There are countless variations of lasagne throughout Italy. What they all require is a layering of ingredients and flavors: Paper-thin sheets of fresh pasta are usually combined with ragù, bechamel, and cheeses—from mozzarella to scamorza, to a simple dusting of Parmigiano Reggiano.
My grandma’s version calls for béchamel sauce, her Tuscan ragù, mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano, and fresh pasta. Then, her secret ingredient: moderation.
In the kitchen, I followed her layer after layer, learning the importance of balancing the ingredients, how to smear the béchamel and the ragù with a wooden spoon to cover the entire surface of the pan, without exaggerating the quantities. This makes a lasagna that is compact, crisp on the edges, and perfectly balanced, not too creamy nor too heavy.
This is our festive dish, prepared for Christmas, Easter, birthdays, or family gatherings. We usually prepare it and bake it the day before. That gives the lasagna time to set and develop more flavor. Then, just before serving, we reheat it until bubbling.
We usually prepare two smaller trays and freeze one of them. It’s perfect for lazy Sundays, when you crave a comforting meal but you don’t feel like cooking: Just pop it straight from the freezer into the hot oven, and reheat until ready.
For the Béchamel Sauce
- 3 1/2 tablespoons butter
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 1/3 cup cold milk
- Pinch of salt
- Grated nutmeg
- 12 ounces fresh mozzarella
- 3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
- 1 tablespoon butter, cold
Make your fresh pasta dough and let it rest for 30 minutes. Have the ragù ready.
Prepare the béchamel sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. When melted, spoon in the flour and whisk for a few minutes until golden and toasted. Pour in the cold milk in a thin stream, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Cook the béchamel sauce for a few minutes, still stirring constantly, until thickened. Your whisk should leave visible trails in the sauce. Season with a good pinch of salt and grated nutmeg.
Now, prepare the lasagne.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Dust a large tablecloth or other flat surface with semolina flour.
Roll out the dough into very large, thin sheets, working in batches as needed. You can use a classic rolling pin on a flat working surface or a pasta machine. Either way, the most important thing is to keep rolling and flipping and rolling and flipping until the dough is paper-thin.
Lay the pasta sheets on the semolina-dusted tablecloth. Have all the other ingredients ready nearby.
Spread some of the meat sauce across the bottom of an 11-by-15-inch baking dish, just enough to make a thin, even layer. Then line it with enough sheets of pasta to cover it. Spoon some of the béchamel over the pasta and spread it into a thin, even layer. Then spoon some more meat sauce over the béchamel and spread it. Sprinkle with grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Tear the mozzarella into bite-sized morsels and scatter it over the top. Cover the mozzarella with more sheets of pasta, and repeat for seven more layers.
Finish with béchamel sauce, meat sauce, mozzarella, and a good dusting of Parmigiano Reggiano and breadcrumbs, for a nice and golden crust. Distribute a few slivers of butter over the top.
Bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbling.
Serve immediately, or better yet, let it rest and reheat just before serving.