2009 February: Pasta Primer

2009 February: Pasta PrimerThis is my family’s classic lasagne recipe. It may seem complicated and long, but it goes together surprisingly fast and easy. The meat sauce can be made ahead and kept for several days. Once the assembly starts, it’s a matter of 15 to 20 minutes to complete. And why not make a couple of pans? The completed and baked lasagne keeps well (and even freezes well).

Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times

Yield: about 14 10-ounce servings (scale up in direct proportion)

Meat sauce

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, sliced thin

½ cup chopped onion

¼ cup dry red wine

¾ pound sweet Italian sausage, casing removed

¾ pound ground chuck

7 cups all-purpose ground tomatoes

1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons dried oregano

2 tablespoons dried basil Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a heavy pot, warm the oil over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the garlic and cook and stir until toasty brown.

Remove and discard the garlic. Add the onion and cook for 3 minutes. Raise the heat to high. Add the wine and cook it off. Add the sausage and ground chuck.

Break up large pieces. Cook just until the meat is no longer pink (the meat needs to be like fi ne cooked ground beef for easier spreading).

Add the tomatoes, sugar, oregano and basil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the sauce for 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cool the sauce. This can be made ahead as needed and kept covered in the cooler. This sauce also works great for any pasta with meat sauce dish.

Pasta and Filling

24 sheets of no-boil lasagne strips (each strip 7 inches x 3½ inches)

4 pounds ricotta cheese, drained of excess water

6 extra-large eggs ½ pound grated Parmesan cheese

1 ¼ pounds shredded mozzarella

1 cup chopped fl at-leaf parsley

1 tablespoon pepper

In a large mixing bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, eggs, Parmesan, ¼-pound of the mozzarella, parsley and pepper. Stir vigorously to whip and combine. Set aside (refrigerate, covered, if not using it at once).

Assembly

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Spread a thin layer of the meat sauce over the bottom of a hotel or baking pan that measures 18-inch x 12-inch x 2½- to 3-inch deep. Lay six pieces of the pasta over the sauce.

Top the pasta with some of the ricotta fi lling. Dab the top of the ricotta with some of the meat sauce. Add another layer of pasta, another layer of ricotta, and more sauce. Continue in this fashion until the pasta is used up. You will have four layers of pasta (the top layer being pasta). Top the last layer with the remaining 1 cup of mozzarella, sprinkling it on evenly.

Brush some olive oil over aluminum foil to cover the pan. Cover the pan, oil side down. Bake the lasagne in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until the cheese starts to show light brown speckles. Remove the pan from the oven. Let it stand for 10 minutes before portioning. Serve with additional sauce and cheese on the side.

Cook’s Note: after the lasagne has cooled enough, you can portion it as you wish, wrap it in plastic and foil and refrigerate. To order, reheat and top it with hot meat sauce.