Cooking Our Favorite Restaurant Dishes at Home
Lasagna is a dish that, in our opinion, has offically joined the list of clichéd Italian American dishes that have been completely bastardized over the years. It’s like a bad game of telephone being played by the local red sauce restaurants, passing lifeless versions of lasagna down from generation to generation and in turn straying farther and farther from what makes the original so great.
You know what Gothamist is talking about. Big, thick slabs of lasagna sheets with the crinkly edges, with way too much pasta-to-filling ratio. Drowning in tomato sauce. A meat sauce that is flavorless and non descript. Is it pork? Is it meat? Does anyone care?
Thanks to our travels to Bologna, the lasagna capital of the world, Gothamist tasted the gold standard. First, it’s all about soft, fresh pasta and a bit less of it. It’s about bechamella, the creamy, rich cheese sauce based from Parmigiano Reggiano. It’s the fresh burst of intensley flavored bolognese ragu that balances the richness of the bechamella and the tomato sauce that accents but doesn’t dominate the dish.
We’d love to hear your thoughts about the best lasagna you’ve had in the city, but our favorite so far is served at Via Emilia. We’ve made a version of our own in the Gothamist Recipe, with the addition of a traditional mortadella mousse that our friends love for its full porky flavor and delicate lightness.
bechamella, mortadella mousse, spinach, ricotta, tomato sauce
This is a labor-intensive dish, as there are lots of components to it. This isn’t something to do on a work night, but it is fantastic assembled the day before and simply baked the next day. It’s also perfect for a dinner party, as you can just heat and serve.
You’ll have plently of left over tomato sauce that you can freeze for future pasta dinners.
Ingredient Shopping List
Recipe serves 7-8 people
1 box fresh lasagna pasta sheets (see below)
1 lb sliced Italian mortadella (see below)
1 bag of fresh washed spinach
4 Boxes Pomi 12 oz. Strained Tomatoes (below)
1 medium white onion
1 bunch basil leaves
1 head garlic
1 large carrot
1 .5 or larger wedge of parmigiano reggiano
1 small tub of fresh ricotta cheese
1 quart milk
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
all purpose flour
Estimated cost of ingredients: $27 at Fairway
Food processor or blender
Large Lasagna Pan (disposable versions at all markets)
Shopping for the Ingredients
Fairway and Citarella make fresh lasagna sheets. We recommend using Pomi brand strained tomatoes - they are sold in most markets, including Fresh Direct. Traditional mortadella is sold at most upscale markets these days.
Make the Tomato Sauce
Dice the onion and ½ of the carrot into a small dice. Chop 4 cloves of garlic. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook until soft and light golden brown, about 3 minutes. Add the carrot, and cook 2 minutes more, until the carrot is quite soft. Open the boxes of tomato and add to pot and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until as thick as hot cereal. Add about one handful of chopped basil and stir into sauce. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Make the Spinach
Chop two garlic cloves. Add one glug of olive oil into a large pan and place on medium heat. Add the entire bag of spinach, a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir the spinach until it barely whilts, about 2 minutes. Take off the heat and set aside.
Make the Mortadella Mousse
Rough chop all of the mortadella and place into the food processor. Add a :01 pour of milk, :01 pour of olive oil, one tablespoon butter and pepper. Puree for about 2 minutes until smooth. Set aside.
Make the Bechamella
Grate a mound of the parmigiano cheese.
In a saucepan, melt the 3 oz butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in 3 oz flour and cook until the mixture is creamy and no longer smells floury. Set the flour mixture (a roux) aside and rinse the pan.
Place the rest of the pint of milk into the saucepan, add a bit of grated nutmeg and bring to boil over medium-high.
Whisk the flour mixture into the milk. Whisk constantly as the sauce returns to a boil and simmer until the sauce thickens sufficiently to coat the back of a spoon. At this point, add two handfuls of grrated parmigiano cheese. Season the bechamel with salt, a squeeze of the lemon juice, and reserve until ready to use. It will thicken up while it rests – just refresh with a couple of tablespoons of water and warm. It should be a sauce like consitency when using.
Blanch Pasta, Assemble Lasagna
Bring a large pot of water to a heavy simmer – no need to fully boil.
Chop one handful of basil. With fresh pasta sheets, you need to blanch them for just a few seconds and do this in batches for each layer you create. If you blanch all of the sheets at once, they will stick together and be hard to handle.
You also need to assemble all of the ingredients in front of your lasagna pan. - get all of the components you made above to room temp, as well as the ricotta cheese, chopped basil and grated parm cheese.
First, place one ladle of tomato sauce in lasagna pan.
When water is ready, add two sheets of pasta to water. Let rest for :05 and take out one sheet with long tongs (very carefully, don’t break pasta) and add to the pan, Adjust to fit. Take out second pasta sheet and place in pan to cover bottom.
Spread a thick layer of ricotta cheese across the bottom. Add the spinach on top to cover. Tablespoon some of the bechamella on top. Add a sprinkle of the parmigiano cheese across the spinach.
Repeat pasta procedure, adding to the top of spinach layer.
Spread the mortadella evenly across the layer of pasta. Should be a substantial amount of your mixture. Spread dots of tomato sauce onto the mortadella. Add some more of the bechamel and the chopped basil across the mortadella.
Repeat pasta procedure one more time.
Lastly, ladle tomato sauce across the top of the final pasta layer. Dot with more of the bechamel and sprinkle with parmigiano cheese. Cover top with foil.
Place into a 350 oven and bake for about 20 minutes. Take foil off of top and bake for another 8-10 minutes.
Serve the Lasagna
Make sure to let it rest for 10-15 minutes, loosely cover with foil so it can set. Have some of the tomato sauce reheated.
Carve into portions. Place a tablespoon of tomato sauce on a plate and spread in a circle. Place a piece of lasagna on top and serve.