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Unread 06-11-2011, 07:20 PM   #1
BBQ Grail
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Default Calling Lasagna Experts (Poobah you out there?)

Mrs Grail is fixing me Lasagna for Father's Day. Once in an Italian restaurant I had a lasagna that was wonderful (at least that's my memory). I would swear the lasagna was just noodles and various cheeses with the meat sauce poured over the top after it was plated. This is what I want.

But I am unable to find a recipe that will give me exactly what I'm looking for. Are there any good Italian cooks out there that can share a real recipe with me?

Although I can appreciate the " just make a lasagna with just cheese" comments that's not what I'm looking for. I'm looking for an actual recipe. Meat sauce recipe would be nice too, but Mrs. Grail has that part nailed.

I need a recipe for a lasagna that will "stand up" on the plate. It's got to be firm so it looks good on the plate when the meat sauce is poured over.

Okay...who can help me...
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Unread 06-11-2011, 07:57 PM   #2
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I had a buddy in college that would share his grandmother's lasagna - pure Italian goodness. It wasn't a typical red sauce though, he (and obviously his grandmother) discouraged such a thing, they called it a brown sauce lasagna but wouldn't share the recipe... typical italians just because I'm a short english guy and not family...

I found this recipe and to be honest it was FANTASTIC, I only used ground beef but the flavor was incredible. Closest thing I've gotten to her recipe. Labor intensive but what lasagna isn't?

http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2...e-ricotta.html
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Unread 06-11-2011, 08:33 PM   #3
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I wouldn't call myself an expert but I have been told I make a pretty decent lasagna. I use asiago,mozzarella,parmesan,romano,provolone and ricotta cheeses and sometimes a little low fat cottage cheese to thin out the ricotta. Sometimes I double up on a few of the cheeses by useing dry grated as well as the packaged,shredded type. I never said this was true Italian mind you so nothing fresh or imported which usually equals expensive. I usually use around 4 cups of each except for the grated cheeses. I've also done the cheeses two different ways when adding them to the lasagna.You can either layer each one seperately or mix them all together in a bowl and spread it between layers of noodles. tradionaly I believe you are suppose to mix the ricotta with an egg or two but as I stated I use the cottage cheese,you can't taste it. I would think your lasagna would come out dry with out adding any sauce though,then again maybe not because for the longest time I never boiled my noodle because they were such a pain to handle and the dry noodles will suck all the moisture up.The last couple of times I made it though I just placed the noodles in a large casarole dish and poured boiling water over them and coved it for about 20 minutes which seemed to work pretty good but I also add sauce to mine when I layer it.Hope this helps a little.
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Unread 06-11-2011, 08:33 PM   #4
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Hi Larry, my family is from the very very far eastern Italian region known as Japan, that being said...

1. Do not undercook the pasta, I prefer to use flat sheets, I am not a fan of the wrinkled edges. Still, either will work, under cook slightly and allow to dry separately on racks. Wet noodles equals wet lasagna.

2. Bechamel is your friend, it is actually traditional to many layered pasta recipes and acts as a stabilizing agent for the cheese, which, as it melts will release oils. The Bechamel will hold it in and makes for a smoother cheese layer which cannot be equaled with just cheese.

3. Small amounts of fresh ricotta that has been drained in cheesecloth for an hour or so and crumbled into the layers reduces moisture and yields a denser lasagna.

4. Less cheese is actually your friend, using a stronger flavored mozzarella, ricotta, parmesan and/or pecorino allows you to use less cheese, thus less oil, and still get a good flavor.
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Unread 06-11-2011, 08:38 PM   #5
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While I do some slight variations of what my grandmother and mother taught me...I don't have a recipe... I just go by feel as I've made it for so long.... on the flip side, I've also adopted quite a few things over the years from my favorite Italian TV chef, Lidia who also has has one of my most favorite restaurants in NYC called Becco... http://becco-nyc.com/

She's got a stellar recipe on her site...
http://www.lidiasitaly.com/recipes/detail/701

but more important than the recipe I think are the critical tips like adding a drop of oil to the boiling water for the pasta, using really fresh cheeses, ensuring the ricotta is drained properly, and allowing the lasagna to rest quite a bit before cutting and serving...

serves: 12 servings

I am always telling you not to add oil to the water when you cook pasta because it will reduce the adherence of sauce to the pasta. Cooking long, flat pasta-like these lasagna noodles-is the exception. They have a tendency to stick together when they cook; the oil will help prevent that. Inevitably, some noodles will break. Save the pieces, they will come in handy to patch the layers of lasagna. You'll notice in the meat sauce recipe that the final consistency of the sauce should be fairly dense. Following that pattern, I suggest you drain the ricotta first to remove a lot of the moisture. Removing excess moisture from the ingredients will result in a finished lasagna that is more intense in flavor. You may assemble the lasagna completely up to a day before you serve it, but don't cook it until the day you plan to serve it. Lasagna tastes better and is easier to cut if it is allowed to stand about an hour after it is removed from the oven. It will retain enough heat to serve as is or, if you prefer, pop it back in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes. My favorite way to serve lasagna is to bake it and let it stand 3 to 4 hours. Cut the lasagna into portions, rewarm it in the oven.



2 pounds fresh or packaged whole-milk ricotta cheese
2 pounds lasagna noodles
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large eggs
pinch salt
2½ cups Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated
1 pound mozzarella cheese , preferably fresh, sliced thin

For the Italian-American Meat Sauce
2 35-ounce cans Italian Plum Tomatoes, (preferably San Marzano)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, diced (about 2 cups)
8 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped fine
6 meaty pork neck bones, (about 3/4 pound)
1 pound ground beef
salt
¾ cup dry white wine
⅓ cup tomato paste
4 bay leaves
1½ teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled
4 cups hot water


Line a sieve with a double thickness of cheesecloth or a basket-type coffee filter. Place the ricotta over the cheesecloth and set the sieve over a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to one day. Discard the liquid that drains into the bowl.

Make the meat sauce:

Pass the tomatoes and their liquid through a food mill fitted with the fine blade. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy 4 to 5-quart pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 8 minutes. Make a little room in the center of the pot, dump in the garlic and cook, stirring, until the garlic is lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add the pork bones and cook, turning, until lightly browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Add the ground beef and pork and season lightly with salt. Cook, stirring to break up the meat, until the meat changes color and the water it gives off is boiled away, about 10 minutes. Continue cooking until the meat is browned about 5 minutes. Add the bay leaves and oregano then pour in the wine. Bring to a boil and cook, scraping up the brown bits that cling to the pot, until the wine is almost completely evaporated. Pour in the tomatoes, then stir in the tomato paste until is dissolved. Season lightly with salt. Bring to a boil, adjust the heat to a lively simmer and cook, uncovered, stirring often, until the sauce takes on a deep, brick-red color, 2 to 3 hours. Add the hot water, about ½ cup at a time, as necessary to maintain the level of liquid for the length of time the sauce cooks.

Skim off any fat floating on top and adjust the seasoning as necessary. The sauce can be prepared entirely in advance and refrigerated for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.

Bring 6 quarts of salted water and the olive oil to a boil in an 8-quart pot over high heat. Stir about one third of the lasagna noodles into the boiling water. Return to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook the pasta, semi-covered, stirring occasionally, until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes.

While the pasta is cooking, set a large bowl of ice water next to the stove. When the lasagna noodles are al dente, remove them with a wire skimmer and transfer to the ice water. Let them stand until completely chilled. Repeat the cooking and cooling with the remaining two batches of lasagna noodles. When the cooked noodles are chilled, remove them from the ice bath and stack them on a baking sheet, separating each layer with a clean, damp kitchen towel.

While the noodles are cooking, beat the eggs with the salt in a mixing bowl until foamy. Add the ricotta and stir until thoroughly blended. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

To assemble the lasagna, ladle about 3/4 cup of the meat sauce over the bottom of a 15 x 10-inch baking dish. Arrange noodles lengthwise and side by side so as to cover the bottom of the baking dish and overhang the short ends of the dish by about 2 inches. (A little 'cut and paste' might be necessary. Also, the noodles will most likely overlap in the center of the dish. That is fine.) Spoon enough meat sauce, about 2 cups, to cover the noodles in an even layer. Sprinkle the sauce with 1/2 cup of the grated cheese. Arrange a single layer of noodles crosswise over the cheese so they overhang the long sides of the baking dish by about 2 inches, again trimming the noodles and overlapping them as necessary. Spread the ricotta mixture evenly over the noodles. Arrange a single layer of noodles lengthwise over the ricotta, trimming the noodles as necessary. Arrange the sliced mozzarella in an even layer over the noodles. Spread 1 cup of the meat sauce over the cheese and sprinkle 1 cup of grated cheese over the sauce. Cover with a layer of noodles, arranged lengthwise. Spoon enough meat sauce, about 2 cups, to cover the noodles in an even layer and sprinkle the sauce with 1 cup grated cheese. Turn the noodles overhanging the sides and ends of the dish over the lasagna, leaving a rectangular uncovered space in the middle. Spread a thin layer of meat sauce over the top layer of noodles. Sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake 45 minutes.

Uncover the lasagna and continue baking until the top is crusty around the edges, about 20 minutes. Let rest at least 30 minutes or up to 3 hours before cutting and serving. To rewarm a lasagna that has been standing, cover it loosely with foil and place in a 325 degrees F oven until heated through, 15 to 45 minutes, depending on how long it has been standing.

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Unread 06-11-2011, 08:43 PM   #6
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Gheesh Larry, you want a recipe for an authentic lasagna? I can tell you honestly that such a thing doesn't exist. Yes, I make lasagna. I do so the way my mother, grandmother and grandfather did (more or less), but a recipe? Also, please don't use cottage cheese. I remember 40 years ago listening to my great aunts and uncles talking about restaurants and saying things like, "...and would you believe, they used cottage cheese in their lasagna? I'm never eating there again." I've been told if you make lasagna with cottage cheese, you can no longer claim to be Italian.

Lasagna is not hard, it is just a lot of things to do. Due to the thickness of 9x13 pans (get as deep a one as you can), I usually only have room for two layers.
1. Meat layer(s): two meats at least, usually pork and beef cooked in your sauce. I do not typically use ground beef. Brown your meat chunks and put them in your sauce. The chunks should dissolve in the sauce when cooked. These can be broken up or shredded (but you don't want long shreds) for you meat layer.
2. Cheese layer(s): Riccata thinned with eggs, mix well and add parsley flakes. This should be creamy. When baked, it will stiffen.
3. Lasagna noodles: You know the type. Use fresh if you can, otherwise boil the hard noodles to half-done.
4. Once you have these basic ingredients, it is just a matter of layering it together. Put a thin layer of sauce down, then a layer of noodles on top (these act like insulation to separate the layers). Next I put in the riccata mixture and top with mozzarella, Parmesan and another layer of noodles. Then a chunky meaty layer. Then top with noodles. At this point, my pan is normally full and I top with sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan. You can see the layers are thick and the noodles are there to keep them separate. Do NOT mix meat with the cheese. Then bake it in the oven. You might put this on a cookie sheet as it may overflow.

This lasagna is fairly dry. We serve it with sauce poured over the top. The cheese layer is thick and fairly dry, hence the need for sauce. It will stand up on a plate and looks nothing like any of the pictures in my google search. Also, and perhaps most importantly, lasagna always tastes better at least one day after it is cooked. If she's making it for Father's day, she better bake it on Saturday, put it in the fridge, then reheat on Sunday. It takes some time for the flavors to meld. This is what we do, more or less. I probably left things out, but you're smart and can figure it out. It's not rocket science. Typically make a few pans of these. When the lasagna is cool, we cut these up into servings, wrap in plastic wrap and put in the freezer. They make great lunches when there aren't any leftovers.
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Unread 06-11-2011, 08:54 PM   #7
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Gore, you're right about the cottage cheese,thats why I said mine was far from being Italian. Hell I had a guy from Wisconsin chap me once for not pronouncing ricotta correctly .. ..
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Unread 06-11-2011, 09:00 PM   #8
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Gore & Vinny,

Thanks. I know there isn't really an authentic "recipe" because real Italian cooking is passed down from generation to generation. I was thinking there was a style of lasagna that was just cheese, no meat or sauce in the lasagna. The red meat sauce was ladled over the top of the cheese lasagna after it had been cooked, cut and plated.

But then again I could just be imagining things.

I've made lasagna 100s of times I was just thinking of something different.
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Unread 06-11-2011, 09:09 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BBQ Grail View Post
Gore & Vinny,

Thanks. I know there isn't really an authentic "recipe" because real Italian cooking is passed down from generation to generation. I was thinking there was a style of lasagna that was just cheese, no meat or sauce in the lasagna. The red meat sauce was ladled over the top of the cheese lasagna after it had been cooked, cut and plated.

But then again I could just be imagining things.

I've made lasagna 100s of times I was just thinking of something different.

maybe thinking of a cheese canelloni ? basically similar pasta shapes but rolled and laid side by side (these can be stuffed with cheese, only or meats or veggies) and sauce applied over the top.
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Unread 06-11-2011, 09:11 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MilitantSquatter View Post
maybe thinking of a cheese canelloni ? basically similar pasta shapes but rolled and laid side by side (these can be stuffed with cheese, only or meats or veggies) and sauce applied over the top.
Canelloni would be nice!

I have told Mrs. Grail that however she wants to make it is fine with me. She makes great sauce, this I know. And she wouldn't go near cottage cheese ever...for anything.

And I'm getting homemade bread too...
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Unread 06-11-2011, 11:37 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by landarc View Post
Hi Larry, my family is from the very very far eastern Italian region known as Japan

LOL. that is great
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Unread 06-11-2011, 11:57 PM   #12
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I make lasagna with semolina crepes not pasta. They are pretty easy to make and it works perfectly for getting a slice to stand up revealing every layer.

I also make home made paneer and use that instead of ricotta that makes for an even more structurally sound lasagna. If using regular ricotta mix an egg into the cheese filling, Mix an egg into the meat filling too. when it cooks it will set, helping it stay intact when slicing.

I agree a good lasagna has to hold together.

I make a bunch of the crepes and then layer them into a round cake pan or something. I even did it in a bundt pan once, which looked awesome. I layer the crepes alternately with cheese, meat sauce, sometimes spinach or other vegetables.

A spring form cake pan works great then you cook it like a timballo.

after baking turn it out on an oven safe plate, Then top it with some cheese and put it back in the oven. blister the cheese a little like on a pizza. plate and slice it, the slices hold together perfectly.

BTW "real" manicotti and canelloni is made with semolina crepes not pasta rolls.
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Unread 06-12-2011, 01:21 PM   #13
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I just realized another thing. I make it the way my grandma did. No sauce in the baking, or very little. There is just the fillings and the crepes, or pasta. The sauce goes on top after just like BBQgrail said. Since the fillings are cooked in advance it does not have to be in the oven for long. I just butter the cake pan a little.

Anybody ever made a polenta lasagna? Its called something else, I cant remember the name the name in Italian, not lasagna and not timballo.

Make up a big pot of polenta then layer it alternately with all kinds of stuff, cheese, meat, veg, even seafood.

After it is set throw it in the oven. Or the smoker, though I never tried that. Then top it with sauce. It is very good.
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Unread 06-12-2011, 03:00 PM   #14
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I'm from an Italian family, and to be honest, lasagna is an immigrant dish, not something you would find in Italy.

I grew up eating my grandmother's recipe, and it is good. I'll see if I can get it from my mom. It's nothing fancy, which is what immigrant Italian foods were all about. Simple food that could be cooked in a tiny kitchen, with whatever was available to buy in the Italian neighborhoods.

I'll email my mom now.

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Unread 06-12-2011, 03:20 PM   #15
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Hey Caseydog, you may be surprised to see that they make lasagna in Italy. They just make it all different ways, not so much like the version the Italian Immigrants made popular here.

In Italy though, Lasagna is the name of the pan. Thats what they call a casserole dish in Italy.

The Lasagna we know here with meat pasta cheese, bechamel and tomato sauce actually has its roots in Greece. It is how the Sicilians made Pastitsio.
The Sicilians brought it to the US where it became the popular immigrant dish that it is today. pastitso is said to go back a thousand years.

I LOVE food history, I wonder what the oldest existing recipe is? Pazole? Or more likely a Chinese dish.
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