My wife said, "Honey, I've tried to make lasagna and it never turns out right. Can you try to make lasagna?" The gauntlet had been thrown down. Though I'd never made lasagna, I was sure that after a few iterations I'd have a recipe for a lasagna better than I could find in any restaurant. I was right.
I researched lasagna recipes online and in several cookbooks, and consulted my Italian friend Kitty. I synthesized what I learned into a single recipe. I made a test batch and though it was really good, I found a few areas for improvement. The result of this effort I call my Ultimate Lasagna.
This recipe make a lot of lasagna - enough to fill a 9x13 inch baking dish plus two smaller 8x8 inch pans. My practice is to make a batch, divide the leftovers into single-serving sizes, and then individually vacuum-bag them and freeze them.
First, some straight talk: You are not doing yourself any favors by using lasagna noodles from your neighborhood supermarket in this recipe. Don't get me wrong: I use a lot of dried pasta. Just not here. I have a little Italian deli nearby that makes pasta to order. If I'm under a time constraint I will order my pasta from him instead of making it myself.
If you absolutely must use dried pasts then look for the 'No-Boil' pasta. It is thinner. I've used the DelVerde brand with acceptable results. Keep in mind however that fresh homemade pasta makes a significant difference. I know because I've made it both ways.
Instructions for making pasta are here. You want the pasta to be about 1/16 inch thick. I cut mine into 13-inch lengths to fit easily into the baking dish. I normally make the pasta a few days ahead and freeze it with a sheet of plastic wrap between each sheet of pasta.
When it's time for assembly, thaw the pasta but don't boil it. It will get cooked in the oven.
2 lb sweet italian sausage
1/2 lb pancetta
2 cups chianti
8 cloves garlic, peeled
1 onion, finely chopped
5 28oz cans of crushed tomatoes (I prefer the Contadina brand)
2 Tablespoons dried oregano
2 Teaspoons dried thyme
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 Teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
1 Tablespoon sugar
Strip the casings off the sausage and break it up. Chop the pancetta into about a 1/4-inch dice.
In an 8 quart (or larger) stock pot, add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the sausage. Using a spatula, break the sausage up into very small pieces as it browns. Once the sausage has browned, remove it from the pot with a slotted spoon. Put the pancetta in the stock pot and brown it. Once it has browned remove it with a slotted spoon as well. Pour off about half the fat, leaving the remainder for flavor.
Add 1/3 cup of olive oil and the garlic. Saute the garlic over medium-high heat. When the garlic begins to brown remove it from the pot and discard it. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Return the sausage and pancetta to the pot, add the chianti and let the mixture cook until the liquid is reduced to about half.
Add the crushed tomatoes. Add the oregano, thyme, rosemary, fennel, and sugar. Stir, cover, and reduce the heat until the sauce is just simmering. Let it simmer for 2-3 hours. You want the end result to be 4-5 quarts of sauce.
4 lbs ricotta cheese
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 handful fresh basil, chopped
MIx the ingredients together.
4 lbs whole milk mozzarella, cut into slices
Preheat the oven to 400F.
You'll need a 9x13 inch baking dish plus two smaller 8x8 baking dishes. For the 8x8 pans I use the disposable aluminum pans I find at the supermarket or dollar store. Coat them with olive oil or non-stick spray.
Start with a layer of sauce. Keep in mind that the pasta will absorb sauce while it is cooking so don't be stingy with the sauce. Each layer of sauce will be almost a cup.
Add a layer of pasta. If your sheets of pasta are not as wide as the pan then overlap them slightly.
Add a layer of ricotta.
Add a layer of pasta.
Add a layer of sauce.
Add a layer of mozzarella slices
Add a layer of ricotta
Add a layer of sauce
Keep adding layers in the following order until the pan is full:
I like to have the top layer be mozzarella so it looks nice and cheesy.
Tent the pan with foil and bake for one hour. After removing it from the oven, let the lasagna rest for about 15 minutes before serving.