This is my favorite pasta dish, as I remember it from being served this way in Beirut in the seventies in the cafés lining-up bustling Hamra street. It was always made with fresh spinach pasta, some bolognese sauce and creamy béchamel sauce. A pure delight!
Making this dish will be a treat for family and friends. One can minimize the considerable time involved in making it from scratch by splitting the tasks over a couple of days; one of the advantages is that it can be made in large quantities and frozen for a couple weeks or longer.
I made it using Marcella Hazan’s recipe initially, and still rely on hers now although I have adapted it a bit (for instance, I don’t add milk to the bolognese sauce per her recipe because I don’t feel it adds any additional flavor to the sauce).
Lasagne VerdiJoumana Accad Mediterranean, Middle Eastern November 28, 2020 Main Dish, Pasta, pasta, lasagne, Italian, handmade pasta,
Prep Time: 4 hours
Cook Time: 3 hours
For the pasta:
2 large eggs
1/2 cup packed cooked chopped spinach
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
For the béchamel sauce:
4 cups whole milk
1 stick unsalted butter (4 ounces or 120g)
4 ounces all-purpose flour
salt, to taste
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg or cinnamon or both, to taste
For the bolognese sauce:
1 lb (1/2 kg) ground beef or a combo of beef and pork
1 large onion, chopped fine
2 carrots, peeled and chopped in small dice
2 celery sticks, split lengthwise and diced fine
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cans of chopped tomatoes (about 1 1/2 lbs total)
1 small can tomato paste
1 cup white wine
Spices: salt and pepper, to taste (can add a touch of allspice or cinnamon to taste)
1 1/2 lbs shredded parmesan cheese or a combo of good melting Italian cheeses
Extra cream or butter if needed (a few tablespoons of each) when assembling the lasagne.
- Start with the bolognese sauce, which can be frozen if made over a week ahead. Fry the celery, onion and carrots in the olive oil until softened and add the ground meat; brown the meat and make sure if it in small pieces (by pressing on it with a couple wooden spoons), add the spices.
- When the meat is browned enough, splash the wine and let it reduce by at least half, then add the tomatoes and tomato paste and water to reach the top of the pot less one inch or so. Cover almost entirely, leaving a small opening, and let the sauce simmer for a couple of hours or longer, tasting it and adjusting the seasoning after 2 or 3 hours of cooking. The goal is for the sauce to be thick and flavorful. If the sauce is still too watery, let it reduce without a cover until it reaches the right texture. When the sauce is ready, proceed with the béchamel or, if making ahead, transfer to a freezer container and freeze.
- Now make the béchamel. Heat the butter in a saucepan until it sizzles gently over medium heat, add the flour and stir continuously until the mixture cooks a few minutes and start bubbling-up furiously. Add the milk (can be cold or warm or hot) very gradually while stirring continuously until the sauce is thick and smooth. Add the spices to taste (salt, white pepper or black pepper and freshly grated nutmeg). Set aside or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days if making ahead.
- Make the paste: Place the egg and spinach in the bowl of a food processor. Add the flour and salt and process until the dough leaves the sides of the bowl. It is best to add the flour gradually, by starting with one cup and adding more through the feed tube while the machine is running. This way, the dough will not be too dry, just the right texture which should be firm, and moist but not sticky.
- Transfer the dough to a sheet of plastic wrap and let it rest for 15 minutes or so. It can also be prepared ahead and refrigerated up to a couple of days until assembly-time.
- When ready, lightly flour a large working area and cut the dough in three parts, leaving the other parts covered. Start flattening the dough and roll it out, adding some flour lightly if it needs it, until the pasta sheets are very thin (make them as thin as possible as they will thicken during cooking). Cut the pasta sheets into long wide ribbons and set aside on wax paper laid on a cookie sheet.
- Prepare the lasagne pans by setting them on the workspace next to the bolognese saucepan, béchamel and bowl of shredded parmesan (or other Italian style cheese). Bring a large pot full of water (add a tablespoon of salt) to a boil and drop the lasagne ribbons a few at a time into the water; let them boil and cook no more than 15 to 30 seconds (depending on how dry the pasta is, if still fresh a few seconds suffice to cook, if totally dry it will take a minute, just don't overcook it). Remove the pasta and drain it on clean kitchen towels or disposable thick paper towels.
- Assemble the lasagne dish: Start with a ladle of béchamel sauce at the bottom, then a sprinkle of cheese, then a layer of pasta; the pasta will then be covered with a ladle of bolognese, then sauce then cheese, and so on until it reaches the top of the pan. Finish off with a layer of pasta covered with cream and cheese and dot the top with small bits of butter here and there or a light sprinkle of cream.
- Bake in a preheated 375F oven for about 20 to 30 minutes until the sauce is simmering and the cheese layer is totally melted. Serve immediately.
If making the béchamel sauce ahead, its a good idea to immediately cover the surface of the sauce with glad wrap or even wax paper to prevent a skin from forming at the top.
When making the béchamel, it will be easier to make it using hot milk instead of cold milk, but both will work; adding the cold milk is best done gradually.
If the bolognese sauce is too thick and the meat looks too coarse, I run it through my food processor for a few seconds to make it smoother.
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