the pasta amount of sauce that clings to the pasta. Cooking long, flat pasta – like these lasagna noodles – are the exception. They have a tendency to stick together when they cook; the oil will help prevent that. Inevitably, some noodles will break. Save the pieces, they will come in handy to patch the layers of lasagna.
You’ll notice in the meat sauce recipe that the final consistency of the sauce should be fairly dense. Following that pattern, I suggest you drain the ricotta first to remove a lot of the moisture. Removing excess moisture from the ingredients will result in a finished lasagna that is more intense in flavor.
You may assemble the lasagna completely up to a day before you serve it, but don’t cook it until the day you plan to serve it. Lasagna tastes better and is easier to cut if it is allowed to stand about an hour after it is removed from the oven. It will retain enough heat to serve as is or, if you prefer, pop it back in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes. My favorite way to serve lasagna is to bake it and let it stand 3 to 4 hours. Cut the lasagna into portions, then re-warm it in the oven.
Line a sieve with a double thickness of cheesecloth or a basket-type coffee filter. Place the ricotta over the cheesecloth and the sieve over a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to one day. Discard the liquid that drains into the bowl. Make the meat sauce.
Bring 6 quarts of salted water and the olive oil to a boil in an 8-quart pot over high heat. Stir about one third of the lasagna noodles into the boiling water. Return to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook the pasta, semi-covered, stirring occasionally, until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes.
While the pasta is cooking, set a large bowl of ice water next to the stove. When the lasagna noodles are al dente, remove them with a wire skimmer and transfer to the ice water. Let them stand until completely chilled. Repeat the cooking and cooling with the remaining two batches of lasagna noodles. When the cooked noodles are chilled, remove them from the ice bath and stack them on a baking sheet, separating each layer with a clean, damp kitchen towel.
While the noodles are cooking, beat the eggs with the salt in a mixing bowl until foamy. Add the ricotta and stir until thoroughly blended. Preheat oven to 375° F.
To assemble the lasagna, ladle about 3/4 cup of the meat sauce over the bottom of a 15 x 10-inch baking dish. Arrange noodles lengthwise and side-by-side so as to cover the bottom of the baking dish and overhang the short ends of the dish by about 2 inches. (A little ‘cut and paste’ might be necessary. Also, the noodles will most likely overlap in the center of the dish. That is fine.) Spoon enough meat sauce, about 2 cups, to cover the noodles in an even layer. Sprinkle the sauce with ½ cup of the grated cheese. Arrange a single layer of noodles crosswise over the cheese so they overhang the long sides of the baking dish by about 2 inches, again trimming the noodles and overlapping them as necessary.
Spread the ricotta mixture evenly over the noodles. Arrange a single layer of noodles lengthwise over the ricotta, trimming the noodles as necessary. Arrange the sliced mozzarella in an even layer over the noodles. Spread 1 cup of the meat sauce over the cheese and sprinkle 1 cup of grated cheese over the sauce. Cover with a layer of noodles, arranged lengthwise. Spoon enough meat sauce, about 2 cups, to cover the noodles in an even layer and sprinkle the sauce with 1 cup grated cheese. Turn the noodles overhanging the sides and ends of the dish over the lasagna, leaving a rectangular uncovered space in the middle. Spread a thin layer of meat sauce over the top layer of noodles. Sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake 45 minutes.
Uncover the lasagna and continue baking until the top is crusty around the edges, about 20 minutes. Let rest at least 30 minutes or up to 3 hours before cutting and serving. To re-warm a lasagna that has been standing, cover it loosely with foil and place in a 325° F oven until heated through, 15 to 45 minutes, depending on how long it has been standing.
ITALIAN-AMERICAN MEAT SAUCE
Makes about 8 cups, enough to fill and sauce Italian-American Lasagna or to dress about 2 pounds pasta)
Two 35-ounce cans Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, diced (about 2 cups)
6 to 8 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped fine
5 or 6 meaty pork neck bones (about 3/4 pound)
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup tomato paste
4 bay leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, preferably the Sicilian or Greek type dried on the branch, crumbled
3 to 4 cups hot water
If you have trouble finding ground pork, or if you prefer to grind your own, it’s really very easy. (And if you buy a piece of bone-in pork to grind, you’ll have the bones you need for the sauce.) Remove all bones and gristle from the meat, but leave the fat. Cut the pork into 1-inch pieces, chill them thoroughly. Grind about half at a time in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse, using quick on/off motions until the meat is coarsely ground.
In my region of Italy, tomato paste is usually added along with the onions to caramelize it a little bit. But around Naples, and the rest of Southern Italy, tomato paste is stirred right into the sauce. That’s how I do it here.
When the sauce is finished simmering, you can pull the meat from the bones and stir it into the sauce or you can do what I do- nibble on them while the sauce perks away. This makes quite a bit of sauce-enough to feed a small crowd and have enough left over to freeze in small quantities for a quick pasta meal for one or two.
Pass the tomatoes and their liquid through a food mill fitted with the fine blade. Set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy 4 to 5-quart pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 8 minutes. Make a little room in the center of the pot, dump in the garlic and cook, stirring, until the garlic is lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add the pork bones and cook, turning, until lightly browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Add the ground beef and pork and season lightly with salt. Cook, stirring to break up the meat, until the meat changes color and the water it gives off is boiled away, about 10 minutes. Continue cooking until the meat is browned about 5 minutes. Add the bay leaves and oregano then pour in the wine. Bring to a boil and cook, scraping up the brown bits that cling to the pot, until the wine is almost completely evaporated. Pour in the tomatoes, then stir in the tomato paste until is dissolved. Season lightly with salt. Bring to a boil, adjust the heat to a lively simmer and cook, uncovered, stirring often, until the sauce takes on a deep, brick-red color, 2 to 3 hours. Add the hot water, about ½ cup at a time, as necessary to maintain the level of liquid for the length of time the sauce cooks.
Skim off any fat floating on top and adjust the seasoning as necessary. The sauce can be prepared entirely in advance and refrigerated for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.
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