This is simply the best lasagna. I have perfected this recipe over the years. In America, bechamel isn't typically added, but I add it to my version to create the ultimate Italian-American icon. It of course has that delectable, spinach and ricotta layer my husband adores. I make my lasagna one day ahead, as the flavours really have time to meld. I then bake it to golden perfection on the day. If you can't find Italian-American style sausages, just substitute for your favourite pork sausage or even plain ground pork mince, and add a little fennel. If your sausages contain fennel already, just omit. I have included the recipe for homemade bechamel, but feel free to use store bought for convenience. I highly recommend making it as it only takes a few minutes and is superior. When you make this recipe you really do not want to compromise taste. I also use the best jarred pasta sauce available here. It is Mutti brand and I believe it is readily available everywhere. Use your favourite sauce, it really will be yummy.
I always use beef that is 15% fat, as the lean meat will not be able to stand against the other flavours in here.
Milk and cheeses are also full fat, not light varieties.
Ultimate Italian-American Lasagna with Spinach and Ricotta
Makes 9 generous slices in a 13x9x3" rectangular baking pan
Prep time and assembly 1 hour
Bake time 40 minutes
Resting time 20 minutes
500 g. (one box) No boil Lasagna Sheets I used about 16-17 sheets
250 g. Grated Mozzarella Cheese
100 g. Grated Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan)cheese. Do not uses that cheap imitation cheese found in most pasta isles. Use real Parmesan please :)
For the meat sauce:
500 g. Beef mince, 15% fat minimum
400 g. Pork mince or pork sausage meat, casings removed and crumbled
1 Carrot, peeled and cut into little cubes
1 Stick of celery, finely minced
1 Large onion, diced
1 Bay leaf
3 Cloves of garlic, minced
80 ml. Extra virgin olive oil
400 g. Jar of your favourite tomato pasta sauce, can be flavoured or have mushrooms, olives, etc. in it. It is completely up to you. Mine has olives. Use a good brand.
80 ml. Hot water
2 Beef stock cubes
50 ml. Red wine vinegar
150 ml. Red wine, can use white, but I prefer red
2 tbsp. Italian seasonings mix, like this
1 tbsp. Oregano dried
1 tsp. Celery salt
2 tsp. Sweet smoked paprika
1 tsp. Fennel seed, lightly crushed if your sausages do not already contain it or you are using ground pork.
Salt and black pepper to taste (remember stock cubes are salty)
Pinch of crushed red chilli flakes, optional
1 bunch flat leaf Italian parsley, separate leaves from stalks and finely chop both. Leaves will be used to finish dish and stalks go in with saute.
Dissolve the 2 stock cubes in the hot water, set aside.
In a large stockpot, add olive oil and brown meat on a high heat.
Lower heat and add celery, onions, carrot and parsley stalks. Saute a few minutes and then add the garlic, dry spices/herbs, vinegar and wine. Cook off the alcohol, about 1 minute, and then add the tomato sauce and stock.
Cook on a gentle simmer for 40 minutes, stirring often. You want the sauce to reduce a lot, as mixture should be wet but not soupy.
When done, discard bay leaf, add fresh parsley and taste. Adjust seasoning if necessary.
Meanwhile, make the ricotta and bechamel
For the ricotta layer:
500 g. Ricotta cheese, full fat, drained of excess liquid
Lemon zest from 1/2 a lemon
1/2 tsp. Salt
180 g. Fresh baby spinach, wilted
In a bowl combine all ingredients until smooth. Set aside
Place spinach in a separate bowl and microwave for 2 minutes until wilted. Do not add water. Set aside
For the Béchamel Sauce (White Sauce):
750 ml. Whole/ full fat milk, Hot
75 g. Butter, salted or unsalted If salted do not add more salt at the end
75 g. Plain flour
1/2 tsp. Ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
*go easy on the salt as the cheese is salty
In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer, hot but not boiling.
In another saucepan, on a low heat, add butter and melt gently, do not let butter brown.
Once melted, add flour and stir to make a paste, keep stirring and cook the flour mixture gently, always over a low heat, for about a minute.
together to form a smooth paste. Cook for about a minute or until flour is bubbly. The flour should remain white - do not let it brown. Remove from the heat.
Add the hot milk, a little at a time, using a whisk to incorporate the flour and milk until a smooth glossy sauce emerges. I personally like to use a stick/ immersion blender for this, but good old elbow grease will do.
Stir in nutmeg, salt and pepper. Set aside.
1. Add 1/3 of the bechamel sauce to bottom of pan. Now arrange the lasagna sheets, side by side, and slightly overlapping. Cut to fit.
2. Place half the meat mixture on top and spread evenly, being careful not to move sheets.
3. Next add another layer of lasagna sheets, but this time place them going in the opposite direction. It makes for beautiful slices and easier cutting.
4. Add all of the ricotta and 1/3 of the mozzarella and parmesan. Spread the wilted spinach all over.
5. Top with lasagna sheets again going in the opposite direction from previous layer.
6. Top this layer with rest of meat sprinkle on a bit of cheese. Top with lasagna sheets.
7. Now add the rest of the bechamel sauce, top with remaining cheese and you're done!
Cover and refrigerate until ready to bake. Can be made up to 1 day ahead up to this point.
8. Once ready to bake, Preheat oven to 180°C (356°F) fan assisted. If your oven is not fan assisted then increase temperature by 20°, place in centre of preheated oven tented with foil. I like to insert a few toothpicks so that foil doesn't touch the surface.
Bake for 30 minutes and then remove foil for the last 10 minutes to brown beautifully.