classic northern italian lasagne

     use marcella hazan's recipe for baked lasagne with meat sauce to create a classic northern italian masterpiece. but realize this: it's not a dish to make if you are in a hurry. the creamy bolognese style ragu needs to mature with tomatoes at the lowest of simmers for 4 hours, and that's after the chopping, sauteing, and the reductions: first in white wine, next in milk. the fresh pasta is rolled by hand to not-quite-paper-thin strips. and, the balsamella is brought along to a creamy, delicate conclusion with the constant attention of the whisk.
     the effort will produce a reward for the senses of smell and taste. rich, moist, not too heavy, comforting and elegant at the same time. the combined flavors contain the history of the region from where this version of the casserole was born. this is the one meat dish i thoroughly enjoy.  
i learned to make italian cuisine reading 
this cookbook by macella hazan.
hand rolled pasta and two sauces: bolognese ragu & basamella, along with fresh parmesan cheese make up the layers of this heavenly casserole.
bolognese ragu from the classic italian cookbook, by marcella hazan
for six servings, or 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups
i carefully follow, measure, and time this recipe. it requires a calm patience for the ragu to develop. in marcella hazan's words, "it must cook at the merest simmer for a long, long time". i modify it only in the type of cookware i use: she recommends an earthenware pot, but i use my deep, heavy stainless steel electric skillet which has a setting for an extra low simmer. other than that, i do not veer from her instructions.

• 2 tbl. chopped yellow onion
• 3 tbl. olive oil
• 3 tbl. butter
• 2 tbl. chopped celery
• 2 tbl. chopped carrot
• 3/4 lb. ground lean beef(preferably chuck or the meat from the neck)
• salt
• 1 cup dry white wine
• 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
• 2 cups canned italian tomatoes, roughly chopped, with their juice

1. in the electric skillet, put in the chopped onion, with all the oil and butter, and sauté briefly over med. heat until just translucent. add the celery and carrot and cook gently for 2 min.
2. add the ground beef, crumbling it in the pot with a fork. add 1 tsp. salt, stir, and cook only until the meat has lost its raw, red color. add the wine, turn the heat up to med. high, and cook, stirring occasionally, until all the wine has evaporated.
3. turn the heat down to med., add the milk and the nutmeg, and cook until the milk has evaporated. stir frequently.
4. when the milk has evaporated, add the tomatoes and stir thoroughly. when the tomatoes have started to bubble, turn the heat down until the sauce cooks at the laziest simmer, just an occasional bubble. cook, uncovered, for a minimum of 3 1/2 to 4 hours, stirring occasionally. taste and correct for salt.

spinach or parsley pasta
• fresh spinach or parsley
• 2 eggs
• about 1 1/2 cups of unbleached flour
• pinch of salt
1. cook the spinach and squeeze all of the water out.  finely chop it. OR/ finely chop fresh parsley.
2. beat the eggs with the spinach or parsley and the salt in a small mixing bowl.
3. put 1 cup of the flour in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the middle for the eggs. gradually add in the flour from the edges. add the remaining 1/2 cup of flour several tablespoons at a time until you can form a ball with the dough.
4. turn it out onto a floured counter and knead it about 8 to 10 min. until it is soft and smooth.
5. start a large pot of water to boil, and prepare a cold bowl of water on the counter to dunk the cooked pasta into.
6. roll the dough out into a long, almost paper thin sheet, careful to dust it with flour so it doesn't stick.
7. cut the pasta into 3-4 inch wide by 10 inch strips.
8. add a little salt to the boiling water and drop in 4 pasta strips. open them up with a spoon so they stay flat, and once the water comes back up to a boil count to 10. remove the pasta from the boiling water with a large wire strainer, and drop them into the cold water. then set them on a paper towel to dry.
9. continue cooking and cooling the pasta until all of the strip are cooked.
10. lay them on a plate and keep them from sticking by drizzling them with a little olive oil.
basamella (béchamel)
• about 6 tbl. butter
• 3 cups of milk
• about 4 tbl. of flour
• pinch of salt
• pinch of white pepper
1. heat the milk in a heavy saucepan until it comes just to the edge of a boil.
2. melt the butter on med.-low in a large saucepan with a curved bottom. add the flour and whisk it into the butter. let the flour and butter bubble for a few min. but don't let it brown.
3. turn off the heat and add the hot milk several tablespoons at a time, whisking constantly until all of the milk is added.
4. turn the heat to low and add the salt.
5. cook the sauce, stirring constantly with the whisk, until it is thickened, like heavy cream.
6. finish with a light dusting of white pepper.

to assemble and bake the lasagne
i make lasagne in several smaller sized baking dishes, about 6x10. this way it cooks evenly and it's easier to serve.
• move the top rack to the upper third of the oven, and preheat to 450 degrees.
1. rub the bottom and sides of the baking dishes with olive oil. 
2. spoon in some of the ragu to keep the 1st layer of pasta from sticking.
3. lay in a few strips of pasta, overlapping just a little, and trimming them if needed. try to keep them from touching the sides of the pan so they don't become brittle while cooking.
4. layer on a little more ragu by dotting it onto the pasta layer. then lay on some of the basamella and sprinkle on some finely grated parmesan.
5. continue layering with the pasta, ragu, basamella, and parmesan, until the layers come to about 1/2 inch from the top of the pan, but no more than six layers total.
6. the top layer is the last one of basamella and parmesan, and gets a sprinkle of white pepper.
7. bake for 10 to 15 min. until a light, golden crust forms on the top.
8. allow the lasagne to settle about 5 min. before serving.

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