Tag Archives: bolognese

Lasagna a la Betsy

Lasagna a la Betsy​

Listen, I know that the internet is full of lasagna recipes. There’s everything from the jarred sauce and pre-shredded cheese kind to some that take three days and are lovingly layered with from-scratch bolognese, béchamel, and pasta made by hand. If you’re looking for a lasagna to suit your tastes, there’s a decent chance it’s out there…unless, of course, you were hoping to find mine.

I have been making lasagnas for people for years. Truthfully, if you ask nicely and pay for my ingredients, transportation, labor and time, I’ll come right to your house, tie on an apron, and fill your freezer with tightly-wrapped aluminum pans of layered bolognese, cheese, and pasta with an index card with baking instructions scotch taped on top. If, however, I’m out of your budget and you don’t want to have to interpret my handwriting, it’s your lucky day—Lasagna a la Betsy is finally on the blog.

Lasagna a la Betsy​

Now, what makes it “a la Betsy”? Well, half of everyone I know started calling me Betsy seven years ago, and while I introduce myself as “Liz” everywhere but Starbucks, I like that nickname whenever it suits me, which includes but isn’t limited to when I make lasagna. Also, this recipe is authentic to nothing—I am not trying to make this as lovingly as anyone’s Italian grandmother, I’m just trying to get dinner on the table today (and maybe sometime in a few weeks). But mostly, it’s a la Betsy because it’s what I like in my lasagna, and it’s made the way I like to make it. Period, end of story.

The “bones” of Lasagna a la Betsy are similar to many classic recipes. It starts with making my tried and true bolognese sauce from scratch. I usually do this a day ahead to split up the work, but it can be made the same day the lasagnas are assembled. It takes about three hours of browning and simmering beef, sausage, mushrooms and aromatics, but the results are meaty and rich and worth it all, I promise. Frankly, the sauce is the most time consuming part of this whole process; the rest is just layering. And oh, they are good layers.

You know the stuff: shredded mozzarella, spoonfuls of parmesan-spiked ricotta, the bolognese, some no-boil noodles… Yeah, I use the no-boil noodles—they’re one of the only convenience ingredients that I will swear by. I’ve used the boil-yourself kind and they are delicious, but they can be finicky and take a while. I like saving myself a little stress. I mean, I already made the sauce from scratch. That said, use whichever noodles work for you.

Lasagna a la Betsy​

My personal favorite part of my lasagna recipe? It makes two! Unless you have a huge family or are having a party, you probably don’t need a 9×13” pan of lasagna, but two 8” square pans? One for now and one for the freezer? Yeah, that’ll work. Future you is going to be so happy you planned ahead. Current me is already pretty jazzed about it.

To that end, I’ve included instructions for baking lasagnas right away, as well and freezing and baking from frozen. Whichever path you choose, you’re in for a treat. Hot homemade lasagna (a la Betsy or otherwise) is always a treat.

Lasagna a la Betsy
makes two 8-inch square lasagnas (each 4-6 servings)

1 recipe Bolognese Sauce (about 9-10 cups)
16 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese
1 large egg
2 tablespoons olive oil + more for drizzling
pinch of ground nutmeg
a few grinds freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1 1/4 cups grated parmesan cheese, divided
1 1/2 pounds (24 ounces) shredded mozzarella (fresh, low-moisture whole milk, or a mix)
12 no-boil lasagna noodles
chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)

Make the bolognese sauce. Remove from heat and let cool for at least an hour before assembling lasagnas. Alternatively, make the sauce the day before and let it chill in the refrigerator overnight. It can be used cold.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Grease 2 8-inch square baking dishes. If using aluminum pans or freezing the lasagnas, line them with parchment.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together ricotta, egg, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, nutmeg, pepper, and salt. Stir in 1 cup grated parmesan. Set aside.

Assemble lasagnas. Spread 1/2 cup bolognese sauce in the bottom of one of the prepared pans. Top with 2 no-boil lasagna noodles (do not overlap them). Spread 1 cup of sauce over the top, then sprinkle on 1 cup of shredded mozzarella, and drop 1/4 of the ricotta mixture (about a heaping 1/3 cup) in spoonfuls over the top. Top with 2 more lasagna noodles, then another layer with 1 cup bolognese, 1 cup shredded mozzarella, and 1/4 of the ricotta mixture. Top with 2 more noodles, then 1 cup sauce. Sprinkle 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella over the top, followed by 2 tablespoons grated parmesan. Drizzle with a little olive oil.

Repeat layering process with remaining ingredients and prepare pan. Freeze any leftover bolognese (I usually have 1 1/2 cups leftover).

To bake lasagna immediately: cover with foil, making sure to tent it at the top so it doesn’t touch the cheese or sauce. Place the pan(s) on a sheet pan (to catch any mess). Bake 40 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 10-15 minutes, until browning in places and getting a little crispy at the edges. Let cool 15-30 minutes before slicing and serving. Garnish with parsley, if desired.

To freeze unbaked lasagna: cut a 7-inch square of parchment and lay it on the top of the lasagna. Triple-wrap the pan with plastic wrap. Wrap with foil. Freeze for up to one month.

To bake a lasagna from frozen: Preheat the oven to 350F. Remove frozen lasagna from the freezer. Remove and discard foil, plastic wrap, and parchment. Cover the pan with fresh foil, making sure to tent it at the top so it doesn’t touch the cheese or sauce. Place the pan(s) on a sheet pan (to catch any mess). Bake 75 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 10-15 minutes, until browning in places and getting a little crispy at the edges. Let cool 15-30 minutes before slicing and serving. Garnish with parsley, if desired.

Leftover lasagna will keep covered in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Pasta Bolognese

Pasta BologneseFive afternoons a week, I walk to an apartment building on the western edge of Brooklyn Heights and make dinner for a family of four. When I took this job last April, I didn’t know what to expect. The family has fourteen year-old twin boys and while they have pretty adventurous palates, they are still children. I knew I wasn’t going to be making anything terribly avant garde for them, but I certainly didn’t want to cook boring food–anything but that.

Luckily the boys let me kind of do my thing, occasionally asking for something specific, but otherwise just letting me make what I want. In the last ten months, they’ve become particularly fond of my spicy turkey tacos, chicken nuggets, and the Asian-style chicken wings from Foodie with Family (make those for the Super Bowl!). Their favorite dinner though, is my Pasta Bolognese. The twins ask for it nearly every week. If I have the time and/or am feeling particularly kind that day, I oblige.

Pasta BologneseYou see, Pasta Bolognese is no small undertaking. It takes a minimum of three hours start-to-finish, and there are many steps. But the resulting sauce is so delicious–meaty, rich, and comforting–that it’s worth the effort. If it weren’t, I’d skip the whole process and just brown some meat and toss it with a jar of marinara.

Y’all, if you’ve never made Bolognese from scratch, you might be missing out. Sure, there are a lot of steps to the recipe, but all of them are really easy. And seriously, homemade sauce beats the pants off anything you can buy in a store.

Pasta BologneseMy Bolognese is not quite traditional, but it’s damn good. The sauce starts with browning a pound each of ground beef and sweet Italian sausage. You don’t just want it cooked through. This is the base flavor for the sauce–get the meat brown.

Next up, more browning. Like my Lamb Ragù, browning everything is really important here. Take ten ounces of mushrooms and pulverize them in the food processor before browning them. Mushrooms are not traditional in Bolognese, but I love using them here for two reasons:

  1. Their meaty umami flavor means that we can use them in place of some of the traditional ground beef. Even if you have an anti-mushroom contingent in your family, they’ll still like this sauce. The twins would flip their lids if they knew my “secret” ingredient, but they are blissfully unaware and have been eating their least favorite vegetable for nearly a year. This brings me to my next point…
  2. The mushrooms add a little nutrition to a very rich dish. Where many Bolognese recipes are almost too heavy to enjoy, this one is a bit lighter than normal. Rest assured, all the flavor is there. I’ve just given you a reason to have seconds. You’re welcome.

Watch the mushrooms carefully during the browning process. They are in teeny tiny pieces and burn without warning. I’ve burned them twice in the last six months, and there is very little worse than having to stop mid-recipe to clean the pot and go buy more ingredients. Trust me.

Pasta BologneseOnce your mushrooms are done, brown a mixture of carrots, celery, onion, and garlic. Add the mushrooms and sausage back to the pot before stirring in a veritable ton of tomato paste. Let that start to caramelize before adding bay leaves, thyme, red pepper flakes, balsamic vinegar, beef stock, and water. Bring it all to a boil before simmering for about two hours.

At this point, you can rest a bit. The major work is done, and all that’s left to do is stir the sauce occasionally and add some water. Do the dishes, watch some bad TV, drink some coffee–do whatever you want, as long as you can go check on the sauce every now and again. Once the Bolognese is thick and beautiful, toss half of it with a pound of cooked spaghetti and top it with some Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil.

Pasta BologneseOh, y’all. Look at that. It’s the stuff my dreams are made of. This Pasta Bolognese is seriously delicious, and just as good for any day as it is for a dinner party. This rich, meaty meal is a great recipe to make on the weekend–nobody will have an issue eating the leftover sauce! In fact, the flavor just gets better as it sits. Love that.Pasta Bolognese

Pasta Bolognese
makes 8 servings

2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound ground beef
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings
10 ounces white button mushrooms
4 medium carrots, cleaned
4 stalks celery
1 large white onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 12-ounce can tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
pinch of crushed red pepper flake (optional)
4 cups low sodium beef stock
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
6 cups water, divided

For Assembly:
water, for pasta
salt, for pasta
1 pound dried spaghetti
Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, warm 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add ground beef and sausage and break it up with a wooden spoon. Brown meat, continuing to break it up as necessary, for 15-20 minutes, until deeply browned. Transfer meat to a large bowl, reserving fat in the pot. Reduce heat to medium.

Wipe mushrooms clean with a damp paper towel. Place them in a food processor and pulse 15 times, or until pulverized. If there are less than 2 tablespoons of fat in the pot, add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add mushrooms to pot and cook, stirring frequently, until brown (about 15 minutes). Remove mushrooms to the bowl with the meat.

Add carrots, celery, onion, and garlic to the bowl of the food processor and process until pulverized (but not soupy). Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pot and bring the heat back up to medium-high. Add vegetables and cook, stirring frequently, until browned (about 20 minutes). 

Add meat and mushrooms back to the pot. Stir in tomato paste. Cook mixture, stirring frequently, until the tomato paste starts to darken. Add bay leaves, thyme, optional red pepper flake. Pour in beef stock, balsamic vinegar, and 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil before reducing heat to medium-low. Allow sauce to simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. When liquid reduces by half, add 4 cups water and continue to simmer until time is up. Remove sauce from heat. Remove bay leaves and dispose of them. Taste the sauce and adjust the salt to your liking.

Prepare pasta according to package directions. Before draining it, reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Return drained pasta back to its cooking pot. Add about half the Bolognese, tossing everything together with tongs. Add pasta cooking water in small increments until the sauce coats the pasta to your liking.

Serve Pasta Bolognese in shallow bowls. Top with grated Parmagiano Reggiano and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Sauce will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days. It may also be frozen for up to two months.

Pasta Bolognese