Saturday, March 11, 2017

Lasagna Bolognese

     I have worked with great Italian chefs that knew traditional recipes by heart.  These chefs never altered a recipe, not even for personal taste.  This is because integrity is what pleases customer expectations.  For example, if a traditional recipe calls for nutmeg, you add nutmeg, even if you do not think nutmeg is a good choice.  If a recipe calls for liver, you add liver, even if you detest liver.  If you like cheese, keep in mind that not every recipe requires cheese.  Basically, deleting or adding ingredients out of personal taste will result in misrepresentation.     
     Lasagna is a square or rectangle shaped sheet pasta that dates back to the days of ancient Rome and Greece.  Lasagna Pasta can be made delicately thin or thick enough to have some bite.  Boiled Lasagna Pasta is usually layered with just about any combination of sauce, vegetable, meat or cheese.  Lasagna must conform to the size of the container that it is baked in, so the sheet pasta is trimmed to size.   
     There are many recipes for Bolognese Sauce.  Bolognese Sauce has old roots that originate long before the Colombian Exchange.  Ragù Bolognese actually is a more accurate name for Bolognese Sauce, because the recipe is prepared like a savory stew.  Bolognese Sauce was originally made with pork, but as time progressed, veal became the top choice.  Even so, Pancetta and pork fat was used to slow cook and flavor the veal meat.  The stew was flavored with petite soffritto vegetables, garlic, mushrooms and broth.  Offal, like liver, was often added to the stew because it added a rich flavor.  Savory herbs and nutmeg added flavors that are traditional in the Bologna region.  Whole milk with cream was added to make the veal more tender and the milk helped to marry the flavors.  
     After the Colombian Exchange, tomato was added to the Ragù Bolognese recipe and the proportion of the rest of the ingredients changed.  Milk with cream was no longer needed for tenderizing, because the acidic tomatoes performed that task.  The result was a darker Bolognese Sauce that had more bite from the tomato.  
     Ragù Bolognese is more meaty than saucy and this is important to keep in mind.  Wide ribbon shaped pasta is the traditional choice for Ragù Bolognese.  The rich high fat content of a slow cooked Ragù Bolognese allows this sauce to sparingly coat the pasta.  A little bit of sauce is all that is needed, because the flavors are so rich.  
     Many modern Bolognese Sauce recipes delete so many ingredients that it is difficult to give the sauce the Bolognese designation at all.  In fact, many people confuse Sugo di Carne with Ragù Bolognese.  In essence, when a Bolognese Sauce is made with only ground beef, soffritto and tomato, it really is just an Italian Meat Sauce (Sugo di Carne).  A Bolognese Sauce recipe does not only have to reflect upon its simple rustic roots either.  A Bolognese Sauce can be very refined looking, just like it was meant to be served in an Italian fine dining restaurant. 
     Lasagna Bolognese is boiled sheet pasta layered with only Ragù Bolognese.  The Lasagna should be 5 to 7 layers tall.  A single portion should be a square or rectangle shape that weighs 8 to 12 ounces.  Besciamella Sauce usually tops off a Lasagna Bolognese before baking and the milk sauce prevents the top layer of pasta from drying out.  The neutral flavor of Besciamella does not compete with the rich flavor of the Ragù Bolognese.  

     Portion Planning:  
     These are a few things to keep in mind when deciding how many portions to make.  
     • The thickness of the Lasagna Bolognese is a portioning factor.  It is best to only make a Lasagna Bolognese that is between 3" to 3 1/2" tall.  This way a cut single portion will not be disproportionately tall.     
     • One single portion of Lasagna Bolognese weighs 8 to 10 ounces.  Cutting rectangle shapes that measure 4" x 5" will yield 8 to 10 ounce portions.  Cutting square shapes that measure 4 1/2" x 4 1/2" will yield 8 to 10 ounce portions.
     • Lasagna is usually layered in a deep casserole dish.  The size of the casserole dish determines how many portions there will be.
     - A 7" round casserole dish (like the one in the photos above) is large enough for 1 portion of Lasagna Bolognese.  
     - An 8"x 10" casserole dish is enough for 4 portions.
     - A 16" x 20" is enough for 8 portions.      

     Ragù Bolognese (For Lasagna):
     This recipe yields about 1 2/3 cups.  (Enough for 1 large individual portion of lasagna.)  
     This sauce does take a while to cook.  All of the ingredients should be finely minced.  
     Step 1:  Heat a sauté pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of unsalted butter.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil.
     Add 2 cloves of finely chopped garlic.
     Add 2 tablespoons of minced celery.
     Add 2 tablespoons of minced carrot.
     Add 2 tablespoons of minced onion.
     Sauté till the soffritto vegetables start to become tender.
     Step 2:  Add one whole chicken liver.
     Add 3 tablespoons of finely chopped pancetta.
     Add 3 tablespoons of finely chopped portobello mushroom.
     Sauté till the vegetables are cooked soft and the pancetta starts to lightly brown.  (The chicken liver should be about 3/4 cooked by this time.)
     Step 3:  Remove the partially cooked chicken liver from the pan an place it on a cutting board.
     Finely chop the chicken liver and return it to the pan.
     Step 4:  Add 2 ounces of ground pork.
     Add 2 ounces of ground beef.
     Add 3 ounces of ground veal.
     Sauté till the minced meats are fully cooked and only very lightly browned.
     Step 5:  Add 1 1/4 cups of imported Italian canned crushed San Marzano Tomatoes.
     Sauté and occasionally stir, till the tomatoes become aromatic.
     Step 6:  Add 1/3 cup of dry red wine.
     Add 3/4 cup of veal broth or light beef broth.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of chopped Italian Parsley.
     Add 2 pinches of ground sage.
     Add 1 pinch of basil.
     Add 1 pinch of oregano.
     Add 1 pinch of marjoram.
     Add 2 pinches of ground nutmeg.
     Add sea salt and black pepper to taste.
     Stir the ingredients together.
     Bring the liquid to a gentle boil. 
     Step 7:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Add 1/4 cup of cream.
     Add 3 tablespoons of freshly grated Parmigiana Cheese.
     Stir the sauce till the cheese combines.
     Gently simmer and reduce till the ragù becomes a thick consistency with no excess liquid.
     *The thick ragù should be able to be gathered on one side of the pan, just like in the photo above. 
     Step 8:  Place the Ragù Bolognese in a container.
     Chill in a refrigerator till it is needed.

     Besciamella Sauce: 
     This recipe yields about 1 cup.    
     Step 1:  Heat a sauce pot over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter.
     Add an equal amount of flour while constantly stirring with a whisk to make a roux.  (The roux should look shiny, not caky.)
     Constantly stir till the roux is pale whitish yellow color.
     Step 2:  Add 1/4 cup of cream while stirring.
     Add 1 1/4 cups of milk while stirring.
     Stir till the sauce comes to a gentle boil and thickens to a very thin consistency.
     Step 3:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Add 1 pinch of sea salt and white pepper.
     Add 1 small pinch of nutmeg.
     Gently simmer and reduce till the sauce is a medium consistency that can easily coat a spoon.
     Step 4:  Remove the pot from the heat.
     Set the Besciamella Sauce aside and let it cool to room temperature.
     Place the sauce in a container.
     Chill in a refrigerator till it is needed.

     Pasta Dough ~ Fresh Pasta Sheets:
     Follow the link to the recipe in this website.
     • Fresh Pasta Dough ~ Fresh Pasta Sheets      

     Cutting Pasta Sheets For Lasagna:   
     • Tools that will be needed:
     - Plastic Carpenter's Square
     - Plastic Straight Edge Ruler
     - Steel Pizza Wheel Cutter  (Straight blade or fancy serrated blade.)
     - Parchment Paper (for stacking pasta sheets)       
     • Most pasta rolling machines make 6" wide sheets or 8" wide pasta sheets.  The length of the pasta sheet is cut to whatever size is needed to fit the casserole dish.  Measuring and using a carpenter square ensures professional looking cut pieces of sheet pasta that will fit inside the casserole dish.
     • Minimize the pasta sheet overlap.  For example, if a casserole dish is 10" wide and a sheet of pasta is 6" wide, then cut a 4" wide sheet of pasta, so there is no overlap.
     • Plan the amount of layers.  If 5 layers of Bolognese Sauce are planned for the Lasagna, then 6 layers of sheet pasta will be needed.  Cut all the sheets to size at one time, so all of the pasta sheet pieces can be boiled at one time or in batches.
     • If making individual portion size casserole dishes of Lasagna Bolognese is preferred (like the one in the photos) then cut 6 small pasta sheets per portion.  Each small pasta sheet should measure 4" x 5".
     • When stacking uncooked pasta sheets, lightly dust the sheets with flour then place parchment paper between each layer, so the pasta sheets do not stick together!       

     Cooking The Pasta Sheets:
     Step 1:  Bring a large pot of water to a gentle boil over medium high heat.  (Add some sea salt, so the rolling boil is continuous.)
     Step 2:  Place the pasta sheets in the water, one at a time, till they are all in the hot water.  (Or cook them in small batches.)  
     Boil till the pasta sheets begin to float.  
     Continue boiling till the pasta just starts to become tender.
     Step 3:  Drain the hot water out of the pot and cool the pasta sheets under cold running water.
     Place the cooled pasta sheets on dry lint free pastry towels to dry off any excess water.
     Lasagna Bolognese:
     This recipe describes assembling 1 individual size Lasagna Bolognese portion.
     Step 1:  Brush the bottom surface of 7" round individual size casserole dish with olive oil.
     Step 2:  Place 1 individual portion size (4"x 5") prepared pasta sheet in the dish.
     Spread a thin layer of the Ragù Bolognese on the pasta sheet.  (About 4 to 5 tablespoons.)
     Sprinkle 2 pinches of fine ground Parmigiana Cheese on the sauce.
     Step 3:  Repeat Step 2, till 5 layers of sheet pasta and Bolognese Sauce are stacked in the casserole dish.
     Step 4:  Place 1 prepared sheet pasta piece on top of the stacked pasta and sauce.
     *Leave this sheet bare on top.
     Step 5:  Spoon a generous amount of Besciamella Sauce on top of the Lasagna Bolognese.  (About 1/2 cup.)
     Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of grated mozzarella over the sauce.
     Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of finely grated Parmigiana Cheese over the sauce.
     Step 6:  Place the casserole dish on a sheet pan.
     Place the pan in a 325ºF oven.
     Bake till the lasagna is hot and the sauces start bubbling.  Try not to brown the Besciamella and cheese topping!
     Step 7:  Allow the Lasagna Bolognese to cool to a safe serving temperature.
     Place the hot casserole dish on a doily lined serving platter.
     Garnish with an Italian Parsley sprig.      

     The aroma of Lasagna Bolognese is irresistible!

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