1. Get out your lasagna pan and your box of lasagna noodles and lay out a layer of noodles. When you know how many noodles you are going to use to cover a single layer in the pan, make sure you have enough in the box for 4 layers of noodles. If not, stop here and go buy more noodles Just FYI, the pan I am using for this recipe is a French porcelain dish that measures approximately 13? x 9.5? x 3? on the inside. The length and width are not so important but I wouldn't go less than 3? deep.
Make the meat sauce as directed in Section A
in Component Recipes below. This can be done up to one day in advance if desired. Click here to see the recipe for spaghetti sauce that will need to be made before you make the meat sauce. Allow 15 minutes to make the meat sauce once the spaghetti sauce is ready.
3. Make the ricotta cheese mixture as directed in Section B in Component Recipes below. This can be made the same day but ahead of time and refrigerated until you are ready to assemble. Allow 15 minutes to make the ricotta cheese mixture. Note: when you are grating the Parmesan for the ricotta cheese mixture, grate an extra half cup for the assembly of the lasagna later.
4. Prepare the mushrooms as directed in Section C in Component Recipes below. This can be made a little bit ahead of time and kept on the shelf until you are ready to make the bechamel sauce. Allow 10 minutes to make the mushrooms.
5. Make the bechamel as directed in Section D in Component Recipes below. This should be made either just before you put the water on to boil for the noodles or while the water is boiling if you like to multitask. Allow 15 minutes to make the bechamel sauce.
6. Add 5 qts water and the 2 T salt to an 8 qt stock pan. Bring the water to a boil. Have the lasagna noodles ready for when the water boils. For dried pasta, I only ever cook with DeCecco. I have been using it for so long I know how it acts and the flavor profile but I also believe it is the best dried pasta on the market. The noodles should be ready within approximately 15 minutes of the time you start this step.
8 Qt Pan for Cooking the Noodles
Box of DeCecco Lasagna Noodles
DeCecco Lasagna Noodles
7. While the water is coming to a boil, set up the assembly area with your lasagna pan, the mushroom bechamel sauce, the meat sauce, the ricotta cheese mix, the grated Parmesan, the grated mozzarella, and some paper towels so when the noodles are ready you are ready to go. A little time invested here will go a long way when you are putting this all together. This is a pretty easy dish to put together if you have a clean workspace with everything laid out.
My Favorite Porcelain Lasagna Pan
8. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
9. Add the lasagna noodles to the boiling water and stir carefully so you do not break the noodles. Lower the heat so they continue to cook on a slow boil. Cook the noodles, stirring frequently but gently, until they are just al dente, or just starting to be cooked. They should be somewhat limp but not fully cooked, about 4 minutes. They will finish cooking in the oven.
10. Carefully (this is heavy and it is boiling water!) move the pan to the sink and run cold water into the pan until the water in the pan is lukewarm. They can sit this way for a few minutes until we are ready for them and are assembling the lasagna. Run your clean hands through them in the water to be sure they are separated.
11. Put about 1 to 2 cups of plain spaghetti sauce on the bottom of your lasagna pan so it is just covered. We don't want a big pool of sauce, just a light coating.
Put a Light Coating of Sauce on the Bottom of the Pan
12. Remove a lasagna sheet from the water and place it on the paper towels and with another paper towel blot the top of the noodle to remove any excess water. Do this for all the noodles as you take them out to use them.
Lasagna Noodle Dried on Paper Towels to Remove Excess Water
13. Place a layer of noodles on the bottom of the lasagna pan on top of your sauce layer. As you can see in the picture below because of the size of the noodles and the size of the pan, I am using 4 full size noodles and then cutting a fifth one in half to cover the space in the middle.
Place a Layer of Noodles Over the Sauce
14. Cover the noodle layer with half of the meat sauce and carefully spread it evenly over the noodles.
Cover the Noodles with Meat Sauce
15. Pipe or spread 1/2 of the ricotta cheese mix over the tomato sauce. It doesn't need to be perfectly smooth. It will come together fine when it cooks. Just make sure it is evenly divided over the noodles.
Top the Meat Sauce with the Ricotta Mixture
16. Sprinkle 1 cup of the grated mozzarella evenly over the ricotta and the sauce.
Sprinkle the Grated Mozzarella Over the Sauce Layer
17. Cover with another layer of noodles and spread the Mushroom Bechamel Sauce over the noodle layer.
Spread on the Mushroom Bechamel Sauce
18. Sprinkle 1 c of the mozzarella evenly over the Bechamel sauce.
Sprinkle Grated Mozzarella Over the Mushroom Bechamel Sauce
19. Cover the Bechamel and mozzarella with another layer of noodles and spread the remainder of the meat sauce, the ricotta cheese mixture and the mozzarella as we did earlier in steps 14-16. Cover this with another layer of noodles. That is our fourth and final layer of noodles.
Add Another Layer of the Meat Sauce, Ricotta and Mozzarella
20. Spread plain spaghetti sauce over the top layer of noodles until the noodles are completely covered. You want about twice as much as you put on the bottom layer, but make sure everything is covered pretty well or the noodles will dry out. Again, don't drown it. And it is okay if a noodle or two is peeking out of the edges. That's what gives you those crunchy bits around the outside of the cooked lasagna. So if you don't like those, cover all the edges with sauce.
Cover the Top Layer of Noodles with Spaghetti Sauce
21. Place the dish in middle of the oven and bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Remove it from the oven and sprinkle it with 1/2 c grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Then top it with either 1 c grated mozzarella or for a more festive presentation, use pieces of fresh mozzarella to top the dish. I do this 30 minute step because I don't particularly care for burnt cheese. If you like your cheese brown and crusty, put it on before the dish goes in the oven and don't take it out until it is done.
Arrange the Fresh Mozzarella Pieces on Top of the Lasagna
22. Place it back in the oven and continue cooking for another 35-45 minutes or so until it is bubbly and hot and a thermometer placed in the top middle of the lasagna reads about 145° F. Remove it from the oven and let it sit for at least 15-20 minutes to allow it to set up a little bit so it will hold it's shape when you serve it. Cut it in square or rectangular pieces as large as you like and serve with a salad and fresh garlic bread. Congratulations and Enjoy!
Lasagna 91 Cooked
1. Heat the oil over medium high heat in a saute pan.
Saute Pan for the Meat Sauce
2. Add the beef, salt and pepper and stir the beef until it is broken into small pieces. Cook until the beef is browned, stirring occasionally.
Ground Beef for the Sauce
Brown the Meat in the Pan
Browned Beef with Residual Moisture in the Pan
3. Drain any remaining liquid in the pan. This can be done by tipping the pan and spooning off most of the liquid and then using a paper towel to sop up the remainder. Be careful, the liquid will be hot. You can also use a strainer if you prefer.
Remove the Excess Liquid from the Browned Beef
4. Add enough spaghetti sauce to coat the meat. The resulting meat sauce should be relatively thick. In other words, it is a meat sauce with tomato, not a tomato sauce with meat. You can mix it right in the saute pan if you like or you cam transfer the meat to a mixing bowl and do it there. There is no need to heat or cook this sauce any further.
Mix the Spaghetti Sauce with the Drained Beef
B. Ricotta Cheese Mixture
1. Add the ricotta cheese, the two eggs, the chopped parsley, the grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and the salt to a mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly and if it is too thick to spread or pipe out of a pastry bag, add a little heavy cream.
Parmigiano Reggiano, Eggs and Italian Parsley
Lightly Beaten Eggs
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Ricotta Cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano, Eggs, Parsley and Salt in the Mixing Bowl
2. Mix all the ingredients thoroughly and if it is too thick to spread or pipe out of a pastry bag, mix in a little heavy cream.
Riccota Cheese Mixture Ready to Go
3. Put the ricotta mix into a pastry bag with a large tip for piping. This is the easiest way to do it but you can also just spoon it on and spread it around. This can be done ahead of time and you can even put it in the pastry bag and store it in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.
Pastry Bag with Large Tip
Pastry Bag with Ricotta Cheese Mixture
1. Clean the mushrooms with a brush if you have one or wipe them with a paper towel if you don't. You can also lightly rinse them and dry them right away. Never soak mushrooms in water, you will ruin them.
White Button Mushrooms in Package
Mushroom Cleaning Brush
2. Cut off the tough stems and slice the mushrooms fairly thin.
3. Melt the butter in a fry pan over medium heat and add the mushrooms.
Butter in the Pan to Saute the Mushrooms
Add the Mushrooms to the Melted Butter
4. Stir or flip them regularly unti they are softened slightly and become tender. About 5-7 minutes.
Sauteed Mushrooms with Moisture from the Cooking Process
5. Let them cool for 5-10 minutes and then strain off any remaining liquid and reserve the mushrooms. You can use paper towels folded up and dipped in the liquid to remove it but be careful, the liquid may still be hot. You can also strain them but however you do it you want to get most of the excess moisture out of the pan because we will be adding these to the bechamel sauce and don't want to be adding any additional liquid along with them.
Remove the Excess Liquid from the Mushrooms with Paper Towels
D. Mushroom Bechamel Sauce
1. Add the butter and the flour to the sauce pan over medium heat, whisking the butter and flour together. Continue to whisk for about one minute to create a blond roux.
Butter and Flour for the White Sauce
Roux for the Bechamel Sauce
2. Whisk in the half & half until the mixture is smooth. Continue to stir with a spoon for 3-5 minutes until the mixture thickens. I use half & half here because it is a little richer and I want the sauce to be pretty thick. You can use milk if you don't have half & half.
Cooked Bechamel Sauce
3. Stir in the cooked mushrooms and remove the pan from the heat. This will set up a little bit as it sits which is just fine for what we are doing with it.
Mushroom Bechamel Sauce Ready to Go!