Friday, May 14, 2010

Nonna's Lasagna

Without doubt or bias my mother’s lasagna is the best darn lasagna you will ever taste and that’s not just my opinion. Just ask anyone who has had the pleasure of savouring a plate of this stuff and they will salivate at any mention of it. My son always asks his grandmother if lasagna will be served for a special dinner, though he need not ask as it always is the first course of a celebration dinner. On the rare occasions that lasagna isn’t served, my husband has become quite indignant at its absence. My son and my nephew, both huge fans of this dish, will gladly forego the second course for a second helping.

My mother will gladly share her recipe, with pride, to anyone who asks, and as a matter of fact she might just volunteer to show you how. She doesn't have this recipe written anywhere, and as a matter of fact, unlike me, she rarely cooks with a recipe. My nephew Rob and his girlfriend Chantal recently went over for a lesson and wrote all about it You can just imagine how happy my mother was when after she taught them how, they volunteered to make lasagna for Thanksgiving dinner. It was delicious! So where did my mother learn to make such amazing lasagna? The story I was told long, long ago was that my uncle, a pastry chef, who lived with us at the time, had a chef friend who came over for dinner and volunteered to cook a lasagna for dinner for us. Not a bad little deal, and in the process my mother learned to make it.
This lasagna is made up of four components; the pasta, a really simple but flavourful bolognese sauce, a bechamel sauce, and two cheeses, parmigiano and mozzerella.
What really surprised me was that she had never heard of lasagna when she lived in Italy over 55 years ago. Maybe it was a southern Italian specialty that just hadn't made it up north at that time. With my curiosity peaked, I googled “origins of lasagna” and was surprised that a recipe for loseyn, pronounced lasan was found in what is believed to be the first cookbook written in England back in the 14th century, a dish of layers of pasta, sauce, and meat. There would not have been a tomato based sauce here as the tomato would not be imported to England for another two hundred years. Did the English really have pasta back then? It is highly unlikely that it all started in England as there is evidence of similar layering of pasta and cheese recipes prior to the 14th century from Italy. The latin word lasanum translates to cooking chamber and the dish that was prepared in it later took the name of the vessel in which it was cooked in.

However it came to be I’m just glad that the chef who came over all those years ago decided to make lasagna for us because we have been enjoying it ever since. I don't make lasagna nearly as often as my mother does, but I made this one a few weeks ago and although my son insists that nobody makes it like Nonna, it didn't stop him from going for seconds.

Nonna's Lasagna

2 pkg. Lasagna Noodles
1 recipe of meat sauce
1 recipe of Béchamel sauce
1b. Mozzarella cheese
Parmigiano cheese
2 tbsp. butter

Bolognese Sauce

2 oz. Olive oil
1 Onion, chopped
2 Cloves garlic, minced
1 Stalk celery, diced
1 Carrot, chopped very fine
2 lbs. Ground beef, veal and pork
2 tbsp. Tomato paste
2 Bay leaves
Pinch Nutmeg
6 oz. Red wine
3 – 28 oz cans Peeled tomatoes, crushed
1 cup Beef stock
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large pot and sauté the onion, garlic, celery and carrot for about 5 minutes. Add the meat and cook until browned. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in tomato paste. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer over low heat for 1 hour.

Béchamel Sauce

4 tbsp. Butter
4 tbsp. Flour
1/8 tsp. Nutmeg
2 cups milk
salt and pepper to taste

In a small saucepan melt butter and add the flour stirring for a few minutes. Do not allow to brown or you will have to start over again. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper and add milk stirring constantly with a whisk to eliminate lumps. When the sauce is thickened and bubbly remove from the heat. If the sauce thicken as it sits just add more milk.

Cook the lasagna noodles in a large pot of salted boiling water until cooked to desired doneness.
Drain in colander and rinse with cold water and lay out noodles on a piece of parchment paper or waxed paper or a clean tablecloth.

Grease a 9” x 13” baking pan. Lightly coat the bottom with a few spoonfuls of sauce. Then top with a single layer of lasagna then a light coat of béchamel sauce and a few tablespoon of meat sauce to cover pasta evenly and top the sauce with a sprinkling of grated mozzarella cheese and parmigiano cheese. Continue this layering until you reach the top of the pan ending with sauce and a light sprinkling of cheese and then dot with butter. At this point it can be covered and refrigerated until ready to bake or covered with plastic and aluminum foil and put into the freezer.
Remove from freezer remove the plastic and thaw before baking.

Bake at 350 F. for about 1 hour.

Let cool ten minutes so that it doesn’t fall apart when serving.


Sandra said...

You are so lucky to have a Nona with such wonderful recipes and stories to share from. Your lasagne looks delish!

doughadear said...

It's nice hearing stories from my mother's native country. It was a much different Italy back then.

Baking Diary said...

I am enjoying reading your blog.

Baking Diary said...

Sorry, I forgot to put my name. I have been trying to leave a comment for a couple of days and getting very frustrated because I wasn't signing in as I should. Like you, I need help sometimes with computer tasks. Anyway, I hope I've resolved my problem now so you can look forward (or not!) to more comments from me! I came here from Melinda's blog, I am one of the Lazy Bakers, namely Jeannette.

doughadear said...

Hello Jeanette, so glad you dropped by and I would be thrilled to have you visited regularly. As much as computers have made our lives easier they can be soooo frustrating so I completely sympathize with you.
So again welcome to my blog and I will be looking forward to chit chatting with you.

Melinda said...

This lasagna looks delicious. I never tire of lasagna!
It is important to watch and write done family recipes.
In our family we all loved a chocolate cake my grandmother made. It was her own recipe and not written down anywhere. Not one of us has her recipe. We were content to have her make it and to eat it way back then and never asked her how she made it.
I really regret not asking her!
(I miss her even more.)

doughadear said...

There are so many really good dishes that my mother makes without a recipe and I often tell myself that I should go over and watch and write as she cooks. Even though I make some of my mothers specialities they never seem to taste quite like hers. There is one particular dish called pepperonata - peppers, eggplant, onions, garlic, celery that are sauteed together for a while until they are soft and sweet with a rich sauce from all the vegetables. Sounds simple enough, but I have yet to get mine to taste like my mothers.
What I have done for my children is record all the recipes they grew up with and had them put into a cookbook format and given each one a cookbook of their own. The service I used was from Tastebook through Epicurious.

Alisa said...

I love family recipes that are handed down from generation to generation.My father-in-law is celebrating his birthday next month and I plan on making this when we come over to visit! Thank you and your Nonna for sharing this wonderful recipe.You gave me a wonderful idea about writing down the recipes my son loves :)

doughadear said...

It's nice to hear that you will give this recipe a try! It really is a very good lasagna and I hope you enjoy it as much as we do. Please let me know how it turns out.

evil cake lady said...

My mother doesn't cook from recipes either, so my sister and I have been bugging Mom to at least tell us how she makes our favorite dishes. The funny part is, she doesn't even seem to remember how she made the dish; she must cook purely from intuition or something! My sister and I should do as you and follow her as she cooks and write things down.

doughadear said...

Hello Jennifer,
There are so many recipes I still don't have from my mother. Even the dishes that I make that I've learned from her don't taste quite as good as hers.