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Lasagna Bolonase with Ragu Sauce

The meat used for this sauce varies from family to family.  Use what you like, but do try to use equal portions of three different types of meat. Pork, Beef, Veal, Turkey, Venison, Chicken, Duck.  Doesn't matter.  I have historically made with with Duck, Pork and Veal, but since moving back to Italianland, I've found it necessary to switch to the more traditional beef, pork and turkey, and increasing the amount of tomato in the sauce so that it is recognizable to my family.

The groups of ingredients in this recipe are to be added slowly, with cooking time in between, to allow each ingredient to develop its own flavor.  Adding them all at once will just give you stew, not Ragu.

This recipe takes a good two hours to make properly, but you can make it a couple of days in in advance, or freeze it for up to three months.  Once you have the sauce made, the Lasagna is simple to put together.  You can even make the Bechemel Sauce a couple of days in advance and throw all of the cold ingredients together, then either bake or freeze.  The Lasagna itself needs to be room temperature and then takes a good two hours of cook and rest time, so plan accordingly, depending on the size of your pan.  For my Christmas Dinner, my pan is about 12x18x3 inches, so it will take all of that time to bake and set.


1 stick unsalted butter
¼ lb smoky bacon, diced
2 medium sweet onions
1 lb ground duck breast, or duck sausage, casings removed
1 lb ground veal, or mild veal sausage, casings removed
1 lb ground pork
1 oz dried porcini mushrooms
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon fresh oregano
1 teaspoon fresh marjoram
½ teaspoon fresh rosemary
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 can tomato paste
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes (I use Cento)
1 cup brown meat stock (preferably home made)
1 cup red wine
Scant ¼ cup cream
1 lb cooked pasta, preferably penne or fusilli or,
2-4 boxes no-cook pasta sheets (for the Lasagna)
1/2-1 recipe Bechemel Sauce (see below)

  • Chop the mushrooms, and soak them in 1-cup warm water until very soft.  Drain the mushrooms and add the liquid to the brown stock.
  • Mix the tomato paste with the red wine.
  • In a large Dutch oven, melt about half the butter; sauté the bacon bits until completely rendered.
  • Add the ground meat and brown evenly, until carmelization starts. This should take about 20 minutes. If you don’t have a big sauté pan, work in batches, adding a little more butter, so that the meat actually browns and doesn’t steam.  Remove the meat from the pan into a bowl and set aside.
  • Add what's left of the butter to the pan and when it is melted, add the garlic, and sauté for one minute (make sure your onions are ready to go in, or you may burn the garlic)  Add the onions and stir, making sure to get the garlic off the bottom of the pan.  Saute until they begin to carmelize.  Then add the chopped herbs and sauté another one or two minutes.
  • Add the cooked meat and the mushrooms back to the pan and combine. 
  • Sprinkle the mixture with the salt, pepper, before proceeding to the next step.
  • If you want a little more traditional sauce, add the 28 oz can of good quality crushed tomatoes at this stage, and allow it to reduce somewhat.
  • Alternate adding ½ of each of the liquids to the pan, (mushroom/stock, wine/paste) simmering between additions until the liquid is reduced and starting to thicken.  This process should take about 45 minutes. 
  • Add the cream to the sauce, and heat through.  Taste and adjust for seasoning.  Keep warm while pasta cooks.  Take care not to reduce too much after the cream is added.
  • Bring 6 quarts water to a boil.  Add 1-teaspoon salt.  Add 1 lb pasta and bring to a boil.  Cook for 7-8 minutes from the boil, until pasta is al dente.  Drain.  Do not rinse.  (Never rinse pasta.  The sauce sticks better to the starch.)
  • Ladle generous portions of the sauce over the pasta.  Add cheese if desired, but I would caution against it.  I love Pecorino or Reggiano on almost everything, but I prefer this sauce without it.
  • For the Lasagna, ladel a little sauce in the bottom of your pan, just enough to cover the bottom, then layer the pasta sheets, breaking and fitting them as necessary. 
  • Add another layer of sauce and then a layer of the Bechemel Sauce, and repeat until the pan is full.  Press down on the layers to fit lots of them in the pan (my pan is a good 3 inches deep), and I like to squeese in at least six layers, so use your sauces judiciously).
  • Sprinkle with a little fontina cheese or some additional parmasean on the top if you wish.
  • If you are making the Lasagna in advance, let it come to room temperature before baking.
  • Bake in a 350 degree over, lightly covered with foil, until the entire pan is bubbling all the way through the center, about 60 minutes, but check it at about 45 minutes.
  • Remove the foil and continue baking for another 15-20 minutes until the top starts to crust over.
  • Remove the Lasagna from the oven and allow it to rest for about 15 minutes before you attempt to cut it.

Bechemel Sauce

This is a Tuscan style Lasagna, which eliminates the ricotta and the mozzarella of the Southern Italian style of cooking.  Neither cheese is my favorite, and I prefer my Lasagna with lots more layers of pasta, than thick layers and lumps of cheese.  If you have ever had Pastistio, a Greek style Lasagna, this is rather more like that in style and uses a similar Bechemel, Meat Sauce and Pasta Layer together.  There is a ratio of ingredients here which can be reduced or increased accordingly, but this is the classic "white" or "mother" sauce found everywhere.  Depending on how much Lasagna you are making, you may have some sauce left over.  Pour it over pasta shapes and bake it for a light mac & cheese, or over blanched broccoli or other vegetable and bake it for au gratin.  A little buttered bread crumb on top wouldn't hurt either.

4 TBS Butter
4 TBS Flour
4 cups whole milk
Pinch ground nutmeg
Salt & Pepper
2-4 cups grated parmesan cheese

  • In a large sauce pan, melt the butter.
  • When it is melted and begins to foam, add the flour and whisk into a paste.
  • Allow the paste (or roue) to cook for about 2 minutes, whisking the entire time.  You want to cook the flour, but not brown it.
  • Add the milk and bring to a slow boil, until the sauce thickens into something a little less than pudding.
  • Add 2 cups of the grated cheese and stir until the cheese is melted. 
  • Add the nutmeg.
  • Taste it.   This is the only cheese in your Lasagna, unless you choose to add in some shredded fontina between the layer, which is another choice.  If it is cheesy enough, add salt and pepper to taste.  If it is not, add some additional cheese until you get the taste you want, and then add more salt & pepper.  Remember, cheese has a lot of salt in it, so salt last, not first.
  • Allow the sauce to cool completely before using.  I typically make mine a day or two in advance of using it, and store it in the refridgerator (but don't freeze it).

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