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Proper Lasagne (for 2)

2012 December 12
by Gayle

This might be the last elaborate dinner post you see for awhile, mostly because I’m not sure how many more big dinners or recipes to work out I have left in me in this kitchen.

Mr. Kitchenette and I have been remodeling a dilapidated house a few blocks away. It might be dilapidated, but it’s all ours! And over the last few months, it’s been getting less and less dilapidated/more and more awesome. When we were selecting a contractor, one of our criterion was that the massive Phase 1 construction project (pipes, wires, air conditioning, new kitchen, new bath and that’s not even all of it…) had to be completed before Christmas. “Oh, no problem!” they all said in August.

If you’ve worked with a contractor before, you know what that means.

At this point, we’re a couple weeks away from Christmas and it’s probably not going to happen. So much for ringing in the new year in our new house. But we still want to be ready to go at a moment’s notice, which means vaguely packing the occasional box and minimal grocery shopping. And there’s a lot more work than just what the contractors are handling, so we’re back and forth on a daily basis, checking their progress and doing our own projects.

All of that is the long way of getting around to saying I haven’t really been cooking all that much, nor have I been making plans to cook. Coming home at 9 p.m. to a cantankerous 30-year-old electric range with a sore back from refurbishing 80-year-old windows makes both of us want to throw something in the microwave, bolt it down and crawl into bed.

And all of that is an even longer way of saying that with just a little doing and planning, you can have lasagne even in a situation like our current one. Good lasagne, not frozen Stouffer’s gloppy gunk. The good good stuff — with meat sauce and besciamella instead of rubbery ricotta and pillowy pasta layers and general awesomeness.

It wasn’t long after my perfect made-for-two, not-too-involved Bolognese sauce and I found each other that I knew it was time to take it to the next level.

Lasagna Bolgonese. For Two. Oh, yes.

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And between the fabulously simple meat sauce recipe and my latest favorite noodles, I can spend a little weekend time making three of these babies and know I have at least a few nights of dinner coming for the next few weeks of hammering and sawing and glazing and packing.

Here it is, confession time: I have become a big fan of the Barilla no-boil lasagne noodles. I know, I know. But they are great and here’s why: they make the already pretty-involved lasagne process considerably more manageable and because they fit nicely in a loaf pan, which is the perfect container for a two-person lasagne to happen. Go ahead, call me a cheater. I’ll live. I’m fine being the cheater eating a perfect plate of lasagna on a Tuesday night without being covered in flour from making noodles or steamed-up glasses and frizzy hair from fishing wet noodles out of a hot pot.

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I also deviate from tradition even sooner than the noodles — I put cheese in my besciamella. Gasp! Yes, I know, that makes it a mornay and not a bechamel sauce. I think it’s better. You don’t have to if you don’t want to, but I’m a cheese fiend and I highly recommend it.

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Mile-High Lasagne Bolognese for Two

It might not be 100 percent traditional, but it works, it’s perfect for two and it doesn’t take four hours to put together. I like to think of it as “Lasagne Bolognese Within Reach.”

For the Bolognese sauce:

Adapted from Cooking for 2, 2011

1 small onion, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 carrot, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 celery stalk, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 1/2 ounces pancetta, cut into 1-inch pieces

1/4 ounce dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed

1 Tablespoon anchovy paste

1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter

1 garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoon sugar

6 ounces meatloaf mix

3/4 cup whole milk

1 Tablespoon tomato paste

1/4 cup dry white wine

salt and pepper to taste

For the besciamella:

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup (aka 4 Tablespoons) all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch grated nutmeg
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Peccorino Romano (or a combination of both)

For assembly:

2 cups grated Parmesan or Peccorino Romano (or a combination of both)

1 box Barilla no-cook lasagne noodles

Method

First, make the sauce: Pulse onion, carrot, pancetta, porcini and anchovy in food processor until very finely chopped but not mush, 10 to 15 pluses; transfer to bowl. Pulse tomatoes with their juice until mostly smooth, about 8 pulses.

Melt butter in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add processed onion mixture and cook until softened and lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in garlic and sugar and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Stir in meatloaf mix, breaking up meat with wooden spoon, and cook for 1 minute. Stir in milk, scraping up any browned bits off the bottom of the pan, bring to simmer and cook until the liquid is almost completely evaporated, 10 to 12 minutes.

Stir in tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Stir in wine, bring to simmer and cook until almost completely evaporated, 5 to 8 minutes.

Add processed tomatoes and bring to a low simmer. Stirring often, continue to simmer until sauce is thickened, 20 to 30 minutes, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and set your ragu aside.

Then make the besciamella: Melt the butter in the bottom of a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, add flour whisking until smooth. Cook the mixture together for a full minute, continuing to whisk (to get the flour taste out).

Slowly pour in milk in a small drizzle, whisking constantly into the butter-flour mixture until smooth. Once about half the milk has been added, it will be more saucy than the thick roux from before and the rest of milk can be added more quickly. Once all of the milk is completely incorporated, add the salt, garlic, nutmeg, a few grinds of black pepper and bring the mixture to a lower simmer. Simmer, stirring frequently for 10 minutes or until sufficiently thickened and silky. Remove from heat and stir in grated cheese. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Then it’s time to assemble the whole thing: Preheat over to 375 with a rack in the middle position.

In a loaf pan, line the bottom with about a ladle full of tomato sauce. Sprinkle some grated cheese on the sauce and place a noodle on top. Add another ladle of tomato sauce, then a scoop of besciamella, another sprinkling of grated cheese and then another noodle. Continue with this pattern — noodle, ragu, besciamella, extra cheese — until you get to the top of the pan, you run out of ingredients or you have stacked up all the awesomeness you think you can handle. I usually end up with 5 or 6 layers, depending on the pan and how liberally I’m saucing that day. Hold back a little on the ragu and grated cheese so you can top the last noodle later with a very thin coating of sauce and a lot of grated cheese, ensuring that beloved, not-quite-burnt crispy top.

Cover with foil and cook for 20 minutes, then uncover and continue to cook until brown and bubbly on top, another 20-30 minutes.

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