Monday, January 31, 2011

Cookin' it in the Kitchen with B

After Kerry's post last month about our little Christmas feast with her family, there were a couple of requests for the lasagna recipe with bechamel sauce. We figured... our readers want it, our readers are gettin' it!

The whole idea to this dinner party, was to keep it informal so that people could serve themselves. I came up with the idea of lasagna and I didnt want to just use a canned sauce and generic recipe (that would have been too easy since I was also in the middle of laying the tile and grouting the front entrance). I found my favuorite italian chef's recipe on and decided to run with it. 

First I started off with her recipe for a basic marinara sauce....

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 small onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 (32-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
2 dried bay leaves

In a large pot, heat the oil medium-high until it just starts to smoke. Add the onions and garlic and saute until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, and 1/2 teaspoon of each salt and pepper. Saute until all the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and bay leaves, and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1 hour. In the mean time you should be able to grout and rinse 75 sqare feet of tile...Remove and discard the bay leaf. Season the sauce with more salt and pepper, to taste.

Once the sauce was made and the front entrance tile was drying I started putting together the rest of the lasagna. I began with the bechamel sauce;

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 2 tablespoons for the lasagna
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk at room temperature
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 cups of the marinara sauce
Season with Salt and pepper

In a 2-quart pot, melt 5 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. When butter has completely melted, add the flour and whisk until smooth, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly to prevent any lumps from forming. Continue to simmer and whisk over medium heat until the sauce is thick, smooth and creamy, about 10 minutes. The sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of wooden spoon. Remove from heat and add the nutmeg and tomato sauce. Stir until well combined and check for seasoning. Set aside and allow to cool completely.

While the sauce was cooling, I moved onto the tasty cheesy, meaty pasta dish itself.1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound ground chuck beef
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 pounds ricotta cheese
3 large eggs
1 pound lasagna sheets, cooked al dente
2 packages (10 ounces each) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
3 cups shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
 In a saute pan, heat extra-virgin olive oil. When almost smoking, add the ground beef and season with salt and pepper. Brown meat, breaking any large lumps, until it is no longer pink. Remove from heat and drain any excess fat. Set aside and allow to cool completely.

In a medium sized bowl, thoroughly mix the ricotta and eggs. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Into the bottom of a 13 by 9-inch baking dish, spread 1/3 of the bechamel sauce. Arrange the pasta sheets side by side, covering the bottom of the baking dish. Evenly spread a layer of all the ricotta mixture and then a layer of all the spinach. Arrange another layer of pasta sheets and spread all the ground beef on top. Sprinkle 1/2 the mozzarella cheese on top of the beef. Spread another 1/3 of the bechamel sauce. Arrange the final layer of pasta sheets and top with remaining bechamel, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Cut the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter into 1/4-inch cubes and top lasagna.

Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place lasagna dish on top, cover and put on the middle rack of the oven and bake until top is bubbling, about 30 minutes. Remove cover and continue to bake for about 15 minutes.

I made two trays with this recipe and put one in the freezer for a later date. The one lasagna served 8 adults along with the two rotisserie chickens we also made.

It was most definitely a hit among our guests, and a recipe we would no doubt use again. What's your favourite go-to recipe when hosting an informal dinner party with family and friends? We're always open to trying new ones!



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