Concetta's Christmas Lasagna
This year, Vincenzo and I decided to make lasagna for Christmas, just as his mother, Concetta made the first year we celebrated the Christmas holiday together in Abruzzo. It's a memory I cherish and is described in Chapter 13 of the book.
The recipe for Concetta's Christmas Lasagna is not in the book, so I thought I'd write it out for you here to read and try. It seems a bit long an complicated, but it's so worth the time and effort. And, how fun to make this with your family to celebrate a special tradition as we did in Italy.
I hope that you all have a very Merry Christmas and wish you the very best... with all of my heart for a happy 2019. Buon Natale!
For the layers, you will need:
Ragu sauce – see below
Fresh or dried pasta (12-16 sheets).
*Recommend Trader Joe’s no boil lasagna noodles if you are not able to make fresh pasta.
6-8 ounces of chopped ham (optional)
16-24 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
½ pound grated parmesan cheese (reserve ½ cup to sprinkle over top just prior to serving)
9x13 inch baking pan with deep sides (we like to use disposable aluminum pans for no fuss clean up)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 stalks of celery (chopped fine)
1-2 carrots (chopped fine)
1 small onion (chopped fine)
1 clove garlic (minced)
1 pound ground veal
1 pound ground beef
4 oz. pancetta (similar to bacon, cube into small pieces)
1 cup of red wine
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 (28 oz.) can San Marzano tomatoes (crushed with your hands). You can also use 2 cans of San Marzano tomatoes and one container or can of tomato sauce as well.
1 cup water (rinse out the tomato cans with water and add to the sauce pot to get all of the great sauce!)
1 bouillon cube (vegetable)
4 bay leaves
2-3 rinds of parmesan cheese (these are the hard ends of the parmesan cheese)
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large sauce pot, sauté the celery, carrot, onion, and garlic with the olive oil until tender (5-8 min). Add the veal, beef, and pancetta to the pan, breaking up the ground meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon as it browns. Cook together until all of the meat is cooked well and browned. Add red wine to the meat and when it has evaporated, add the flour, tomato paste, tomatoes, bay leaves, bouillon, and parmesan cheese rinds, salt and pepper. If needed, add one small tsp. of sugar to sweeten.
Simmer on low heat for 3 hours (stir every 15 minutes). Retrieve the remains of the cheese rinds and bay leaves prior to assembling the lasagna.
While the sauce is simmering, make the fresh pasta – Vincenzo’s recipe below. If you don’t have time to make pasta, we also love to use the dried lasagna pasta from Trader Joe’s. You don’t need to boil it before assembling the pasta and it’s nice and thin for the layers.
2.2 lbs. (1 kg) flour
8-10 eggs (fresh)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
½ cup water (room temp.)
Mix the flour, eggs, salt, olive oil and water together (water until enough). The dough should be soft and not tacky. You may need to add more water if the mixture is too dry. You can use a stand mixer to bring the dough together. Then take it out of the bowl and knead on a floured surface for 1-2 minutes. Cover with plastic and let rest on the counter in in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Use a pasta machine to roll out 12-16 thin sheets of pasta (finish on #1 if you are using a pasta machine). Vincenzo’s favorite brand of pasta machine is the Imperia brand. You could also hand roll the pasta very thin and cut into rectangle shapes to fit the pan if you don’t have a pasta machine. Cover as you are making it to make sure it does not get too dry.
Once the sauce is ready and you have the fresh pasta prepared, boil a large pot of salted water (1-2 handfuls of salt in the water). Boil the fresh pasta for 3-4 minutes and immediately place into an ice and water bath to stop the cooking. Then place the par-cooked sheets of pasta out on a dish towel, covering each layer of pasta as you cook them.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Assembling the Lasagna
Prepare the baking pan by spraying the bottom and sides well with spray oil.
Start with a thin layer of ragu sauce on the bottom of the pan.
Layer 2-3 single pasta noodles over the top of the ragu sauce. Don’t
overlap the pasta if possible.
Spoon a thick layer of sauce over the pasta.
Sprinkle 1/4 the chopped ham over the sauce.
Sprinkle ¼ of the mozzarella cheese on top of the sauce and ham, followed by ¼ of the grated Parmesan cheese.
Continue with another layer of pasta noodles, sauce, ham, and cheese until you have reached near the top of the pan (plan for 3-4 layers of pasta).
The top of the lasagna should be sauce, covered with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.
*You may want to place the lasagna baking pan on top of a large cookie or baking sheet to catch any sauce that bubbles over.
Bake for 1 hour.
Take out of oven and let sit for 10 minutes prior to serving.
Finish with extra sauce and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese!