Traveling is wonderful thing, as is living abroad. And at the end of a long journey, one of the most wonderful things is to be welcomed home by friends and family. My good friend, Blake (whose house I happen to live in), spends much of the year abroad. It’s never fun to see him go and we all wish he was closer to home. However, welcoming him home is always a celebrated occasion. Typically it’s Blake who gets to surprise others with his arrival home, like the time he showed up the night before his younger brother, Trent’s, graduation from college to be welcomed with tears of joy. This time we knew when he would be arriving and we wanted to surprise him. And so we put up a sign and we made him dinner.
In my few years of cooking for others there a few important lessons I have learned. One of those things is that you should always stick to a tried and true recipe instead of trying something new or fancy. Also, when you’re planning dinner for the middle of the week and won’t have time to prepare the day of, making something that can be made ahead is always a good thing. And so, for Blake’s dinner, I choose this Lasagna Bolognese, Simplified.
The ragú in this lasagna is absolutely delicious and I love that in making this recipe I have finally mastered making a good béchamel. Cook’s Illustrated is obsessive and their recipes are typically very detailed and long, even the simplified ones. However, their obsession with detail pays off because I have yet to try a Cook’s Illustrated recipe that I wouldn’t recommend to others. The lasagna turned out well, as did the garlic bread and salad I served alongside. All in all, dinner came together quite nicely. But it wasn’t so much because of the food but who was there to enjoy it with us.
Welcome home, Blake. We’ve missed you.
Lasagna Bolognese, Simplified
For the Meat Sauce:
1 medium carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 medium rib celery, roughly chopped
½ small onion, roughly chopped
1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes with juice
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
8 oz. ground beef
8 oz. ground turkey
8 oz. ground pork
1 ½ cups whole milk
1 ½ cups dry white wine
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon table salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
For the Béchamel:
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk
¾ teaspoons salt
Noodles and Cheese:
15 sheets no boil lasagna noodles (9 oz)
4 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated (2 cups)
For the Meat Sauce: Process carrot, celery, and onion in food processor until finely chopped, about ten 1-second pulses, scraping down bowl as necessary; transfer mixture to small bowl. Wipe out food processor workbowl; process tomatoes and juice until finely chopped, six to eight 1-second pulses. Heat butter in heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat until foaming; add carrot, celery, and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 4 minutes. Add ground meats and cook, breaking meat into 1-inch pieces with wooden spoon, about 1 minute. Add milk and stir, breaking meat into 1/2-inch bits; bring to simmer and cook, stirring to break meat into small pieces, until almost all liquid has evaporated, 20 to 30 minutes. Using potato masher or wooden spoon, break up any remaining clumps of meat (no large pieces should remain). Add wine and bring to simmer; cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated, 20 to 30 minutes. Stir in tomato paste until combined, about 1 minute; add chopped tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Bring to simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low and cook until sauce is slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. (You should have about 6 cups meat sauce.) Transfer meat sauce to bowl and cool until just warm to touch, about 30 minutes. DO AHEAD: Sauces can be made up to two days ahead and refrigerated. Rewarm over stove before continuing as outlined below.
For the béchamel: While meat sauce simmers, melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat until foaming; add flour and cook, whisking constantly, until thoroughly combined, about 1 1/2 minutes; mixture should not brown. Gradually whisk in milk; increase heat to medium-high and bring to full boil, whisking frequently. Add salt, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally with heatproof rubber spatula or wooden spoon, making sure to scrape bottom and corners of saucepan. (You should have about 3 1/3 cups.) Transfer béchamel to bowl and cool until just warm to touch, about 30 minutes.
To assemble: Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 425 degrees. Place noodles in 13- by 9-inch baking dish and cover with very hot tap water; soak 5 minutes, agitating noodles occasionally to prevent sticking. Remove noodles from water, place in single layer on kitchen towel, and pat dry. Wipe out baking dish and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Stir béchamel to recombine; mix 3/4 cup warm béchamel into warm meat sauce until thoroughly combined.
Distribute 1 cup béchamel-enriched meat sauce in baking dish. Place three noodles in single layer on top of sauce, arranging them close together, but not touching, at center of pan. Spread 1 1/4 cups béchamel-enriched meat sauce evenly over noodles, spreading sauce to edge of noodles but not to edge of dish. Drizzle 1/3 cup béchamel evenly over meat sauce. Sprinkle 1/3 cup Parmesan evenly over béchamel. Repeat layering of noodles, béchamel-enriched meat sauce, bechamel, and cheese 3 more times. Place final 3 noodles on top and cover completely with remaining béchamel, spreading béchamel with rubber spatula and allowing it to spill over noodles. Sprinkle evenly with remaining Parmesan. DO AHEAD: I have made the lasagna a day ahead, refrigerated it overnight and cooked it the next day with equally good results.
To bake: Spray large sheet foil with nonstick cooking spray and cover lasagna; bake at 425 degrees until bubbling, about 30 minutes. Remove foil, increase heat to 450 degrees, and continue to bake until surface is spotty brown, about 15 minutes. Cool 15 minutes; cut into pieces and serve.
Source: adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, published September 1, 2004.