Calling all Cooking Channel Addicts.

I admit it. I spend a LOT of time watching cooking shows, a lot. I’m obsessed¬†with them, sometimes I imagine I am sitting in their kitchens having a glass of wine while they tell me about how they came up with the concept for the dish. One of my favorites is Extra Virgin, hosted by Debi Mazar (of LA Law fame) and her husband, an Italian farmer and chef she met while traveling in Italy. They’re a really cute couple and they prepare all the meals in their own quirky little kitchen. I want their kitchen.

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A few weeks ago, The Hubbz¬†and I were watching a marathon of episodes on a Sunday afternoon, when we saw it. They made lasagna. Not just lasagna, though, Lasagne¬†alla¬†Bolognese. What I found out about this delicious dish is that it is less tomatoey, less cheesy, but still super creamy. Similarly to how my Mami¬†taught me to make lasagne, the Bolognese incorporates quite¬†a bit of B√©chamel Sauce, which I’m now realizing isn’t a traditional component¬†of a basic meat lasagne.

The Bolognese sauce consists of a slow cooked creamy ragu. In their recipe, Debi and Gabriele used a combination of¬†beef, veal, and pork and they added pancetta to the sofrito. I decided to use lamb instead of veal and Spanish chorizo, instead of the pancetta. Traditionally, the Bolognese¬†calls for Parmesan, in an effort to bring in my Latin roots to the table, I opted for an Argentinian Sardo cheese. Sardo is similar¬† in flavor to Parmesan, it is made of cow’s milk and has a mellow, yet rich, and lightly salty taste.

The lasagne was intensely flavorful and rich and, yes, creamy.The Hubbz loves to cheese up his meals, and even though there was very little cheese added, his need for cheese was satisfied. The sauce needs to cook for a while, so you’ll do well to start there, maybe even the day before. I actually made it in the space of a couple of hours, maybe 3 altogether.

Lasagne¬†alla Bolognese for the Latina’s Soul

For the sauce:
1/2 cp Spanish chorizo, cubed
5 tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 lb each ground beef, pork, lamb
Salt & black pepper
1/2 tsp each nutmeg and allspice
2-3 cps red wine
3 large cans stewed tomatoes
1 cp whole milk

Saute the chorizo in the oil for a few minutes before adding the onion, carrots, and celery; continue cooking until the onions are translucent. Then add the meats, break it up the large pieces with a wooden spoon; once the meat begins to brown, you can add the garlic, season with salt & pepper, and the spices.

After a couple of minutes, add the wine and cook briskly for a few minutes to allow the alcohol to evaporate completely, make sure to scrape any bits that may be stuck on the bottom of the pan. In the meantime, pulse the tomatoes in a blender or food processor, then add them to the meat. Taste the sauce and season again with salt and pepper as needed. Lower the temperature to medium and cook for about 2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Finish the sauce by adding the milk, stir well and set aside, to cool off. While the sauce mellows down, start working on the bechamel.

For the Bechamel sauce:
1/2 cp butter (yep, that’s a whole stick)
1/2 cp flour
4 1/2 cps whole milk
Freshly grated nutmeg
Sea salt and black pepper

Melt the butter over medium heat and briskly stir in the flour, taking care to dissolve any lumps. At this point, you want to slowly toast/cook the flour without burning it. Gradually add the milk to the flour mixture, make sure to whisk it constantly and slowly bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer for a few minutes, until it thickens. Season the sauce with nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Set aside to cool.

Puting it all together:
Bolognese Sauce
Lasagne noodles
Bechamel sauce
3/4 cup grated Sardo cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter the pan well–I used a 9×13 pyrex–and add a very thin layer of meat sauce. Followed by a layer of noodles, then Bechamel, and finally Sardo. Repeat a couple of times. At the top, cover the noodles with meat sauce and some Bechamel, add a few thin slices of butter and finish with some Sardo.

Bake for about 30 minutes.

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Cookingly yours,

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.