Sausage and Beef Lasagna
I’m not usually one of those people who doesn’t know what they want for dinner. Growing up, discussions about dinner used to take up the whole ride to school with my dad, who was generally in charge of the hair-brushing, English muffin-toasting morning routine. If my dad was cooking that night, the life changing decision whether to have roast chicken or beef stew over poppyseed-flecked egg noodles that night would inevitably be made before lunch.
I’m kind of the same way. Except my beautifully laid out plans don’t always end up so beautiful. Obstacle no. 1: we don’t have a car. Yes, there’s a big mall housing three supermarkets a mere 20 minute walk away, but I’m lazy. And malls give me headaches. Unless you go to little Italy or Chinatown, supermarkets are almost always in malls here. So that’s problem 1. No. 2: no matter how much we buy on the weekends when we’re both free to go to little Italy and buy things that will make your head spin like big slices of layered gorgonzola and mascarpone, imported amarena cherries, burrata, taralli alla pizza, homemade salame, and ricotta cheesecake – no matter how much we stuff into our minuscule fridge – most of it is gone by Wednesday morning.
I blame this mostly on my darling tapeworm. I’m just worried that if it’s eating this much before even being born, imagine how much it will eat once it’s out! We might have to get that second mortgage after all, and we’ll surely have to move closer to the mall.
In any case, last weekend we hopped over to Haberfield to get supplies to last the week. It was going to be a doozy of a week, too. Francesco was (still is) up to here in work and bureaucratic rubbish, all of which he has to finish early because he’s leaving next week for a conference in the best food city in the world where he will dine at my favorite restaurant with one of my favorite people. (If you’re questioning his judgment in flying 20,000 miles for a 3-day trip, let me remind you that he will be dining on kouign amann, poutine, venison tartar, and foie gras stuffed pig’s feet with a beauty at his side. Mmmm poutine.) And last week I had a take home exam that truly appeared life threatening. I swear, one of the essay questions was something like, “Law is a storm cloud. Explain. In your answer, make sure to heavily reference all of the 659 materials provided or impliedly provided during the course using the referencing guidelines created by the Brown Howler monkeys of southern Brazil.”
So buying enough to keep us running smoothly wasn’t just a question of convenience – it was a matter of life and death.
And, true to form, I knew exactly what I wanted all week long. I wanted a humongous, cheesy, classic, American-style lasagna. I wanted it ready when I got home from school, I wanted just a sliver at 5 pm, cold from the fridge, I wanted it reheated for dinner with a classic salad on the same plate just to annoy my resident Italian who believes, quite strongly, that courses should never be plated together lest the food gods come down from whichever small Québecois town invented poutine (yes, I’m still thinking about poutine) and smite us all.
So I made the lasagna late Sunday afternoon when I should have been writing or at least thinking about my exam. Or, at the very least, comforting Francesco who, in his pile of papers, had taken to smacking his head down on the table in rhythmic, determined thuds. Instead, I did what I always do when I want something – I search for it on Tastespotting, click on the picture that makes me drool the most, and make that recipe. This method is usually fail safe, unless, of course, you search for ‘poutine,’ at which point you realize after looking at the most mouthwatering recipe that you cannot buy cheese curds in Australia. I even asked once at our favorite cheesemonger in Sydney, but they just looked at me like this:
In any case, when I searched for lasagna on Tastespotting, I immediately spotted what I knew would be the answer to all my problems. Take home exam be damned! Everything was perfect, we had just bought a kilo of the freshest ricotta cheese and some delicious looking sausage mince (fine, sausage mince cannot actually look delicious), plus some ground beef and mozzarella. I was going to make the world’s most gluttonous, over-cheesed, over-sauced lasagna, and I was going to make it now.
But, after a few hours of cooking the meat sauce, making the massive quantity of béchamel, grating one pound of mozzarella and a huge chunk of parmigiano, I was totally over my lasagna. That is, until, I tasted it.
What was supposed to wait until the next night immediately became dinner. What was supposed to be eaten slowly over the week became my dinner, my midnight snack, my lunch, my dinner and then…it was gone. Poof! Oh, well. I guess I’ll just have to make another one.
SAUSAGE & BEEF LASAGNA
While this is in no way Italian, it is in every way delicious. Even my snobby Italian gobbled it up (when I wasn’t looking, because I would’ve swatted his hand away). This recipe is adapted from something I drooled over on Tastespotting, from the Italian Chef blog. The original, inspiring, beef-free recipe can be found here. Makes enough for 10, or, um, 4 of me. Can – should? – be made a few days ahead and reheated thoroughly before serving. Also, the quantities make a little more than what the pictures show. There was enough to make an extra, mini lasagna that looked as if it should feed about 2 people for dinner but ended up being our appetizer. We’re pigs, I know.
Sausage & Beef Sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1.5 pounds sweet Italian sausage meat (stuffing from about 6 links) or mince
1 pound ground beef
1 35 oz (400 grams) can of Italian tomatoes
1 cup passata
3 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces (optional)
4 tablespoons (55 grams) butter
1/4 cup flour (or a bit more)
1 cup milk (or a bit more)
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper
1 cup ricotta
sausage & beef sauce (above)
ricotta bechamel (above)
1 pound (500 grams) fresh mozzarella, sliced thinly or grated
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmagiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 box (250 grams) no-boil lasagna noodles (or homemade)
Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sautè, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage and beef, crumbling with the spoon until most big chunks are gone. Turn up heat and cook, stirring occasionally until sausage is no longer pink, approximately 10 minutes.
Add the canned tomatoes, their juices and the passata to the meat. Add 1/2 cup of water (or use that water to get all the passata out of the bottle) and bring to a simmer. Stir in the basil if desired. Salt and pepper to taste. Keep simmering while you prepare the ricotta bechamel and grate the mozzarella.
While your sauce is simmering, make the béchamel. In a small pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat, don’t let it brown. Add the flour and stir vigorously and quickly. It should form a thick paste. If it’s not that thick, add a bit more flour until the paste is thick. Turn the heat up to medium then immediately add the milk and continue stirring vigorously, scraping up the bottom. The mixture should thicken very quickly. The whole process has only taken a couple minutes so far. If the mixture looks too thick to spread, add some more milk and continue mixing. Remove from heat. Grate some fresh nutmeg in, and add salt and pepper. Stick your pinky finger in to taste. Yum. Now add a large handful of mozzarella if you’ve already grated it, and the ricotta. Mix really well as the cheese melts. If it’s really thick, add some more milk to thin it out. The thinness is important only if you’re using no-boil noodles, which need a little liquid to cook properly. Ok, now we’re ready to make the lasagna!
Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C. Your sauce should be nice and thick by this point, so take it off the heat. Set aside about 1/4 of the mozzarella, which you’ll put on top at the end. Get a large casserole dish and grease the bottom a bit. Scoop about 1/2 cup of sauce on the bottom and spread it out then layer the noodles over to cover. It’s okay if there’s some overlap. You’re going to make about 3 layers of everything, that you spread evenly to the edge of the dish in this order: noodles, béchamel, meat sauce, mozzarella, parmigiano, then repeat…noodles, béchamel, meat sauce, mozzarella, parmigiano, then repeat one more time…and then end with a layer of noodles, a bit of whatever else you’ve got left and that mozzarella you put aside earlier.
Now, cover the casserole with tin foil and bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, then remove the tin foil and bake for 15 minutes more or until the cheese is brown and bubbly on top. Allow the lasagna to rest for at least 15 minutes before slicing unless you like having all your taste buds burned off and your lasagna slices look like lasagna soup. (Mmm lasagna soup.)
Can be made up to 4 or 5 days ahead and kept in the fridge – it’s always better a few days later! – and can be frozen, too, and enjoyed whenever the need for lasagna strikes.