Although the original focus on my blog was French food, if I had to choose between French and Italian cuisine as the only one I could eat for the rest of my life, I’d probably choose Italian. I have the highest respect for French culinary technique and history, but the rustic simplicity of Italian food has struck a chord in me as long as I can remember. The first dish I ever learned to cook was lasagne, one of my all favourite all time meals, and one that I still make in several variations. Now, I don’t know that the world needs another lasagna recipe, but this one features my pork and red wine sauce, which I love for its depth of flavour, and is my favourite lasagna to make of late. It’s also got a thick layer of bechamel, which I think enhances it better than the ricotta cheese I’ve often use in my lasagnas. Otherwise, there’s not much to this lasagna. As with most Italian food, the simpler the better, which is why the quality of the ingredients is so important.
For that reason, I seek out free range meat, organic milk, and the best cheeses I can find. I find myself fortunate to live in a part of of Vancouver that has been historically known as Little Italy, although several other cultures have made inroads over the years to make it a lot more multicultural. The store I like to shop at most for my ingredients is Bosa Foods, a tiny shop a few blocks from my place which has another much larger retail location that I sometimes stop at on my way home from work. I can lose myself in there for hours. I shop for food the way some women shop for handbags.
Though I’ve made lasagne a thousand times, working on this recipe was a bit tough because its one of those dishes that I always wing, never measuring anything or having a standard size dish that I use–until now. I think I got it right.
9 oven ready lasagna noodles
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
1 1/2 cups tomato sauce
for the ragu:
1/2 pound ground pork
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 can tomato paste
1 cup sweet red wine (like Barefoot Sweet Red)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
handful fresh basil leaves, torn
for the bechamel:
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1) Preheat oven to 350F. Make the ragu by browning the ground pork in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until no longer pink. Add salt and pepper.
2) Add garlic and fry until garlic starts to turn golden. Transfer meat into a large pot and mix in tomato paste with a wooden spoon until well combined. Pour in red wine and stir to combine. Throw in basil leaves.
3) Lower heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes, until the alcohol is cooked off and wine is reduced. Set ragu aside.
4) Make the bechamel: slowly heat milk while melting butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Mix flour into the butter until it forms a paste and cook for a minute, stirring constantly to cook off floury taste. Slowly add hot milk in thirds, stirring slowly after each addition. Add nutmeg. When sauce thickens, add cheese and salt and pepper to taste.
5) Spread about 1/2 cup tomato sauce evenly on the bottom of a 12 x 8 1/2-inch oven proof dish. Cover with three lasagna noodles, careful not to overlap. Spoon 1/3 of ragu over lasagna noodles, followed by 1/3 of the bechamel. Pour 1/3 of tomato sauce evenly over the layer of lasagna, ragu, and bechamel.
6) Top layer of sauces with 1/3 combination of mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Repeat to make two more layers for a total of three layers.
7) Cover dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Take off foil and bake for a further 15 to 20 minutes, until top layer of lasagna is golden and bubbly.