Serious Eats: Recipes
Sunday Dinner: No-Holds-Barred Lasagna Bolognese
"Ragù Bolognese is the king of all meat sauces."
Following this week's ricotta-fest, I found myself with a few quarts of the stuff left over. There's only so much queso fresco, paneer, or ricotta salata one can make and consume, so I decided to get rid of the excess in what is probably the least efficient (and most delicious) way possible: a traditional Lasagna Bolognese.
Ok, ok. Not exactly traditional, since the most authentic lasagna Bolognese contains nothing but ragù Bolognese, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and nutmeg-scented besciamella (Italian for bechamel, which is French for "white sauce") sandwiched between layers of fresh pasta tinted green with spinach. But ricotta is a common enough addition, and a delicious one to boot. I've also sneaked a bit of mozzarella into the besciamella. (Serve this to your Italian grandmother at your own risk.)
Ragù Bolognese is the king of all meat sauces. Deep, rich, rib-sticking, soul-satisfying, heart-warming, and yumm-o are all words that have been used to describe it. (I'd use five out of six of those descriptors.) Unlike red sauce joints whose Bolognese is not much more than tomato sauce with ground beef, this ragù is all about the meat. It's made with a combination of lamb for flavor (ground beef works fine), pork for fat, and veal for tenderness.
I also like to add a few chicken livers, which are traditionally called for in Ragù Bolognese intended for special occasions. Frankly, if I'm putting in the time to make a lasagna, whatever occasion it is had best done make itself special.
If you don't want to go the whole nine yards and make your own ricotta, and if you can't find good store-bought ricotta (look for stuff with an ingredient list that contains nothing but milk, some kind of acid or starter, and salt. Avoid any gums or stabilizers), I'd highly suggest using store-bought whole milk cottage cheese in its place.
There's nothing else too unusual about my recipe, other than the fact that I finish it with a bit of fish sauce in order to up the umami. Don't worry, it won't taste fishy. You could get similar results by adding a couple smashed anchovies and a half teaspoon of marmite in with the vegetables in the second step.
Hand-rolled pasta works great, but the no-boil flat noodles are surprisingly good—almost as good as the real deal, particularly because with a 40 minute cooking time, even with fresh pasta, al dente is not the final goal. The pasta in a good lasagna should be soft, tender, and intensely flavored with the soaked-up liquid from the ragù.
Serve this up with a medium to full-bodied Sangiovese-based wine, like a good Chianti, Rosso di Montepulciano, or Super Tuscan.
Quick tip: Want to make quick and easy meaty cannelloni instead? Simply soak the no-boil noodles in 4 or 5 changes of really hot water until they soften up. Roll them up around a mixture of ricotta, eggs, and mozzarella, top with sauce and more cheese, bake at 350 until bubbly, and you're done.
About the author: After graduating from MIT, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt spent many years as a chef, recipe developer, writer, and editor in Boston. He now lives in New York with his wife, where he runs a private chef business, KA Cuisine, and co-writes the blog GoodEater.org about sustainable food enjoyment.