I made a Marcella Hazan inspired bolognese ragu some time ago–recipe qudrupled-- in anticipation of making some dishes with a pasta like tagliatelle and then also to make a lasagna with fresh pasta, the bechamel, and not much if at all in the ricotta/mozzarella mode. I did two preps with a long flat pasta like a very wide (say, 3/8") noodle, sort of like fettucinne, but artisinal, dried and store-bought and labeled as Papardelle. Ran into an Italian from Bologna last night who insisted that a meat ragu is too chunky to work well in lasagna, and I can see the point–it’s not a smooth but relatively chunky meat sauce with 2 parts beef to one part each ground pork and ground veal. It’s got a very good, if mild, complex flavor; because of the large quantity (about a gallon), it took almost 10 hours to make, because the process involves reducing successive stages of aromatics with meat, then wine reduced to almost dry, then milk reduced to almost dry, then canned tomatoes reduced to almost dry, and then simmered slowly for HOURS. I did omit the pancetta/bacon part, lacking both. But when I take the sauce from the freezer today, I’m thinking of folding in an amount of rendered pancetta with some tomato and cinnamon to zest it up.
We might make fresh pasta for the lasagne, or get some quality store-bought dried sheets. I might put some blanched spinach and soaked porcini mushrooms in there, both twisted to reduce moisture.
I find the internet to be all over the place for recipes, with recipes (in English at least) concerning the consistency of the meat sauce and the inclusion of cheeses other than Parmigiano. One recipe suggests melting some Fontina into the bechamel, making in effect a Mornay sauce. The issues seems in part to be a collision between Italian and Italian-American norms–with the Americans going heavy into ricotta and mozzarella and the Italians avoiding those.
Any thoughts about whether I can add some flavor zest with pancetta late in the game, and about cheesing? It’s such a big production that I want it to be optimal. Thanks!
If you are open to a few armchair suggestions😉 I wouldnt add more meat. I see no reason why you cant layer a nice meaty ragu btwn layers of wide pasta making sure whatever cheeses you use your lasagna isnt too liquidy. The addition of more meaty flavors imo would be too much and a waste of good flavors better off in another dish. The ragu sounds awesome.
Thanks, Rooster. I might leave good alone. Or maybe test on a bit. It’s the mildness that makes me pause, but there’s no doubting the integrity and nuance of the sauce, and I wonder if my habituation to American styles of lasagna, with lots of ground sausage, even some cayenne, has intruded in my thinking/tasting.
Could you up the herb profile instead? Basil, oregano? Maybe a pesto layer as you build?
Yeah, I’ve got some fresh basil. I’ve consider some lemon zest. A we touch of “zing” would be interesting to try. It’s really rich and earthy as it stands.
Maybe regard the bolognese as the meat component of a lasagna sauce? When layering, ladle some marinara over the bolognese, and used whatever cheeses you like. Seems like a waste of all the work involved in the bolognese, but if the result won’t suit you for lasagna… You could do a tiny test run by just baking a handful of cooked pasta with a few tablespoons of each sauce, and cheese.
marcella’s Recipe is one of my favorite lasagna recipes. From what I’m reading in your OP (a few glasses of wine in tonight) -
yes you can add the pancetta but if you love your sauce not sure you’ll notice in the end.
If you’re doing the bechamel sauce from her recipe then NO to the addition of ricotta - both will add the same fresh milk taste.
I’m a no to the fontina, I’m fine with the meat sauce plus bechamel plus parm reg cheese in her recipe.
That said - if you’re moving past or abandoning her recipe the lasagna is very forgiving and you can go in many different directions and I think they all taste great (Italian or Italian-American versions).
I find the cheese layer to be very bland in most lasagna. When I make it I add a fair amount of rosemary & pepper to the cheese (usually ricotta with some romano & whatever else is handy). I also tend to be generous with the herbs, basil & oregano, in the meat/sauce layer… But then - I generally like simple flavors.
And I am starting out making Neapolitan pizza . I wasn’t expecting anything with all the research and the recipe. I feel ya . But I know what I am going to do different next time. I’m obsessed now.
To Thimes: you make good points–e.g., I would also never put ricotta into a bechamel lasagna. Re: pancetta, I only brought that up because it was part of the recipe originally, but I just didn’t have it, and I think it was described as optional. (Hard to be sure now after having surveyed so many recipes.)
I have been chasing homemade Neapolitan pizza for 20 years, at least. Tried many workarounds to the fundamental constraint of not having an oven that can hit 900+ degrees, much less with wood-fire.
Everyone’s thoughts have been helpful. I did some new things and invite any suggestions, as I need to put these in the oven in two hours.
First, I was on the verge of going to buy a dedicated lasagna pan, but I realized that my large loaf pans should be geometrically correct, and I don’t often cook for large groups, so I made two lasagnas in two loaf pans. The lasagnas will be tall, over 2.5 inches (6+ centimeters). Against the recipes I’ve seen, I think that I’ll cook them at somewhat lower temp. (350Fh / C 175-ish) covered in foil for 20 minutes or more before uncovering them. They’re deep. Does that sound about right to you?
Another thing: I began the bechamel by browning diced pancetta in the pan, then removed the pancetta and left just the fond and fat, deglazed with a dash of wine, and then melted butter and proceeded as usual. I couldn’t resist a light sprinkling of diced pancetta in the lasagna layers themselves, but I’m reserving most of the pancetta solids for a brussels sprouts saute side.
I would add those to the bechamel not the meat sauce
Good solve with the loaf pans, although since they are so deep definitely anticipate longer time to bake. The couple times i have made lasagna the biggest mistake was cutting while it was still too warm so nothing held together very well, don’t underestimate how important it is to let rest an hour or so before serving