Lasagne

Reading recipes is a hobby. I like to find inspiration and sometimes to try them out. Normally I cook for dinner and I am usually quite hungry. Therefore if I have not planned it in advance or if I simply want to eat immediately, I just cook random ingredients and try to have them in an edible form in front of us. 

Yesterday for instance I simply prepared a sauté of scallion and a couple of zucchini, added a little whole grain couscous and some boiling water and let it steam away. Meanwhile I baked a squash (15 minutes, fan oven 200° C with 360W microwave), prepared a soffritto with a fresh chili with some couscous spice and that was our dinner.

Obviously that has nothing to do with lasagne. This food has to be planned and it takes some time to prepare. 

Normally I do not read foreign lasagne recipe, but a couple of days ago I did, because the picture looked nice and I was shocked by the ingredients listed and the alleged difficulty that had nothing to do with lasagna but with the extremely complicated and long list of stuff used.

So I would like to share my own experience with lasagne.

Equipment needed is a baking pan. There are lasagnere (baking pans of the proper size), but any square or rectangular baking dish will do.

Pasta

Lasagne noodles are made using eggs and durum wheat. Traditionally in Bologna they would use the green ones, which include some spinach.

I usually purchase my lasagne in a box. I do not prepare fresh pasta. There are some Italians that do it. For instance my friend I. before she became a mother. Afterwards I believe she has forgotten her rolling pin in a drawer.

For a big baking pan I use half to ¾ of a 500 g box.

I do not precook the pasta. I simply bake it and it turns out fine. Some fresh pasta shall be boiled before. Some dry pasta too. Read your package and find out.

Besciamella

This is the milk sauce. It is a close relative of the French béchamel and it is normally made with a roux (flour lightly toasted in butter. It shall remain colorless. Besciamella has to be white) where milk is added slowly and steadily in order to avoid lumps.

Normally for a big pan I use 1 liter of milk. 2% is fine. No skim milk, lasagne is no diet food. Enjoy a salad if you’re planning to lose weight.

Can you make it vegan? I seriously doubt that. Obviously any vegetable milk could be substituted, but then I believe the taste is so different that many adjustments should be made. I may try it, if I will eventually run out of regular cow milk.
Update (2015/04/01): if you dare like giving it a try, there is a vegan recipe for besciamella in this beautiful blog: besciamella vegan di Trattoria Da Martina

How much flour? I never use a scale. I add a little, sometimes I am wrong and I have to make adjustments. I believe I use about 75g for a liter, but I would not swear by it.

The consistency you have to achieve is like a liquid milk shake. So thicker than milk, more liquid than a custard. It is ok if it is a bit runny, because the dry pasta will drink it up. If you are precooking your pasta, you should probably have a thicker sauce.

Salt and pepper to taste. Pepper is actually optional, but I like it.

Here you find a link to an authentic Italian recipe by Cucchiaio D’Argento.

I normally skip the roux. I am that lazy. I just whisk flour and milk and cook it until thickened.

Unless you are preparing a lasagna with a special cheese, no other cheese is needed other than a little parmigiano to taste.
Update (14/11/25): I have noticed that many American recipes list ricotta as a substitute for besciamella. I was appalled at first (sorry!) and really wondered how it happened. It was enlightening to talk to my expat friend M.: she explained to me that ricotta is normally used in certain lasagne recipes from southern Italy. If you want to go this way, substitute one ricotta (250 g) mixed with some milk (300 ml). Here is an example I will try soon: lasagne con verdure e ricotta.

Also, no eggs, seriously: we are not making pasta with custard. Eggs are used in the noodles, that’s it.
Update (17/10/11): on the other hand, there is a traditional lasagne recipe from Napoli that you can find beautifully illustrated here where boiled eggs are added, among many other ingredients, to the filling.

Sugo

Traditionally ragù (Bolognese sauce) would be used. Yet you can use your fantasy here. I normally prepare vegetarian lasagna. Almost any vegetable will do: zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers, squash, mushrooms, tomatoes, radicchio and so on.

Veggies shall be cooked before using them. Simply sauté sliced vegetables in some olive oil with little salt until done.

If you want you can also use tomato sauce. Do your own. Do not buy those expensive sauces that taste always the same. Simply prepare a soffritto of minced onions and/or garlic (stir fry in a little olive oil, with a little salt); when onions are translucent add tomatoes in their sauce (better whole tomatoes; ingredients on the can should list: tomatoes and salt only); squish the tomatoes a little and let it simmer for half hour or so, until it tastes sweet. If you are using other veggies, add them after soffritto is ready. Cook them through before adding the tomatoes.

While planning your lasagna, remember you can do the sugo also the day before.

Lasagne

Now it is all about assembling the whole thing.

First a little sauce or some oil or some butter at the bottom of the baking pan. I normally put the sauce.

Then a layer of pasta.

Then some sauce.

Then some besciamella.

Then some grated parmigiano or other cheese or non-cheese of your liking.

And so on.

Usually I prepare a three tier lasagne. So divide your ingredients equally in three parts.

Leave at least 1 cm to the top of the pan to avoid spilling overs.

Bake, 180°C, covered with foil for 40 minutes. Uncover and keep baking until nice and golden.

Take out of the oven and let lasagna alone for at least 15 minutes. So it will set down. This is essential, otherwise you will get a soupy thing.

Schedule and Troubleshooting

Lasagne is easier if you break the preparation in a couple of days. Day one you go shopping and prepare the sauce and grate the parmigiano. Day two you take everything out on a table, prepare the besciamella, assemble and bake. Baking could also be done on the day after.

If your lasagna is undercooked (crunchy pasta), it could mean that you should bake it a little longer, perhaps you had to boil the pasta before (in this case try to add some more liquids to the lasagna and bake a little longer).

If your lasagna is soupy, you probably added too much liquid (either too liquid besciamella or too many tomatoes or liquid vegetables) or you did not wait at least 15 minutes before cutting it (despite me telling you so before, eh). If there is too much liquid, there is not much to do. You could add some bread crumbs and bake it a little longer, but do not tell anyone I wrote this. Next time it will get better.



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