waiting for gabriella's lasagna no more
Well, after all the waiting and our own trial-and-error based experience, the one thing we learned is that
there is no single right way to do really good lasagna. Gabriella
and rita have inspired us with some key points, but the specifics are pretty flexible.
One thing is essential: paper thin noodles stacked high separating sparing amounts of
sauce. The best solution for the lasagna noodles is to buy sheets from a quality pasta
provider and cut and roll them to the thinnest possible thickness in a traditional roller
type pasta machine with an electric motor
attached (get the KitchenAid pasta roller attachment kit, it's worth it). We follow Marcella in omitting the
traditional coarsely grated mozzarella in favor of just sparsely spread Bolognese sauce
mixed with béchamel sauce and sprinkled with freshly grated high quality parmigiano over
each layer, aiming for 10 to 12 layers. With different pan sizes and the irregularity of
how much of each ingredient goes into each layer, it is difficult to predict exactly how
much of everything you need.
When we do this, since it involves considerable effort, we like to make a lot, but
found that the really big roasting pan is only good for feeding a really big crowd, since
otherwise you are stuck with a large pan partially filled with lasagna afterwards, which
does not fit very well in most refrigerators. Two smaller pans seems like a better idea,
but this depends on what you have on hand at the moment. They must also be deep enough, at
least about 2.5 inches, to hold the many layers. Bake them both and serve one to 8 to 10
people, keep the other for another similarly sized group. You need roughly a pound of
pasta and 2 large cans of peeled Italian tomato based Bolognese sauce per pan, say if it
is about 10x14 or 9x13, a little more, a little less. To complicate matters, the
"large" size of canned tomatoes is not standard, since there are 28-oz and 35-oz
sizes, differing by 25 percent in volume. And if you do rise to the challenge of making
your own pasta dough, it is not clear to us what the egg/flour amounts are that correspond
to one pound, which is why there are still question marks in the previous
attempts at quantifying these numbers. We originally got 3 eggs/2.25 c flour per lb
from early marcella, but other books seem to have 3 eggs/2 lb c flour per lb estimates.
And then there are large and extra large eggs...
As for how much of the sauce ingredients to combine at show time, we have tried various
extremes differing by factors of two with no discernable difference. Our friend and
certainly more expert Italian mom herself, rita, has the following widely different (from
us) ingredient ratios:
Gaby's Lasagna: 1.5 lb pasta (3 to 4 large eggs/2 c flour, she
uses finely ground semolina flour), 4 c béchamel sauce, and a 3 or 4 large tomato sauce
can / 2 lbs ground beef / 1 onion / 1 carrot / 2 celery stalk meat sauce. She also
adds salt to the meat to bring out flavor, throwing all the stuff in together with
optional water / oil, but only uses wine and no milk in the evaporation stage. Plus large
amounts of both mozzarella and parmigiano.
- 2 lbs pasta sheets (typically 8 2-oz sheets per lb), cut in half lengthwise (3 4
- bechamel sauce
- 8 to 9 c milk
- 2 sticks = 16 T butter
- 1 c flour
- 1/2 t salt
- 1/2 t nutmeg
- Bolognese meat sauce
- meat saute group
- 1 2 lb ground beef, not too lean [lean too]
- 3 4 T olive oil
- food process group
- 1 2 c onion [1 large onion]
- 1 2 c celery [4 stalks]
- 1 2 c carrots [2 carrots]
- 1 leek
- sauce group
- 1 2 c dry white wine
- 1 2 c milk
- 1.5 t nutmeg
- 3 28-oz or 35-oz cans italian plum tomatoes
- as much as needed, maybe 1/2 – 1 lb, freshly grated parmigiano
- Allow at least 4.5 hours for the meat sauce, which can be done a day ahead. It takes
about 1.5 hours to reach the stage where you throw in the tomatoes and begin simmering and
then it needs at least 3 hours simmering.
- Assembly takes about 2 hours, maybe more, for 2 chefs working as a team. Baking is then
half an hour. So we're talking 7 hours here, with 3 hours of down time while the sauce
just cooks without being watched. Make sure your guests deserve this before you take on
- For now, reread the previous attempt for the actual
instructions. We use a couple pans, like one 9x13 and one 10x14. But everything depends on
how you dole out the components on each layer, so you just go until you run out of noodles
or sauce. The extra sauce is great on any pasta later. Cook only the noodles you need as
you assemble and you won't have extra noodles if you run out of sauce. This requires a
team of two in the kitchen. We bought a big stainless
steel fine sieve with a handle to pull out the noodles from the boiling water one at a
time, 2 at a time in the pot, and dunk them in cold water so we could then handle them
with our fingers to straighten them out on cloth kitchen towels spread out over large
cookie sheets as we used them. Shoot for a minimum of about 12 layers.
- Good luck.
- We're still waiting to finish this one...
- And a visit by afsaneh's parents from Tehran provides the excuse in 2002. We realize the
baking temperature and time is nowhere to be found in our 3 separate stories, so we
consult marcella and decide to do this one for 2025 minutes at 400º
to finish it off after assembly, which took about 1.5 hours this time for our now
experienced team of two, with trained division of labor. We do the single 12x18 in
Calphalon baking pan version, but it is more like 11x17 on the inside when fitting the
lasagna noodles. For the bolognese sauce done a few nights earlier, we used 2 big onions
and about 1.5 c each of celery and carrots (we measured them after food processing them
together) and a big leek, and the 1 cup amounts of milk and wine. And a 9 cup milk
bechamel sauce, but we had to thicken it up a bit with some additional flour when it
seemed a bit thin at completion.
Two pounds of lasagna noodles, about 12 (maybe 13?) 6x11 inch sheets of pasta which we sliced
lengthwise into 3 inch wide strips, then two passes through the pasta roller machine (the
second one stretched it a bit further) to about 3.25x19 inch noodles. We boil them 3 at a
time for one layer of the 11x17 inch interior of the big baking pan. They expand a bit
further during the 1 minute boiling phase (sometimes longer), then they are fished out
one-by-one and layed flat on a kitchen towel. Cutting off 3 to 4 inches to make the cut to
17 inches, measuring with a carpenter's tape measure. The three noodles seem exactly right
for the pan size. ani is the assembler while bob feeds the cooked noodles into the line.
Starting with 24 noodles, 3 at a time bob figures 8 layers of whole noodles plus the
piecework from the cut ends. Ani counts 12 layers amazingly reached by incorporating
the pieces along the way and on the last one we have only two whole noodles, so we cut
each in half lengthwise and lay them down equally spaced as the last and 13th layer. She
drops globs of the two sauces around each layer and spreads them around with a plastic
spatula, then sprinkles some grated parmigiano we did up earlier to be ready, about a half
pound from our imported freezer supply. The sauce and cheese amounts prove to be just
right with no leftovers. The afternoon result waits a few hours till dinner covered
on the stove. Had we refrigerated it (difficult considering the size) which would have
been necessary if we had done it in advance, we would have had to rethink the baking time.
Marcella said 15 minutes for her little lasagna, pulled out of the fridge. Use some common
sense and check. You are shooting for a nice baked top look, golden without browning.
The guests were pleased. Take a peak.
Feeds about 16 people.
Somewhere into the new century we started heading towards
whole wheat homemade pasta noodles for the
better carb effect. And a slightly downsized nonstick baking pan, officially
billed as 15 x 10 inch but really measuring 14 x 9 inch inside. We do 1.5 lbs of
homemade whole wheat noodles at notch 6 thickness (courtesy of our KitchenAid
pasta attachment, although Wegmans is tempting us with whole wheat pasta sheets
that would have to be thinned out before use), 8 cups of béchamel sauce, and
Marcella's bolognese (since ani never reads bob's recipes) sauce with 1 lb of
ground beef, two 28oz cans of peeled plum tomatoes passed through a food mill
first, a cup of wine and a cup of milk, chopped onion/celery/carrot and spices,
and we've been cheating more often than not by getting containers of pregrated
parmigiano out of laziness. The electric motor driven pasta roller machine from
Italy had gotten decommissioned when bob used the transformer on Geraldine's
Raclette appliance from France and it suffered a meltdown. Too much current for
the specs. Soon afterwards we sprung for the KitchenAid pasta roller attachment,
having put off getting the KitchenAid way too long in our joint cooking career
as well. They are both worth every penny, although we waited for a terrific sale
at bloomies before deciding to purchase the mixer.
Check out the updated photos.