Once upon a time, there was a cute young co-ed who fell madly in love with a handsome and dashing quarterback and after a long courtship, which involved far too many cafeteria meals, they were more than excited to set up their own little apartment and create a home together. Now, since this young co-ed had become a preschool teacher and got off work at 3:30, it fell upon her to make plans for the evening meals and this was a responsibility that she actually quite enjoyed, much to the relief of her quarterback (at this point an entry level marketing manager, but let’s stick with quarterback). Each day after work, she would make a quick call to his office to discuss what they might have for dinner that evening.
One evening, they decided that they were in the mood for lasagna and so the preschool teacher set about to accomplish this. She happily toiled away in her tiny kitchen with no dishwasher, a mini fridge, two burners and a stacked washer/dryer set that took up way too much space. Later that evening, after a mediocre meal, and spotting a sink piled high with dirty pots and pans, the young quarterback said, “I just don’t think that it is worth it to make lasagna from scratch since you really can’t beat the one made by Stouffer’s”. Now the young preschool teacher, being quite practical and not terribly thin-skinned despite her tender age, took this to heart and never made lasagna again.
The years passed. Children were born (4). The preschool teacher became a full time mom. She long ago gave up asking anyone what they wanted for dinner (except birthdays and special occasions, of course) and cooked what (and when) she was in the mood to cook. And the children grew up without lasagna. To them, it was just that frozen dinner in the red box that dad sometimes ate when mom didn’t feel like cooking.
Then one day (yesterday, actually) this hopefully still somewhat cute yet decidedly middle-aged mom, decided that she was in the mood to master lasagna. Surely now, after 25 years of more successes than failures in the kitchen, she would be able to best that giant of frozen entrees, Stouffer’s. She turned toCooks Illustrated (September 2004) which she considers to be the master of well thought out and meticulously tested recipes and what follows is documentation of…
“Damn, that was good lasagna!” -the quarterback
…and they lived happily ever after.
- Meat Sauce
- 1medium carrot , peeled and roughly chopped
- 1medium rib celery , roughly chopped
- 1/2small onion , roughly chopped
- (28 ounce) can whole tomatoes with juice
- 2tablespoons unsalted butter
- 8ounces ground beef , preferably 90 percent lean
- 8ounces ground pork
- 8ounces ground veal
- 1 1/2cups whole milk
- 1 1/2cups dry white wine
- 2tablespoons tomato paste
- 1teaspoon table salt
- 1/4teaspoon ground black pepper
- 4tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/4cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 4cups whole milk
- 3/4teaspoon table salt
- Noodles and Cheese
- 15sheets no-boil lasagna noodles (9 ounces)
- 4ounces Parmesan cheese , grated (2 cups)
For the meat sauce: Process carrot, celery, and onion in food processor until finely chopped, about ten 1-second pulses, scraping down bowl as necessary; transfer mixture to small bowl. Wipe out food processor work bowl; process tomatoes and juice until finely chopped, six to eight 1-second pulses.
Heat butter in heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat until foaming; add carrot, celery, and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 4 minutes.
Add ground meats and cook, breaking meat into 1-inch pieces with wooden spoon, about 1 minute. Add milk and stir, breaking meat into 1/2-inch bits; bring to simmer and cook, stirring to break meat into small pieces, until almost all liquid has evaporated, 20 to 30 minutes. Using potato masher or wooden spoon, break up any remaining clumps of meat (no large pieces should remain). Add wine and bring to simmer; cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated, 20 to 30 minutes.
Stir in tomato paste until combined, about 1 minute; add chopped tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Bring to simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low and cook until sauce is slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. (You should have about 6 cups meat sauce.) Transfer meat sauce to bowl and cool until just warm to touch, about 30 minutes.
2. For the béchamel: While meat sauce simmers, melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat until foaming; add flour and cook, whisking constantly, until thoroughly combined, about 1 1/2 minutes; mixture should not brown. Gradually whisk in milk; increase heat to medium-high and bring to full boil, whisking frequently. Add salt, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally with heatproof rubber spatula or wooden spoon, making sure to scrape bottom and corners of saucepan. (You should have about 3 1/3 cups.) Transfer béchamel to bowl and cool until just warm to touch, about 30 minutes.
3. To assemble and bake: Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 425 degrees. Place noodles in 13- by 9-inch baking dish and cover with very hot tap water; soak 5 minutes, agitating noodles occasionally to prevent sticking. Remove noodles from water, place in single layer on kitchen towel, and pat dry. Wipe out baking dish and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Stir béchamel to recombine; mix 3/4 cup warm béchamel into warm meat sauce until thoroughly combined.
4. Distribute 1 cup béchamel-enriched meat sauce in baking dish. Place three noodles in single layer on top of sauce, arranging them close together, but not touching, at center of pan. Spread 1 1/4 cups béchamel-enriched meat sauce evenly over noodles, spreading sauce to edge of noodles but not to edge of dish (see illustration 1). Drizzle 1/3 cup béchamel evenly over meat sauce (illustration 2). Sprinkle 1/3 cup Parmesan evenly over béchamel. Repeat layering of noodles, béchamel-enriched meat sauce, bechamel, and cheese 3 more times. Place final 3 noodles on top and cover completely with remaining béchamel, spreading béchamel with rubber spatula and allowing it to spill over noodles (illustration 3). Sprinkle evenly with remaining Parmesan.
5. Spray large sheet foil with nonstick cooking spray and cover lasagna; bake until bubbling, about 30 minutes. Remove foil, increase heat to 450 degrees, and continue to bake until surface is spotty brown, about 15 minutes. Cool 15 minutes; cut into pieces and serve.