As a teenager growing up on Long Island, I worked long hours at a local Italian restaurant called Pizza City East in Plainview. (The original Pizza City was in Ozone Park, Queens.) Though the pay sucked, I made some important friendships that have lasted to this day. I also learned many Italian cooking basics: how to open clams for red and white clam sauce, the secrets of great pizza dough, the art of a perfect espresso, and how to make massive quantities of baked ziti.
Although the basic ingredients of baked ziti are the same as lasagna, baked ziti is wetter, using more cheese and sauce. So when I started making lasagna, I followed this same path.
It was only recently that I decided to take the more classic Italian approach and make a “drier” lasagna. Once I did, I realized I had done it wrong all this time!
My lasagna consists of 2 sauces and 4 cheeses, using pasta that is boiled much firmer than al dente. I really don’t like the flavor or texture of no-boil pasta sheets, so I never use them.
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 lb. grass-fed ground beef
1 tablespoon dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes
extra virgin olive oil for sautéing
Heat a tablespoon or 2 of olive oil in a large pan and sauté the onions until translucent. I finely chop the carrots by peeling them and then chopping up the peeled pieces, so that they almost melt into the sauce. Add the carrots and cook for 2 minutes. Add the beef and cook until it browns. Add the parsley, oregano, basil, salt and pepper and mix well.
Empty the can of tomatoes into a blender and blend until smooth. Add this to the pan and mix well.
Cook the meat sauce for about 10 minutes, then remove from the heat and set aside.
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoon all-purpose flour (I use Cup4Cup flour to make it gluten-free)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups 2% milk
Bechamel is a basic white sauce. It adds a wonderful creaminess to lasagna.
Melt the butter in a saucepan under medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until you’ve combined the butter and flour and have a light roux.
Add the milk, and keep whisking, making sure you don’t get any lumps in the sauce. Season with the salt and pepper.
Keep whisking until the sauce thickens. Once it does, remove it from the heat and set it aside.
12 oz. lasagna pasta sheets (I use Garofalo GF pasta to keep things gluten-free)
4 slices provolone cheese (about 4 oz.)
ricotta cheese (about 4 oz.)
mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced (about 4 oz.)
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Cook the lasagna sheets in a pot of salty boiling water until very firm…firmer than al dente. Drain the pasta and run cold water over it to stop the cooking process. The pasta will want to stick to itself, so work quickly.
Lay a thin layer of the meat sauce at the bottom of the lasagna pan, which will keep the lasagna from sticking. Then start your layers: a layer of pasta, a thin layer of the Béchamel sauce, the 4 slices of Provolone, a layer of pasta, a layer of the meat sauce, small teaspoon-sized dollops of the ricotta, another layer of pasta (press down occasionally to remove air bubbles), another thin layer of Béchamel, the Parmigiano Reggiano, more pasta, more meat sauce, etc….
Make it as thick as you like. I like to cover the final layer of pasta with the meat sauce and then finish the dish with the mozzarella, sprinkling a touch of oregano on top.
Place the lasagna pan in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until bubbly. Shut the oven off, but leave the pan in for another 10 minutes, then serve.