My mom’s favorite thing to say about me used to be, “The only thing Jewel makes is reservations.”
So I taught myself how to cook. Or at least read and follow directions, which is what I usually do when it comes to cooking: follow recipes. But sometimes I just can’t find a recipe that fits the bill, and I make something up on the fly. And– here’s the shocker, Mom– sometimes it works out to be pretty fabulous.
Like this lasagna. It isn’t exactly low-cal, but sometimes you want something indulgent. Am I right? Using the bechamel took this lasagna to new heights, giving it a creamier, richer texture. Also: a note on the truffle oil. I know it’s expensive, but it lasts, and it goes with so many things. Toss it on your scrambled eggs with a little goat cheese and chives, stir it into your mashed potatoes, mix it into your meatloaf, or dress your salads with it. It’s worth having in your pantry, trust me.
1 lb extra lean ground beef
1 lb ground pork
1 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes
2 tbsp good quality balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 medium sized onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 cup white wine (stuff you’d drink.. no cheapy cooking wine here)
1 cup beef or chicken stock (or veal stock, which is not as easy to find but makes a difference)
1 hefty tablespoon of truffle oil
1 box of lasagna noodles, any brand is fine
4 tbsp unsalted butter
4 tbsp flour
4 cups whole milk
a pinch of nutmeg
2 cups parmesan cheese
2 cups mozzarella or Italian cheese blend
salt and pepper
WHAT TO DO:
1. First step is making your meat sauce. Heat the olive oil over medium high heat in a big pot or deep skillet. Brown the pork and beef for a few minutes, breaking it up as you go along. Next add your onions, garlic, celery, and carrots and season the whole thing with salt and pepper. After about ten minutes, deglaze with the wine, scraping up all the delicious bits at the bottom of the pot. Add the stock and the can of tomatoes and let it come up to a good simmer. Then add the balsamic vinegar, the sugar, and the truffle oil. Put a lid on it and bring the heat down to a gentle simmer. Let that go for an hour or so.
2. Preheat the oven to 400F. Boil your noodles in some salted water (like Batali says, it should be salty like seawater, so it flavors the pasta itself). Don’t let them go too long so they’re limp– they should definitely have a bite to them, so drain them after about five minutes. Don’t rinse them under water! You want them to stay starchy to absorb all that sauce later.
3. Make the bechamel sauce. Heat the butter in a sauce pot over medium-high heat. Add the flour and whisk away, cooking for a few minutes to get that floury taste out. Slowly whisk in the milk and bring it up to a bubble to thicken it. Season with salt and pepper and a little nutmeg.
4. Assembly time! Take a 9 by 13 casserole dish and dot the bottom with olive oil. Take a ladle full of the meat sauce and spread evenly. Place some lasagna noodles on top of that, then add another ladle of meat sauce, then a handful of parmesan and Italian cheese, then a ladle of bechamel. Add another layer of noodles, more meat sauce, more cheese, and bechamel. Repeat with the remaining ingredients, ending with a layer of cheese to sprinkle on top. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes, uncovered, until bubbly and browned. Let it rest for at least ten minutes before you cut into it so it doesn’t fall apart. Serve it with garlic bread (of course) so you can soak up that sauce.
SERVES 8 (or 4 with leftovers, which somehow always taste better the next day)
Wine pairing, you ask? Why, of course! My favorite with this is a zinfandel, something a little spicy and fuller bodied. I’m digging Norman Vineyards “Monster” Zinfandel. And it ain’t called monster for nothing… Buy it here: www.normanvineyards.com