Signature Series: Lasagna

Here in Maine, we weathered yesterday’s storm mostly unscathed. Our power was out for much of the afternoon, the wind blew strongly, whistling through the trees, which frightened the dog, and we spent a cozy, house-bound Sunday making the most fantastic lasagna. This is nothing like the lasagna I grew up eating; it is richer and even more dense, yet somehow – and I know this sounds crazy – tasted light.

Our electricity was good enough to whiz back on for the hour or so it took to bake the dish while we settled on the couch for an episode or two of Friday Night Lights. The light went off again briefly after our early dinner but were restored before it got too dark. In true “From Away” fashion, it was our goal to craft every component of the meal ourselves, though the total process took almost five hours. We made our own ricotta, stirred up a quick bechamel, kneaded and rolled our own dough, and I made a big pot of Sunday gravy to keep bubbling on the stove and use throughout the casserole. All will be revealed below.

Hope you stayed safe and dry and are as amazed as we are that Monday dawned bright and blue and clear. Nature is magic! As is this lasagna. It should go without saying that this is heavy, fatty, hearty, and decadent. There’s a stick of butter, a block of cheese, more cheeses, more butter, pasta, and whole milk. We suggest serving with a salad. Or possibly 30 minutes on the elliptical machine. Actually, screw that. Enjoy every bite of this without guilt. You will be happy that you did.

Signature Series: Lasagna
Adapted from recipes by Giada De Laurentiis and Serious Eats


The gravy:

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or microplaned
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 15 medium white button mushrooms, sliced very thinly then roughly chopped
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 32 oz can peeled tomatoes, squeezed
  • 1 32 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 7 basil leaves, chopped
  • Salt and pepper

The bechamel:

  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

The ricotta:

  • 10 cups whole milk (about 80 ounces, or just over half a gallon)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons table salt
  • 10 tablespoons distilled white vinegar (5 ounces, or 5/8 cup)

The lasagna noodles:

  • 1 pound flour
  • 4 eggs

Putting it together:

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 large eggs
  • 10 ounces fresh spinach, steamed and squeezed very dry
  • 3 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into chunks


The gravy:

In a large Dutch oven, warm olive oil over medium heat, then add onions and garlic, cook until golden and glossy, about 10 minutes. Add mushrooms and carrots, season and cook down for another ten minutes, then add tomato products and basil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for at least an hour, stirring occasionally and adjusting seasoning. Note: I did not have either red wine or anchovy paste on hand, but often incorporate those in the early stages of the process. Surprisingly, however, the sauce was delicious without those deep flavor agents. In conclusion, add or omit those as you see fit.

The bechamel:

In a pot, melt 5 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. When butter has completely melted, add the flour and whisk until smooth, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly to prevent any lumps from forming. Continue to simmer and whisk over medium heat until the sauce is thick, smooth and creamy, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add the nutmeg and 1 1/2 cups of the gravy. Stir until well combined, set aside and allow to cool completely.

The ricotta:

Line colander with four layers of cheesecloth or 2 layers of paper towels and set over large bowl. In a saucepan, slowly heat milk and salt to 180 degrees. Check with a candy thermometer for precision, though milk just begins to form bubbles around the edges at about 180 degrees, so you can do it by sight, as well. Add vinegar and stir gently for five seconds; milk will seprate into solid white curds and translucent liquid whey. Using a slotted spoon, transfer curds to prepared colander, and let drain for 2o minutes.

Alternate method: You can also combine all three ingredients for the ricotta in a microwave-safe bowl, and microwave on “high” for one minute. Remove from microwave, stir, and see if milk separates; if not, return to microwave for 30 more seconds, stir, and try again. Repeat until curds and whey separate, and transfer curds to colander with slotted spoon.

The lasagna noodles:

Pour the flour into a bowl, and break the eggs into the center. Mix the eggs with a fork, and blend them completely with the flour. Then, knead the dough until smooth. If dough is sticky, add flour; if dough is dry, add water. Pass dough in small pieces through pasta roller (set on 5, or the second-thinnest possible setting) and roll flat into sheets.

Putting it together:

In a saute pan, brown ground beef and season with salt and pepper. Brown meat, breaking any large lumps, until it is no longer pink. Remove from heat and drain any excess fat. Set aside and allow to cool completely.

In a medium sized bowl, thoroughly mix the ricotta and three eggs. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Into the bottom of a 13×9 baking dish, spread 1/3 of the bechamel and tomato sauce mixture. Arrange the pasta sheets side by side, covering the bottom of the baking dish. Evenly spread a layer of the ricotta mixture, and then a layer of the spinach. Arrange another layer of pasta, and spread the ground beef on top. Sprinkle 1/2 the mozzarella on top of the beef. Spread another 1/3 of the bechamel sauce. VARIATION: For a less creamy, more tomato-y lasagna, substitute this second application of the bechamel mixture with some of the straight tomato sauce, instead. Arrange the final layer of pasta sheets, and top with remaining bechamel, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Cut the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter into 1/4-inch cubes and top lasagna.

Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place lasagna dish on top, cover and put on the middle rack of the oven and bake until top is bubbling, about 30 minutes. Remove cover and continue to bake for about 15 minutes.

In our “Signature Series,” we endeavor to produce the best possible version of a given dish, often cooking as many components as possible (or reasonable!) from scratch. To read more from this series, click here.
Jillian Bedell

Jillian Bedell is a writer and mother living in a farmhouse in Cushing, Maine. She is very good at talking about herself in the third person. She is co-author of Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road. She creates content on the internet, on subjects ranging from summer camps to semi-precious stones to the folklore of food. With Malcolm, Jillian was one of the original "Insiders," for the Visit Maine tourism campaign. She loves telling the stories of her adopted state, finding out-of-the-way places, and people making interesting things. Watching her daughters play in the wild woods and fields of Cushing makes her very happy.

1 Comment

  1. This recipe looks fantastic. I want to try it, but I have a couple of questions. Did you parboil the fresh pasta sheets or just leave them to cook in the casserole? Also, how’d it hold up when you cut into it? I’ve had problems with lasagna (especially vegetarian lasagna) kind of slumping and falling into a mess on the plate.

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