Upping my lasagne game.
October 6, 2015 8:26 AM   Subscribe

It's 8am. In 10 hours I would like to pull the "worlds best lasagne" out of my oven. Feeling overwhelmed with recipes and options. Any favorites? secret ingredients? Techniques you can recommend?

My standard recipe is sauce (onion, garlic, meat, tomato and dash of oregano) layered with lasagne sheets, ricotta and mozzarella. Boring, but it works.

I want this one to be RICH (think Olive Garden without the salt bomb), not overwhelmingly cheesy and.....perfect. And fancy looking.

I have access to a fancypants grocery that stocks everything, enough kitchen gadgets to feed an army, gas oven/range, slow cooker etc etc.

Bechemel? Pork/beef mix? Spinach? Par boil the noodles or get the ones that soften while it bakes? Broil at the end to crisp it up?

Would prefer "meat" lasagne over veggie or seafood types for this round. Can anyone help me build and cook the best lasagne ever?
posted by remlapm to Food & Drink (37 answers total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
Done in one. (imo)
posted by supercres at 8:32 AM on October 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I ended up prepping this one from Smitten Kitchen over two days, but it was SO WORTH IT!!! It is one of the best things I've ever eaten.
posted by goggie at 8:38 AM on October 6, 2015 [9 favorites]

This mushroom lasagna from Smitten Kitchen is also incredibly good. Mindblowingly good, perhaps.
posted by capricorn at 8:42 AM on October 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The Smitten Kitchen recipe is close! To make lasagna rich you need bechamel sauce and parmesan, not ricotta. Making traditional ragu' bolognese is necessary for the creamy, meaty filling: be sure to use beef/veal AND pork, plus pancetta or bacon. Make your own pasta and parboil it, the thinner the better. You need at least seven layers in your dish.

Disclaimer: I'm from Northern Italy and consider ricotta in lasagna an abomination.
posted by lydhre at 8:45 AM on October 6, 2015 [16 favorites]

For future reference, I have found the book The Geometry of Pasta to be excellent for traditional and accessible Italian pasta dishes.
posted by lydhre at 8:47 AM on October 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

One recipe I've used added a small log (maybe 3oz?) of goat cheese to the ricotta mixture. I do it every time now because it made such a tasty difference.
posted by bizzyb at 8:50 AM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Marcella Hazan's Lasagna is awesome.
posted by Snazzy67 at 8:56 AM on October 6, 2015 [5 favorites]

The best homemade lasagnas I've made have started with homemade noodles -- if you have a pasta machine or Kitchen Aid attachment, you could try this, or you could look for very thin, fresh noodles in the refridgerated section at the store.
posted by rainbowbrite at 8:58 AM on October 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Not a red sauce lasagna, but Ina's Portobello Mushroom Lasagna was a great success.
posted by sarajane at 8:59 AM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I highly recommend using smoked mozzarella, it instantly gives it a richer flavor with no extra work.
posted by cakelite at 9:17 AM on October 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

A little bit of truffle oil and a little bit of sherry vinegar in the the cheese goop.
posted by Grandysaur at 9:23 AM on October 6, 2015

My go-to answer for supercharging any recipe definitely applies here: add some chorizo! Fry it up with the onions/veg and then add the rest of the ground meat. Glorious.
posted by amerrydance at 9:23 AM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Spinach! It must have at least one layer of baby spinach. Pretty, delicious, and good for you!
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 9:23 AM on October 6, 2015

If you don't already do this, drizzle some olive oil as one of the steps in building each layer.
posted by Poldo at 9:24 AM on October 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Upgrade your sauce game with Kenji López-Alt's Slow Cooked Red Sauce. I've turned it into lasagna twice and it's been foolproof.
posted by CrystalDave at 9:27 AM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Use red wine in the sauce and put sliced hardboiled eggs in one layer, just like Grandma Octorok used to
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:31 AM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I do what a wonderful restaurant in my area does: I use no sauce in the baking dish, but spoon the sauce over the portions on the plates. It makes a world of difference, and a much prettier presentation.
posted by Dolley at 9:34 AM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nth fresh pasta, slow-cooked bolognase, and bechamel for the ultimate meat lasagna experience. I'd do 1/3 veal, 1/3 beef, 1/3 pork for the meat --- stores often sell this pre-packaged as meatloaf mix.

If you're looking for a variation next time the lasagna urge strikes (or for future lasagna mefi searchers) --- I've done a vegetarian reverse lasagna that's gone down well. Fresh vine tomatoes cut into thick disks for one layer, spinach or chopped broccoli for the other, make a cheddar mornay for the sauce. So you get an intense, sharp, cheese-y sauce but the heaviness is cut by the light, fresh filling.
posted by Diablevert at 9:54 AM on October 6, 2015

Best answer: A few things:

- I was taught lasagne by a southern Italian lady, so ricotta is fine. Beat it together with an egg, and it gets nestled between its own sheets of pasta.

- Otherwise, use a bechamel instead of ricotta

- Make your own pasta using duck eggs instead of chicken eggs

- When you make your ragu, you definitely want to use a mix of hand-ground beef, pork, and pancetta. If you don't have a grinder (and remember grinder safety for raw meats: AS COLD AS POSSIBLE. At work, we keep our grinder pieces in the freezer, and any bowls/etc hit the freezer for 20 minutes before use) then ask a butcher to grind the items together for you on a medium die

- For the ragu, make your soffrito. Then add your meats and cook slowly. Drain off excess fat, but you can leave a little. Deglaze with red wine. When the wine is fully cooked out--as in, gone; French-trained chefs would call this sec or dry--add just enough milk to cover and simmer gently until, again, it's gone. Then you add your separately-prepared tomato sauce. (I was taught this method by an actual Bolognese chef).

- Ideally for a pretty presentation you want to cook your lasagne the day before, chill it thoroughly, and weight it in the fridge. You get much cleaner cuts, and then can reheat each portion as needed.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:56 AM on October 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

i hosted biweekly lasagna dinners last year so i've made a LOT of lasagna. the smitten kitchen one linked above was the best one i made. real talk: i didn't even end up making my own pasta for it and it was STILL amazing. that sauce haunts my dreams.
posted by kerning at 10:00 AM on October 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

I've been working on the perfect ragú since I was in a hotel in Siena in 1987 and I tasted it, but they wouldn't give out the recipe.
This is a fiercely contested recipe
It's difficult, but a mix of beef and pork is good, and a bit of milk or cream at the end is good too. There needs to be wine in it, red or white. Not too much tomato. There is a lot of debate on this point, going from the no-tomato opinion of the Italian food police, over a bit of concentrate for color I hear from many, many foodies (both Italian and not), and to a ladle of red sauce. You may think about your own taste and your audience. But use less tomato than you think. Whatever you do - slow-cook the ragú or use a pressure cooker. Time is everything.
Another debated issue is the vegetable cutting. I like cuts where you can still see the different items, but the "right" way to deal with this is to use your processor or microplane to convert carrots, onions and celeriac into tiny fragments.
With bechamel, it's the opposite: you need bechamel, and you need more than you think (unless like me you are approaching granny-age and have made 1000+ lasagnas). Put mozzarella in the bechamel.

Where I live, I can buy very high quality very thin fresh lasagna noodles. If you can't, yes, you should make them yourself. You need thin because you need those 7 layers someone mentioned and 7 layers of thick dough is not nice.
posted by mumimor at 10:03 AM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Agree with the smitten kitchen post. I used part pork sausage and store bought noodles and I dream, dream DREAM about it. I also don't have a food processors so I grated the veggies instead; worked fine. It takes some time but it isn't difficult (at least if you don't make your own pasta. I imagine that makes it more difficult).
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:10 AM on October 6, 2015

Seconding the mushroom lasagna recipe from Smitten Kitchen. I came into the thread to recommend it, because Mr. Machine basically wooed me with it.
posted by joyceanmachine at 10:33 AM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I go one of two ways on lasagna. I either use a mix of beef/pork/veal or I use loose sausage (half sweet italian/half hot italian). They are really different dishes - one is Northern and one is very Southern. For the beef/pork/veal I use béchamel l sauce. With the sausage mix I use ricotta. My grandmother used to make tiny meatball for lasagna and that was the best ever.

I haven't eaten at an Olive Garden in years, but I think their food is more Southern. I think you want a sausage/ricotta recipe.
posted by 26.2 at 10:39 AM on October 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Olive Garden (as with the majority of Italian food in North America) is ersatz Tuscan. People who think that's the entirety of Italian cuisine would be pretty shocked by e.g. Sicilian food.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:49 AM on October 6, 2015

Others in this thread clearly know what they're talking about, so listen to them. But crumbled hot italian sausage + spinach is amazing in lasagna. Just saying.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 11:02 AM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Smoked mozzarella, crimini mushrooms, roasted red peppers, caramelized onions and sweet Italian sausage.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 11:08 AM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh sorry, the other way to up your ragu game is to not grind at all. Slow-cook beef and pork--braise, crockpot, whatever; the way you would do for pulled pork, minus any sugar, using stock and/or red wine as your liquid--and then shred. Cook that into the soffrito instead of raw ground meat. Grind the pancetta, though. And any leftover braising liquid you can reduce down into the ragu as well. (As long as you were a good braiser and didn't use any salt!)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:10 AM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nthing everyone who suggests making a real bolognese sauce. Not sure you have the time to do that at this point. I always make a double batch of Marcella Hazan's bolognese (with a few modifications, like dicing whatever pacetta or other salumi I may have and throwing that in at the start), and use half of it serve over pappardelle, and the other half to make lasagne later in the week. If you use ricotta rather than bechamel (which is fine - it's a matter of taste), I would add at least three beaten eggs to a quart of ricotta. It makes the filling lighter.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 11:12 AM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Use a hefty pinch of dried Tarragon as well as Oregano in your meat sauce.

It is MAGICAL. Seriously. Magical.
posted by JenThePro at 11:16 AM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Add port!
posted by Bwithh at 11:57 AM on October 6, 2015

Whichever recipe you pick (and I'm 100% bechamel - I think ricotta is an American thing?), do let the lasagna sit before serving. It's always better once it's rested - served warm not boiling hot from the oven (or ideally reheated the next day though obviously that's not an option for you).
posted by AFII at 11:58 AM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I made some decisions and the ragu (veal, pork, pancetta) is underway following a Frankenstein of suggested ingredients but loosely following the SmittenKitchen cooking technique.

One thing I'm dubious about is simmering with continually added water as I've always used milk for the meat and veg - but never after the tomato is added. Maybe I'll add a splash for the initial hour and see how it looks.

I am just now making my own pasta (smitten recipe) but just in case it goes south I picked up fresh sheets which are unfortunately a little thick (but what I'm used to) - since I'm following everyone's advice I'm going to try and roll them a little flatter to get them nice and thin for that 7 layer beast.

I'm also going to do Granny Octorok's boiled egg layer in the middle just because why the hell not.

San Diego locals are welcome to come for a slice or at least get some ragu as I made enough to kill a small horse.

I'm floored with the responses, thank you so so so much.
posted by remlapm at 11:59 AM on October 6, 2015 [8 favorites]

This butternut squash and Gorgonzola recipe is amazing, just in case you are ever in the market again.
posted by rpfields at 12:36 PM on October 6, 2015

For my birthday last week, I requested a lasagna from my awesome husband. My complaint with lasagna has always been too much sauce, which makes it too sloppy and seems to negate the cheesiness. We went with sauce only on bottom and top, with 4 layers of noods that alternated with cheeses and meat. It was SO GOOD! It sliced perfectly, and the cheese and meat were the stars!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 6:44 PM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just reporting back to say that was easily one of the best lasagnes I have ever eaten, and I'm Garfield level lasagne obsessed.

The veal/pork combo made it more delicate than traditional beef Ragus but the pancetta was the secret weapon, helped the sauce cut through. I simmered the ragu for 4 hours and didn't really need to top up the water or do much other than stir occasionally - and I'm genuinely curious what skipping all that and throwing the whole meat/veg/paste concoction in a slow cooker on low for 6 hours would yield.

The real "oomph" of the dish was the Parmesan and bechamel layers carried by the pasta (which was a little too doughy, my fault). If I were to do it again I might take a suggestion above and just build that and layer the sauce on top to serve.

I made a 9x13 tray with 6 layers, 1/3rd a cup each and pretty light on ragu despite the temptation to pour it on. had 1/6th to start thinking it was the first of many rounds. It wasn't. While not rich (at all) - and I tend to under salt my cooking- it is very DENSE and my portion was more than enough, washed down by a nice thick red from Paso Robles. Cleansed my palette with some limoncello sorbet, wiped my hands on my pants and called it a success.

I'm going to try the Marcella (because I love her) recipe above with some more suggestions, but frankly I don't know how to improv on this.

Thank you ask mefi for significantly upping my lasagne game, one of my life goals complete!
posted by remlapm at 7:20 AM on October 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

. I simmered the ragu for 4 hours and didn't really need to top up the water or do much other than stir occasionally - and I'm genuinely curious what skipping all that and throwing the whole meat/veg/paste concoction in a slow cooker on low for 6 hours would yield.

It would yield all kinds of motherfucking noms is what it would yield. You might need to skim some fat off--the flavour will be heavenly.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:33 PM on October 7, 2015

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