I stole this recipe from Tyler Florence, then went to town and changed a bunch of things. I really liked his method but not his choice of meats (ground beef and pork accented with cinnamon) so I decided to use both spicy and sweet sausage instead. I also think he used way too much liquid in his sauce and it took forever to reduce, so I used less and it still took longer than he said, so I'll note that in the recipe below. We also decided to dress this up even more and slow roast some tomatoes to nestle on top. Good choice because they surprisingly added a lot to the final product. Well worth the extra step.
Bolognese is a meat sauce traditionally served over pasta. Normally to make a lasagna, you would just brown some sausage in a skillet and spread it evenly over the layers. In this version you make a bolognese sauce and use it with bechamel (a creamy white sauce) to create your layers with fresh buffalo mozzarella, basil and parmesan. As the meat simmers in the sauce of red wine and tomatoes it gets ultra soft and makes a gravy almost. I point this out because My friend Danielle was expecting bitey pieces of sausage and was very surprised with the outcome and how soft it was. There is a tiny bit of milk added to the sausage sauce, which may sound strange, but it actually helps break down the meat to get that soft texture you want here. I'm not gonna lie- Danielle was worried at first. She did not like the way the sauce looked or how soupy it was. However, she shut right up when she had a bite of the finished product, so...
I'm so sorry the picture is dark
Danielle and I spent the whole day cooking at her house the other day. We made one larger lasagna for a Young Life Leader dinner she was catering (along with an Italian salad, garlic bread and ahem, cream puffs...again) and a smaller one for us. We made ourselves a very petite lasagna since our husbands do not eat it very often, or ever for that matter, especially with meat in it. We were certain it would just be us and the kids digging in for a little indulgence.
Let's just say, we were wrong. :)
It was off the hook delicious and I highly recommend this recipe. Just in case you are skiddish like Danielle about the sauce, here a are few pictures to bolster your confidence. When it first begins to cook it will look more like soup:
Never fear. As it reduces and simmers (it will take anywhere between 1 1/2 hours to 3 hours) it will transform into a chunky, loose sauce. When it looks like this, it's done:
The bechamel is easier to trouble shoot. The recipe is a guideline, but I found I need about 1 cup more milk to get it to a sauce consistency. If you like yours thick, the recipe as written will be great for you. Don't be afraid to add more milk to it to thin, though. It should look like this:
We had a great night lingering over this lasagna with wine and friends and laughs the whole time. Then, the next day Danielle received a call that this was hands down the best lasagna those Young Life Leaders had ever tasted. Worth every second. I swear.
Like I said, I highly recommend slow roasting tomatoes to put on top before baking. Plan ahead though as they do take 3 hours to cook. You can do this step the day before if you like. Same goes for the bolognese meat sauce. Better to make the bechamel day of.
The Ultimate Lasagna Bolognese
adapted wildly from Dinner At My Place, by Tyler Florence
makes 1 large lasagna
For the Lasagna:
Fresh lasagna dough (or 1 package lasagna noodles)
1 pound buffalo mozzarella, cut into thin slices with a serrated knife
1/2 cup grated parmesan (the plastic jar stuff is fine for this)
1 package fresh basil leaves, torn
1 recipe slow roasted tomatoes (not the soup, just the tomatoes)
1 recipe bolognese
1 recipe bechamel
2 carrots, cut into large pieces
1 large onion, cut into large pieces
3 ribs celery, cut into large pieces
4 garlic cloves, peeled
3 fresh sage leaves
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound hot Italian sausage
1 pound sweet basil Italian sausage
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups dry red wine (or 3/4 of 1 bottle)
1 28-oz can of whole tomatoes
1 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup whole milk
Put carrot, onion, celery, garlic, and sage in a food processor and process until you have a smooth vegetable pulp. Coat a large, heavy based pot with olive oil and set over medium heat. Add the vegetable pulp and saute until fragrant and some of the moisture has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Empty the vegetable pulp into another bowl and set aside. Without washing the heavy pot, add a bit more olive oil and add both sausages and cook over medium heat while stirring to break up the meat until it's brown. Drain out excess sausage grease and discard. Next, dust the sausage with 2 tablespoons flour before adding wine, tomatoes, reserved vegetable pulp, and milk. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer about 1 1/2 to 3 hours, uncovered, until sauce is thick. Add Parmesan. Set aside while you prepare the bechamel.
2 cups whole milk (add up to 1 more cup to thin if desired)
3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 bay leaf
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Set a large saucepan over medium heat. Add milk, garlic, and bay leaf and bring to a simmer to infuse milk with the herb flavors. Set a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add butter and melt, then sprinkle in flour while you stir with a wooden spoon. Once all of the flour has been combined with the butter, grab a whisk and gradually pour the herb-infused milk, passing it through a sieve as you go to strain out the aromatics. As the sauce thickens, continue to whisk over low heat, then add nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper and taste. You'll probably need more salt. If sauce is too thick, add more milk and whisk until desired consistency is reached. Set aside to cool slightly.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. If using fresh pasta, there is no need to cook the noodles first. If using store bought dry lasagna noodles, place them in a 9x13 pyrex dish and pour boiling water over to cover them. Cover the whole dish with foil and let sit for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, the noodles will not be fully cooked but they will be ready to use in the lasagna.
To assemble the lasagna, coat the bottom of the lasagna pan with a thin layer of the bechamel. Top with a layer of lasagna noodles, cutting them to fit as necessary. Top the noodle layer with a layer each of bechamel, bolognese, mozzarella, fresh basil and Parmesan. Continue with layers of lasagna noodles, bechamel, bolognese, mozzarella, fresh basil and Parmesan until you have three complete layers. Make sure you don't finish with noodles. The top should be the same as the rest with both sauces, mozarella, fresh basil and a dusting on parmesan. Next, nestle the slow roasted tomatoes to cover the top. Bake, uncovered, on a tray (to catch the drippings) in the center of the preheated oven for 1 hour. If the top starts to brown, tent with foil. Let the lasagna stand for 20 minutes at room temperature to cool before cutting. By not cutting into a ripping hot lasagna, you will get clean slices.
Try not to eat with a sappy smile plastered across your face. I dare you.