Lasagna for Tia Doria

Tia (Aunt) Doria is one of my mom’s youngest sisters. About 22 years ago, I went to stay with her in Oklahoma after a bad fall that left her leg in a cast. To this day Doria claims I made her a lasagna with like 17 different cheeses. I keep telling her that’s not possible. I know this, because I don’t think I knew 17 types of cheeses back then. But, in her honor and at her request, here’s my version of my Mami’s Lasagna. It has 4 different cheeses: Mozzarella, Provolone, Parmesan and Ricotta, and homemade meat and bechamel sauces.

Now, I feel I should mention a few things about making lasagna. I don’t believe this is a difficult dish to make. It IS, however, labor intensive and step abundant. I make my own meat sauce, just getting it on the stove took me about 2 hours. That’s from beginning–roasting peppers and tomatoes and chopping ingredients–to end, once all the ingredients are in the pot and about to simmer. I think it was another hour to assemble the trays.

I like making the sauce a day ahead to allow all the flavors to come together. Then assemble the trays and put them in the fridge for a few hours to allow it settle in. This time I assembled the trays just a few hours after I finished simmering the meat sauce and it had come to room temperature. I didn’t bake the tray until the next day. So it hung out in the fridge for about 18-24 hours. Mind you, this step isn’t mandatory. I just picked that tip up when I worked in a kitchen.

All this said, it is a DELICIOUS recipe, well worth the effort. I hope you will try it. One last thing, yield. This recipe made enough for 1 full 9×13 tray, which gave us 12 healthy servings, and 1 more tray that only filled about 3/4 of the way. The servings from that will probably be closer to 9 or so. We’ve frozen the 2nd tray for future enjoyment. Now, without further ado, Doria, this one’s for you!

Meat Sauce Ingredients
2 lbs ground chuck
1/2 lb hot Italian sausage, casings removed
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 cps onions, chopped (about 2 medium)
1 tbsp sea salt
1 cp carrots, finely diced (about 2 medium)
1 cp celery, finely diced (about 3 stalks)
2 cps button mushrooms, diced
1 cp red bell pepper (about 2 medium)
5 Roma tomatoes
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
3-4 garlic cloves, crushed (about 2 tsp garlic puree)
1 tsp black pepper
1-1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1-1/2 tsp dried basil
2 tsps sugar
3 bay leaves
1/2 cp parsley, chopped
2 cps red wine or beer
1 cp water
3 tbsp tomato paste

Roast the reds (optional) – You can roast the bell peppers and tomatoes over a stove burner. Get the skins scorched all the way around, then dunk in a bowl with cool water and peel. Remove the seeds from both, the tomatoes and peppers before dicing.

Heat up a large saucepan and add the ground beef, sausage and salt. Stir the salt in and make sure you break the meats apart, you want it to resemble coarse meal.  The moisture in the beef will come out, so initially it will cook in its own liquid. Once the liquid evaporates, you will be able to begin browning the meats.

As the meat browns over medium high heat, add the onions, carrots and celery, cook it until the onions begin to look translucent. Then add the mushrooms, garlic, black pepper, Italian seasoning, pepper flakes, basil and bay leaves. Mix all the herbs in before adding all the tomatoes, bell peppers and parsley. Stir it all very well, taking care to scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen any drippings that may be stuck. Now you can add the wine, water, sugar and paste; stir everything well and allow it to come to a boil.

Once this comes to a boil, bring temperature to low and cover it with a lid. Allow it to simmer stirring it occasionally. It will need to simmer for about an hour. Remove from the heat and let it cool.

Bechamel Sauce
Ingredients and Process
5 tbsp unsalted butter
5 tbsp flour
4 cps milk
1-1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg
Heat up the milk in the microwave until it is very hot, you’ll be able to see vapors rising up. Keep it hot. In the meantime, in a medium saucepan melt the butter over medium heat until there is foam on the top. Add the flour at once, and stir quickly with a wire whisk. This will make a roux, however, you want to keep the mixture light in color–bechamel sauce is a white sauce. You need to allow the flour to cook, otherwise the raw flavor will come through in the sauce. The process of making the roux, will take about 6 minutes and will be lightly golden.

Add the milk as quickly as you can, while still whisking it in to avoid lumps. Once you have incorporated all the milk, season the sauce with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Continue to stir until the sauce thickens, it will take about 15 minutes to achieve the consistency of soft yogurt. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Ricotta filling: Combine 2 cps of ricotta cheese with 2 eggs, 1/4 cp chopped parsley, 1/2 cp Parmesan cheese. Mix and set aside.


Lasagna Ingredients and Process:
1 lb lasagna noodles
1/2 lb Provolone cheese, sliced
2/3 lb Mozarella cheese, sliced
1 cp Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 lb Salami, sliced

Layering the Lasagna
Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add 1 tbsp sea salt, 1 tbsp oil before adding the noodles. The oil will help prevent them from sticking to each other, but you should still stir them around a bit. Make sure you keep the water at a soft boil and cook noodles for about 8 to 10 minutes. You want the noodles to be pliable but still too firm to eat. Drain noodles and dump them into a bowl of cold water.

You need to make sure the noodles are completely dry before layering. I usually take them out of the cool water and lay them across a kitchen towel before setting them aside.

It’s assembly time! In a 9×13 baking dish, spread about a cup of meat sauce in the bottom. Arrange 3-4 noodles lengthwise over the sauce. Depending on the length of your noodles and dish, you may need to trim the end of the noodle to fit. Spread with enough bechamel sauce to cover the noodles, then top the bechamel with chopped salami. Now add another layer of noodles to cover. Top the second layer of noodles with the ricotta cheese mixture.  Now top the ricotta with more meat sauce, be more generous this time.

Top the meat sauce with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese, then layer with provolone and mozzarella. And begin again with a layer of noodles with bechamel and salami between the 2 layers of noodles, then ricotta. The final layer will be meat sauce covered with cheeses. This is likely your last layer, so you can go a bit crazy with the cheeses.

I would recommend allowing the tray to settle for at least 3 hours in the fridge, longer if you have the time. Cover with a short layer of plastic wrap then foil.

Baking the lasagna
Preheat oven to 375. Remove the plastic wrap and cover loosely with the  foil, otherwise you’ll end up with all the cheese stuck to it. Bake for 25 minutes with foil, then remove foil and bake for 25 minutes more. Allow the tray to cool for about 15 minutes before cutting into it.

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