This is Oliver.
Oliver’s our latest edition to the ATBIMS clan (it’s my blog and I’ll Nicki Minaj reference if I want to). He’s from the UK, “da Lake District, dahling,” to be specific, so he says things like “courgette” instead of zucchini and “dear me”, not ironically like we do. He likes a not-too-dry martini with exactly three olives, wouldn’t dream of driving a Prius, and has what can only be determined as a uniform of collared shirts and cashmere sweaters. We call him The Aristocrat. Oliver’s also under the impression that he’s better at doing certain things than I am, namely driving, working electronics (okay, fine, true), and cooking. Specifically, lasagna.
Because of The Aristocrat’s irrational plethora of kitchen confidence, he ran his mouth one too many times and prompted me to challenge him to a friendly competition. Well, sorta friendly. Because as we know now, friends, the JBS can be a wee bit competitive, especially when bragging rights are offered as the prize. I may not be the world’s best driver, but I sure as hell can brag like the bejesus.
The rules went a little something like this: make the best lasagna known to man, invite some neutral parties over to judge it, and everyone votes without knowing who’s is who’s. A blind taste test, fair and square. Except by neutral parties I mean my best friends, my agent, and maybe my mother. But like I said, it was as blind a taste test as possible, and no one I mean no one knew which lasagna was who’s, no matter what The Aristocrat tells you. I may be competitive, but I don’t like to win by default. I like to win, period.
Even if it’s not exactly by a landslide…. But still. I won with 7 out of the 11 votes. Why? A. Besides the fact that I’m just a better cook, The Aristocrat got a little excited and nutmeg’d the shit out of his béchamel sauce. Rookie mistake. And B. Because I may have threatened my agent with less commission/my friends with weeks of the silent treatment/my mother with exposing her stupidest phobia (can’t help it Mom, BALLOONS!) if they didn’t vote for me.
Having said all that, I will say that the praise for both lasagnas was pretty even. Some preferred my more traditional lasagna with a zesty tomato sauce and a mix of Italian cheeses while others commended the “modernity” (whatever) of The Aristocrat’s lasagna. He also made his own damn pasta because he’s a show-off, and the people/traitors that voted for him said it made all the difference. You can decide for yourself, however. Both recipes are listed below.
(And if you don’t like mine more, best keep that to yourself.)
Aristocrat Lasagna: (including editors notes from JBS)
Ingredients for sauce:
3 onions, diced
2 lbs of extra lean ground beef
1 lb ground veal
1 lb of the best pancetta money can buy (chopped in small chunks)
2 Garlic Cloves, minced
3 Carrots grated
10 Mushrooms, diced
2 28 oz. tins of whole tomatoes (*editors note: he means CANS. Christ.)
1 individual tin of tomato paste
¼ of bottle of red wine
Dollop of ketchup
Splash of mattias catsup soya (*editors note: He says this exists in regular grocery stores, like Safeway, etc. He may be pulling the cashmere over my eyes, but he says it’s his secret ingredient. Good luck.)
1 Chicken stock cube diluted in boiling water
1 table spoon of mango chutney
Splash of Lea & Perrins (*editors note: worcestershire sauce for us commoners)
Sweat the onions until they are soft, then brown the meat. In a large pan add all the ingredients together and simmer until the bolognaise rises out of the sauce. (*editors note: Apparently we’re performing an exorcism. I’d say simmer it until it reduces, maybe a couple hours.) Stirring now and again to avoid burning at the base of the pan.
Ingredients for pasta:
A lot simpler than people believe, but time consuming.
300grams of Tipo ’00’ flour. (or the finest flour you can find)
6 egg yolks.
Beat the eggs together and slowly add them to the flour. This will form a dough type texture that needs a whole lot of kneading until smooth and springy.
Press small portions of the dough flat and work each of them through a pasta roller. Starting at a high number and working it thinner, down to the number 3 thickness.
You can boil your pasta first. Which involves boiling a couple of sheets at a time for around 2 minutes. and then immersing them in cold water, followed by drying on a greaseproof baking parchment. I personally think this is a waste of time and a huge pain in the arse. The baking of the lasagna seems to cook the fresh pasta perfectly. It’s soft and fresh.
Melt around 4 tbsp of butter and add enough flour to create a thick paste, maybe a 1/4 cup. Slowly add about a litre of milk on a medium heat, stirring constantly with a metal whisk. Whenever the sauce gets very thick add more milk. The right consistency should be when you move the whisk through the sauce, it leaves a trail behind.
Add a SMALL amount of nutmeg and pepper. Not the insane amount I used which lost me the contest.
Putting it all together:
Oil the base of the lasagna dish, put down a layer of pasta, followed by a layer of the meat sauce, repeat this with a top layer of pasta and the béchamel sauce. The whole thing is finished off by grating a good quality parmesan on the top. I was taught by an Italian once that the cheese should be a hint, not an overpowering ingredient. This gives it a great fresh and pure taste.
Bake at 375 F for half an hour. Let it rest for 10 minutes before you cut into it so it doesn’t fall apart.
This lasagna is of the sloppy variety and that’s the way I like it.
JBS Lasagna (ALSO KNOWN AS THE WINNER, SUCKA!)
1 lb ground pork
1 lb ground veal
1 large onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 carrots, peeled and chopped fine
2 celery stalks, chopped fine
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling the lasagna dish
1 28 oz. can crushed San Marzano tomatoes (if you can only find regular, it’s all good)
2 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 cup dry red wine (always good quality. Pour yourself a glass, too. Chef always gets to drink.)
1 bay leaf
3 tbsp truffle oil
1 tsp herbs de provence
2 packages of fresh lasagna sheets. I like the Duso brand, but any will do. If you can’t find pre-made fresh ones, no big deal. Just use the dry stuff. Seriously, no one cares.
half a stick of butter
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 litre whole milk
1 cup grated romano cheese
1 cup of mixed Italian cheese (or provolone and mozzarella)
salt and pepper
a pinch of nutmeg
Start the sauce. Heat the olive oil in a big pan over medium-high heat. Brown the meat for a few minutes, then add the carrots, celery, onion, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. After about ten minutes, deglaze the pan with the wine. Add the stock and tomatoes and bring it all up to a boil. Stir in the truffle oil, the sugar, the herbs de provence, and throw in the bay leaf. Turn it down to a simmer and let it hang out for about an hour and a half, until a lot of the liquid has been reduced.
Boil some water for the pasta and salt the hell out of it. (Mario Batali says pasta water should be like sea water, and Mario Batali is God.) Cook according to package directions, and drain in a colander. DO NOT rinse the pasta! The starch that’s on it is what we need so the sauce can cling to it. Trust.
Start the béchamel sauce. Melt the butter in a sauce pan over medium heat until it sorta browns. Add the flour and whisk it for a couple of minutes, then start adding the milk a little at a time. Whisk it like crazy so there’s no lumps, season with salt and pepper and a little nutmeg, and let it thicken over medium heat till it coats the back of a spoon. Taste it to make sure the seasoning’s to your liking. What you say goes!
To assemble this bad boy, lightly oil a lasagna pan (a 9 by 11 oven safe baking dish). Pour a little meat sauce in the bottom. Add a layer of pasta, then more meat sauce, then a ladle of béchamel, then a handful of the Italian cheeses. Layer again with the pasta, meat sauce, béchamel, cheese, and so on until you’ve used it all up. Dot the remainder of the béchamel on the top, then cover with the romano cheese and any extra you’ve got of the Italian cheese.
Bake at 375 for half an hour and let it rest for ten minutes before you cut into it. Impress your friends. School your own Aristocrat. Show them who’s boss.
Think you got what it takes? Send me your lasagna recipe. Maybe I’ll make it and write about it. Or maybe I’ll school you, too.