This, mind you, isn’t your American cheese covered lasagna. It’s a meat and bechemel lasagna that packs quite a lot of flavor. I have nothing against the more common cheesy ricotta and mozzarella lasagnas–that’s what I usually make! But as I researched the bolognese recipe, I came across anecdotal accounts asserting that ricotta was not common in a the old-style Italian lasagnas. A few comments on Cooking For Engineers and on Chowhound mention that the tradational lasagna bolognese omits ricotta and mozzarella and instead uses a bechamel sauce.
I didn’t need much more convincing to attempt a go at a new recipe. Replacing the combination of cheeses with bechamel worked like a charm. I didn’t even miss the ricotta or mozzarella from the recipe. The smooth, thick sauce was enough to give flavor and moisture to the dish allowing the layers to remain distinct (and to help hydrate the noodles).
I again found Cooks Illustrated and Epicurious helpful with ideas of where to start and how to assemble this. The assembly follows the Cook’s Illustrated almost identically and had a fantastic result.
Cooks Illustrated suggested soaking the no-boil noodles in hot tap water for 5 minutes before using. I had never done that before but had no reason to doubt their technique. I didn’t do a side-by-side comparison of soak vs no-soak noodles, so I cannot comment on how effective this is, but the result was very good.
Bolognese Ingredients and Recipe
Use 6 cups of the bolognese recipe from the other day.
4 tbsps unsalted butter
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk
3/4 tsp salt
15 sheets no-boil lasagna noodles (9 ounces) (I like Barilla brand.)
4 oz Parmesan cheese, grated (2 cups)
1. Warm the bolognese over low heat while making the béchamel. Stir occasionally.
2. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until it just foams. Add the flour all at once and whisk constantly. Cook and whisk for about two minutes. The mixture should not brown, but it may darken slightly. This is called a white roux. The darker a roux gets the richer the flavor becomes, but as a consequence the thinkening power decreases. A white roux has very little flavor but can dramitcally thicken dishes.
3. Slowly whisk in the milk. Whisk constantly and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the salt, then reduce the heat to a bare simmer (med-low). Simmer for 10 minutes. Continue whisking making sure to scrape the bottom of the dish. Transfer the mixture to another bowl to cool slightly. You should have about 3 1/2 cups.
4. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Soak the noodles in very hot tap water in a 9×13 dish for about 5 minutes. Stir the noodles to prevent them from sticking. Pat them dry.
5. Dry the baking dish, then spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Stir the béchamel to recombine. Combine 3/4 cups of the warm béchamel into warm meat sauce and mix together.
1. Pour 1 cup béchamel-meat sauce in baking dish.
2. Lay three noodles side-by-side on top of sauce. Place them close together, but don’t let them touch.
3. Spread 1 1/4 cups béchamel-meat sauce evenly over noodles. The sauce should go to the edge of noodles but not to the edge of the dish. You want to cover just the noodles.
4. 1/3 cup béchamel goes on top of the meat sauce.
5. 1/3 cup Parmesan is then sprikled over the béchamel.
6. Repeat steps 2-5 three more times.
7. All the meat sauce should be used but there will be bechamel and Parmesan remaining. The remaining bechemal is used to cover the last three noodles. Any excess should be poured over the dish and fill the sides and any gaps. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan over the dish.
1. Cover the dish with a large sheet of foil that has been lightly sprayed with cooking spray. Bake for 30 minutes.
2. Increase the heat to 450F. Remove the foil and bake for 10-15 minutes more, until the surface of the lasagna becomes spotty brown.
3. Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes so that the sauce can set. Cut and serve!