Proper Lasagna consists of RED & WHITE sauce, not PINK.
June 29, 2008 1:10 PM   Subscribe

We love lasagna. But my white sauce mixes with my red sauce and it all ends up looking pink.

I'm using a rather basic lasagna recipe but consistently have been frustrated by sauces mixing together. It seems to be happening during cooking to some extent, but cutting portions and serving doesn't help much.

While the mixing doesn't effect the taste, my lasagna is rather unsightly compared to professionally prepared portions.

What can I do to keep the sauces as distinct as possible? It seems that professionally prepared (i.e., restaurant) lasagna has distinct layers of white and red sauce, separated by the pasta itself. Mine tends to mingle, almost to the point where I'm ending up with, at times, a pinkish sauce.

I'm not sure if it is caused by my sauce recipe or technique, but it has happened both with meat and veggie lasagna. The filler for either is as follows :

Meat: 1 lb. browned ground beef
Veggies: 1 lb of coarsly chopped broccoli, carrots, bell peppers, celery, green lettuce, all raw


Here is my red sauce :

Chopped onion, one large
Garlic, four cloves
Salt
Pepper
Tomato paste, two cans

This is generally prepared once a week in a large batch that I use for multiple dishes, lasagna included. Sometimes I'll make and use the sauce immediately, other times I've frozen and reheated it, but this hasn't changed my results.

If I'm making meat lasagna I'll mix it (after browning separately) with the red sauce otherwise, I spoon out red sauce, then cover with the veggie mix.

And my white sauce, which remains the same for meat or veggie lasagna :

Munster cheese
Four tablespoons butter
Four tablespoons of flour
Two cups of milk

I melt the butter, then add in salt & pepper. Blend in the flour then cook over over a low flame for two minutes, finally adding milk. Bring mixture to boil and let boil for two minutes.


Technique:

Parmesan cheese on the bottom, then some red sauce (if veggie then layer chopped vegetables on top of red sauce).

A layer of lasagna pasta sheets, more parmesan, then white sauce.

This is repeated three times in total, with red sauce and more parmesan topping off the lasagna.

Bake and serve.

I still don't have good control, and end up with the sauces mixing. Does anyone have any tips on how to insure that the layers don't intermingle too much? The professionally prepared portions that we get at a restaurant are much more visually appealing (and I seem to recall my great grandmothers as having sharp, distinct layers as well).

Thanks for your help!
posted by Mutant to Food & Drink (33 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've never made lasagna with white sauce, so I suggest you just skip it. Just use grated cheese for those layers. Get quality cheese and grate it yourself.

If you are absolutely committed to white sauce, try mixing it with the meat. Saute the meat, make the white sauce separately, then add the sauce to the meat and simmer it down til it's thickened. This will also have the added benefit of getting up the browning in the meat pan which will give it a wonderful flavor. Add a couple of well-beaten egg yolks before you layer it. This should firm it up during cooking and keep it from running. Make sure you simmer the white sauce/meat mixture down considerably before layering the lasagna.

This is really interesting. I'm going to try using white sauce next time I make lasagna.
posted by nax at 1:20 PM on June 29, 2008


Try making a thicker white sauce, or putting an egg into the white sauce. The egg will thicken the sauce as it bakes. The lasagne my mother makes (learned from an Italian Nonna at her childhood church) uses a white sauce made of ricotta cheese mixed with an egg or two. Currently I make lasagna using a very thick mushroom bechamel sauce.
posted by jlkr at 1:20 PM on June 29, 2008


One always hits "send" to soon, especially on an interesting post.

Here's my inspiration (not this specific recipe, but how to bake white sauce so it doesn't run): pastitio
posted by nax at 1:22 PM on June 29, 2008


Does the mixing occur throughout the dish, or just at the edges? If the mixing is everywhere, maybe your sauces are a little too runny and they're seeping through the layers of noodles. Try thickening them somehow, maybe with cornstarch or by using more flour in the roux, or more cheese.

(And white sauce plus red sauce in lasagna sounds pretty unusual to me - where I grew up in New York it was red sauce all the way. What part of Italy was your great-grandmother from?)
posted by Quietgal at 1:24 PM on June 29, 2008


i second the egg idea. i've never made lasagna with a white sauce, but my white layer consists of ricotta, a splash of cream, parmesan, and an egg. the egg seems to make the layer firm up as it bakes.
posted by wayward vagabond at 1:29 PM on June 29, 2008


I think your white sauce is way too "thin," for one thing, meaning I'd add 2 to 4 more tablespoons of flour, for that much milk. You're not trying for a bechamel sauce, per se, but something thicker. Muenster can release water when it melts, etc. I'd also suggest you put your cheese(s) on the noodles directly, rather than melting them in the sauce, and maybe use harder cheeses than muenster. Asagio, pecarino, provolone, romano, etc. If you use soft cheese like ricotta, cut back appropriately as you increase the hard cheese content, until you find a texture/flavor balance that you want.

It also makes a difference whether you are pre-cooking your pasta, or putting it in dry. If you put it in dry, it will absorb moisture from your sauces, reducing co-mingling, but you'll need to adjust your receipt for time, liquid, etc.
posted by paulsc at 1:31 PM on June 29, 2008


I've only made lasagna a few times, but when I do I use layers of ricotta, Parmesan, and mozzarella cheese instead of making up a white sauce. That seems to be more stable, and not as liquid as you are finding yours to be.

This recipe (found randomly via google) is pretty much what I do, in terms of the cheese layer.
posted by Forktine at 1:42 PM on June 29, 2008


I like lasagne with white sauce, but I never had it until fairly recently. The lasagna I learned to make was with ricotta cheese and if you want to give this a try, the recipe is as follows (sorry, US measurements):

Sauce:

2 15 oz cans of tomato sauce (passata)
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
1/8 cup olive oil (estimate - this is to add fat as the original recipe is veggie)
4-6 cloves fresh chopped garlic
2-3 tablespoons basil
oregano if desired
tomato paste if thickening is needed

Oil, vinager and garlic on stove, don't burn the garlic - then add the tomato sauce and simmer 15 minutes, remove from heat.

Cheese mixture:

Lots of mozzerella (my recipe says 2 pounds, but I just estimate, this is the base cheese)
one pound Provalone
one wedge hard cheese (e.g. asiago or parm)
two tubs ricotta
frozen, chopped spinach (but can use fresh)
more garlic
two eggs

Defrost, rinse and drain spinach, squeeze out as much moisture as possible.

In large bowl, mix all the ricotta, 1/2 the mozzeralla, 2 Tbsp. garlic, half the grated wedge of hard cheese, two eggs and spinach. Set aside.

Back to the sauce, add the basil and oregano and about 1/2 cup water (to cook the noodles). Bring to a boil and remove from heat.

Get a 9 x 13 inch pan and grease with oil. One layer of sauce on the bottom, then a layer of uncooked noodles (overlap the edges slightly), then a layer of cheese mixture, then a layer of the remainder of the other half of the mozzeralla, repeat. When the pan is full, pour the remainder of the sauce over the top. Cover with foil.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (180 c, 160 c fan assisted, gas mark 4), put in the oven for 40 minutes, cool for 20 minutes, eat.

My friend gave me this recipe and I kind of tweak it as I go along. I don't add salt because of all the cheese. Sometimes I use more garlic. I've increased the spinach. I have added sausage to it before and left the spinach out. I have also added sausage and left the spinach in. I've made it for dinner parties and it's been a big success. If you decide to give it a go, I hope you like it, I think it's pretty good.
posted by triggerfinger at 1:53 PM on June 29, 2008 [5 favorites]


Seconding cornstarch to firm up the red. It feels odd when you're making your marinara, and tastes silly if you're eating it stright, but it really helps buffer against leakage. I wanted restaurant-style lasagne at one point, as well, but I found that adding more cheese just ended in tears (more fat/oil = more runny, see?) It might serve to use more egg white for the white sauce, as more flour can start influencing flavor, at least for me. That's how most nice, thick alfredo sauces of mine go, at least. You probably want to make it ultra-thick, since slicing into your lasagne will undoubtedly squirt the white sauce everywhere if it's too thin.

Speculation aside, I might have to try your red/white combo at some point. Sounds like a real challenge in terms of holding the mess together and keeping everything separate but equal.
posted by electronslave at 1:56 PM on June 29, 2008


I've never tried mixing a white and red sauce together in lasagna. I usually choose to make a red OR a white sauce. I always use a cheese filling though. Maybe try a cheese filling instead of a cheese sauce? My cheese filling includes a tub of ricotta cheese, a couple of eggs, grated romano or parmesan cheese and spices. This filling needs to be really thick, but spreadable. When I bake this, the egg holds the cheese together, so I get the defined layers.

I think part of your problem is that you are using raw vegetables and when they cook, they are releasing all of their liquid into your lasagna, which is affecting the texture. Also, lettuce is a really odd thing to put in lasagna, texture and moisture-wise it would be better to use some fresh or even frozen spinach. Chop up all your veggies and sautee them in a pan with some olive oil until they are slightly cooked. It's important to drain all the liquid that collects in the pan after the veggies have cooked.
posted by pluckysparrow at 1:58 PM on June 29, 2008


I think restaurant lasagne has the benefit of sitting after being cooked. I'm guessing yours is being cut and served not long after it comes out of the oven. I'm betting this effects things.

My lasange is of the raw, vegan variety and is quite visually appealing. It's a wonderful summer dish! However, the white and red parts never get heated so never become runny and are as thick at serving time as I made them during prep. If you're open to trying such a dish (I'd put it head-to-head with any lasagne I've ever tasted), let me know and I'll post the recipe.
posted by dobbs at 2:04 PM on June 29, 2008


Most of the lasagnes I've ever made or eaten omitted the white sauce except on top. In fact I think the instructions on lasagne I bought in Italy dictated this white-on-top-only approach.

However, one other authority I've read suggests thinly sliced mozzarella rather than Parmesan to accompany the intermediate layers of white sauce. Don't know whether this would stop the pink problem, but it surely couldn't taste bad...
posted by Phanx at 2:04 PM on June 29, 2008


Notice this instruction in triggerfinger's recipe:

put in the oven for 40 minutes, cool for 20 minutes, eat.

Are you letting your lasagna sit once it's out of the oven? This resting time lets it set up properly for easier (and prettier) serving.

Unlike a lot of the posters who don't use two sauces throughout, I do layer a thin red sauce and either a thick white sauce or a ricotta-egg mixture, and the layers are reasonably distinct when I cut through. (I sprinkle each layer with a scant handful of grated mozzarella as well as a little Parmesan, which might add another layer of protection.) If you cut while it's too hot, everything muddles together --- delicious, but not picture-perfect.

This setting period also cools down the lasagna enough to prevent the ferocious blistering of the upper palate, known in my family as "fleshhangs."
posted by Elsa at 2:18 PM on June 29, 2008


Seconding to make the sauce thicker, but I'd stick with putting cheese in the white sauce, which is what I (and my family) have always done, as with a straight beschamel it's a bit... well, boring.
posted by opsin at 2:32 PM on June 29, 2008


One of the things that may well be the difference between the lasagna you're making and the lasagna they're making is the pasta itself. If you're using store bought lasagna noodles, you essentially have holes in your pasta for sauces to mix through. Using solid sheets of freshly made pasta might make a considerable difference on that front.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:33 PM on June 29, 2008


One other element that I don't think has been mentioned: all those raw veggies will release a lot of water as they cook. Personally, I like vegetables in lasagne, but you have to at least parcook them by sauteeing (Cooks Illustrated would have you salt them, too), or your casserole will be wet wet wet.
posted by libraryhead at 2:46 PM on June 29, 2008


Instead of white sauce use riccotta for the win.
posted by BobbyDigital at 3:25 PM on June 29, 2008


Seconding the use of ricotta -- I've never had a lasagne that used a white "sauce", but the white creamy part is always made from ricotta (plus a bit of egg, parmesan & basil).

Also, let it sit for a while after coming out of the oven, so that everything can firm up.
posted by Koko at 4:03 PM on June 29, 2008


Not sure how this came about in my family except that I grew up in a town that had many Italian immigrants, but here's what I learned about lasagna:

The white part is mostly ricotta. Add grated parmesan, salt, pepper, basil, two eggs and parsley. Top with sliced mozzarella, each layer; this isn't just for browning cheese on top.

You can layer in mushrooms, eggplant, spinach and any veggie you like, but they do want to be their own layer. It can help to precook them a bit so they release some moisture that you can discard.
posted by vers at 4:07 PM on June 29, 2008


the white creamy part is always made from ricotta (plus a bit of egg, parmesan & basil).

My Nonna (born in Calabria) used to make it just like this. You were also not allowed to put grated Parmesan on top of the lasagna, as it already had it in it (thank you, Great Depression).
posted by Rock Steady at 4:12 PM on June 29, 2008


Take a look at Lidia Bastianich's Italian-American Lasagna, which is pretty much the ricotta-based lasagnas mentioned by others.

Now the lasagna recipe in my copy of Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Italian Cooking requires both Bolognese meat sauce and a rather runny bechamel sauce, but the two are combined for spreading on the pasta.

Umm, are you really using two cans of tomato paste for the tomato sauce? The tomato sauce I usually make uses one large can (28 oz) of Italian plum tomatoes and a tablespoon or two of tomato paste. Too much tomato paste really throws off the flavor of the tomato sauce.

And the munster cheese, that's also pretty unusual.
posted by needled at 4:55 PM on June 29, 2008


Yeah, nthing "that's not white sauce in lasagna, it's ricotta cheese." Ricotta cheese is significantly sturdier than a sauce, but still creamy.
posted by Nattie at 5:20 PM on June 29, 2008


You have way too much liquid in your recipe, which is making everything run together. With 2 cups of milk and all those raw veggies (which release lots of water as they cook down), I'm surprised you don't end up with soup!

If you're very attached to your ingredients list, sautee all the veggies before adding them. Leave out the lettuce. Cut the milk in your white sauce down to about 1/2 cup. Precook your pasta noodles.

If you're not that attached to your ingredients, use as your white layer a mixture of ricotta, mozzarella or parmesan, 1 egg, salt, pepper, and a green herb or spinach. Substitute one can of whole tomatoes, drained and crushed with the back of a fork, for one of your cans of tomato paste.

Lastly, do not rely on cornstarch. It will give you congealed pink sauce instead of the watery pink sauce you have now.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 5:27 PM on June 29, 2008


White sauce or bechamel sauce is indeed used in lasagna (e.g. this recipe for Classic Lasagna Bolognese from Gourmet magazine; some Italian recipes for vegetable lasagna use a bechamel sauce but no tomato sauce). It's just that it's not used in the typical American or Italian-American lasagna, which uses ricotta cheese.
posted by needled at 5:39 PM on June 29, 2008


I've never made it with bechamel or ricotta. I use mozzarella instead.

Also, two cans of tomato paste? I use two of tomato sauce + two of tomato paste and then cook it down.
posted by dw at 6:02 PM on June 29, 2008


dobbs My lasange is of the raw, vegan variety and is quite visually appealing. It's a wonderful summer dish! However, the white and red parts never get heated so never become runny and are as thick at serving time as I made them during prep. If you're open to trying such a dish (I'd put it head-to-head with any lasagne I've ever tasted), let me know and I'll post the recipe.

I'm not Mutant but I'm interested in your vegan lasagna.
posted by tksh at 6:30 PM on June 29, 2008


I've always been accustomed to ricotta/egg/parmesan white layers myself.

If you can't get your hands on ricotta, perhaps you can get cottage cheese?

Drain it a bit and chop it up in a food processor to approximate the texture of ricotta.

I have heard of white sauce being used in Greek-style lasagna, but have never eaten it myself. Two true sauces does seem excessive to me.

I can only vouch for lots of tasty thin layers of ricotta and good italian sausage.
posted by aydeejones at 8:08 PM on June 29, 2008


Yeah, we basically have a moisture issue here. Bechamel is an essential part of a classic lasagna bolognese - that's not the problem at all. But raw vegetables aren't. Everything is cooked before it goes into a classical lasagna. That doesn't mean you don't come out with something nice and tasty if you don't cook everything first, (or use some yummy fresh ricotta and/or mozzarella instead of bechamel) but Mutant seems to be looking for more than just tasty. And Mutant is describing a classical lasagna, not an Italian-American lasagna.

To prevent bleeding of white and green and red (the colors of the Italian flag, what a coincidence!) in a classical lasagna bolognese, cook all the veggies first, make a bechamel that has the consistency of thick pudding (a plastic spoon would stand up in it by itself - add more flour or less milk, it really does depend on the weather), and make a meat sauce (yes, cook the meat in the tomato sauce for at least an hour - you can make large batches and freeze, just like nonna would) that's just as thick. Layer, bake and you're golden (or at least the top of the lasagna should be).
posted by dchase at 8:26 PM on June 29, 2008


I use uncooked lasagna sheets so if my tomato sauce isn't watery enough my pasta won't cook. My guess is that the problem is coming from your other sauce. For starters no boiling! Simmer. When you start to get bubbles rising to the surface - she's done. (And that goes for any 'white sauce')

Try putting the sauce directly on the sheets so they can 'bond' and then the cheese on top. It might be making a barrier, rather than letting it all glue together. (I don't use cheese and I make my bechamel nice and thick.) I think I know the pink you speak of. It happens to me if a puddle of bechamel ends up somewhere it 'shouldn't be' when I'm throwing it together. Perhaps it's either that or you are using too much bechamel/whatever?? Is it mixing instantly, before it even gets in the oven?

Still tastes good though doesn't it?? :) 'cause that's when you really have a problem on your hands.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 10:12 PM on June 29, 2008


There's about 60 zillion ways to make lasagna. Similar to some mentioned above, this is one I learned from my grandmother, whose parents were from outside Naples.

--Parmesan
--ragu
--lasagna noodles
--repeat from asterisk until you reach the top of the pan
/Parmesan
|mozzarella
|ricotta
|beschamel
\ragu
--lasagna noodles*
--ragu
--pan

That bracketed group above gets smeared together - the end result isn't pink, nor bright red. Looks authentic to me, but it's the recipe I grew up with.

I guess it passes visual muster with my Italian friends here - they're usually rather busy inhaling the contents of the pan.
posted by romakimmy at 2:46 AM on June 30, 2008


I'm not Mutant but I'm interested in your vegan lasagna.

I also got a few MeMails about it so here it is:

Lasagne is made up of pignoli ricotta, tomato sauce, basil-pistachio pesto, noodles.

PIGNOLI RICOTTA

2 cups raw pignoli nuts, soaked an hour or more
2 tbs lemon juice
2 tbs nutritional yeast
1 tsp sea salt
6 tbs filtered water (as needed)

Place everything except the water in a food processor and pulse until well combined.

Add the water gradually until the texture becomes fluffy, like ricotta.

TOMATO SAUCE

2 cups sundried tomatoes soaked 2 or more hours
1 small to medium tomato, diced
1/4 small onion, chopped
2 tbs lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbs plus 1 tsp agave nectar
2 tsp sea salt
pinch of hot pepper flakes

Squeeze and drain as much of the water from the sun dried tomatoes as you can.

Add the drained tomatoes to a high speed blender and blend with remaining ingredients until smooth.

BASIL-PISTACHIO PESTO

2 cups packed basil leaves
1/2 cup pistachios (I prefer green ones or Iraqi ones)
1/4 cup plus 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper

Combine everything in a food processor and blend until well combined but still chunky.

NOODLES and ASSEMBLY

3 medium zucchini, ends trimmed
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 tbs finely chopped oregano
1 tbs fresh thyme
pinch sea salt
pinch fresh ground pepper
3 medium zebra tomatoes or other heirloom tomatoes, sliced
whole basil leaves for garnish

Cut the zucchini crosswise in half. Using a mandoline or vegetable peeler cut the zucchini lengthwise into very thin slices.

In a medium bowl, toss zucchini slices with olive oil, oregano, thyme, salt and pepper.

Line the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish with a layer of zucchini slices, each one slightly overlapping the other.

Spread 1/3 of the tomato sauce over it and top with small dollops of ricotta and pesto using 1/3 of each.

Layer on about 1/3 of the tomato slices.

Add another layer of zuchhini and repeat the above 'til you're out of ingredients.

Garnish with basil leaves.

Recipe is from Raw Food Real World by Kenney and Melngailis

Here's a simpler version that is almost as good. I make this one when I'm eating it myself and the above version when I'm having guests. This one's from Ani's Raw Food Kitchen by Ani Phyo and makes 4 servings:

NOODLES

3 zucchini squash

FILLINGS

*Marinara

2 cups tomatoes, chopped
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup basil leaves, loosely packed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon (about a tbs)
1 tsp pitted dates
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp rosemary
1 tsp sea salt
3 tbs sun dried tomatoes

* Cheeze

2 cups macadamia nuts
juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tbs)
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup basil leaves
1 tsp sea salt
2/3 cup water, as needed


*Veggies

1 tomato, sliced
1/4 cup yellow onion, sliced
1/2 cup black olives, pitted and chopped
1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes
1/4 cup oregano, fresh or dried leaves
1/4 cup thyme, fresh or dried leaves

STEPS

Marinara:

blend (in a blender, preferably high speed) everything except the sun dried tomatoes until smooth. Add the sun dried toms and blend until well mixed.

Cheeze:

In a high speed blender, blend everything until smooth. Only use enough water to make a smooth, creamy texture.

Noodles:

use a mandoline slicer or knife to cut thinly into circles.

Assembly:

in an 8x9 baking pan, start by layering half the squash in the bottom. Top with half the cheeze, then half the tomato, half the onion, about 1/2 cup of marinara, half the olives, half the sun dried toms, oregano, and thyme.

Repeat the above, using the remaining ingredients.
posted by dobbs at 9:49 AM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Nthing ricotta. Sometimes I pour some bechamel over the top of the lasagna, but always use a ricotta/mozzarella/parmesan mixture as the main white layers. Also, I can't stress enough how important it is to cook all those vegetables. I love a nice veggie-filled lasagna, but all that stuff is going to put off a lot of water (especially the lettuce) when it heats. I'd saute each veg by itself until it's pretty darn dry. When I make veggie lasagna, I also drain everything in a colander or salad spinner after it's cooked just to make sure there's no extra moisture in there.
posted by mostlymartha at 11:28 AM on June 30, 2008


Two golden tips to make your lasagne bolognese less sucky: 1.Prepare your ragu bolognese a day in advance, and let it spend the night in the fridge. Vital! 2. Even more vital: to make the lasagna sheet layers, cover the sauce with uncooked noodles. Then do it again. Double noodles, baby!

(Bonus tip: add some prosciutto to your ragu.)
posted by Siberian Mist at 2:12 PM on June 30, 2008


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