Every family has a very short list of recipes that are carefully executed only in certain times of the year; sometimes they are just too complicated or long in preparation to be made on a regular day, sometimes they belong to somebody’s birthday feast or to the New Year’s Eve table. It is wonderful to have recipes like this, for the whole family to throw down and spend a few hours in the kitchen together. It always makes for good memories.
Lasagne absolutely fall in this category. We do not make them that often, but when we do, you know there’s a party about to happen!
Italian tradition wants Lasagne alla Bolognese to be at the top of the pyramid, when it comes to layered baked pasta. It’s a heritage recipe and I do have to agree, at least for me, it’s the best recipe there is. However, I dare you to digest 2 generous servings of Lasagne with meat sauce and Besciamella in the middle of a Tuscan Summer, not an easy task.
During the warm season in Fiesole we get to enjoy our vegetable garden. Every morning we harvest zucchini and their flowers, spinach, salad, tomatoes and more; so we like to lighten up the traditional recipe and switch to a vegetarian or a Pesto Lasagna when we celebrate with our family and friends the usually short time we all are together in summertime.
Enjoy this wonderful family recipe and don’t be shy about trying your own vegetable combinations, Rainbow Chard anyone?
Serves: 8 / Prep time: 2 hours / Cook time: 45 minutes
- 1 (28-ounce) can peeled tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
- 1/3 red onion, medium diced
- 3 cloves garlic, sliced into chunks
- Pinch red pepper flakes, optional
- 2 handful fresh basil, torn, plus more for serving
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Yields: 3 cups / Prep time: 5 minutes / Cook time: 20 minutes
- 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 1/4 cups whole milk
- Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 1/2 pounds baby spinach
- 4 small zucchini, diced
- 1 (9-ounce) box flat no boil lasagna noodles (preferred brand: barilla)
- Scant 3 cups Besciamella, (recipe above)
- Scant 3 cups Red sauce, (recipe above)
- 2 (8 ounces) balls fresh mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
- 2 tablespoons butter, sliced into thin pats
- Extra virgin olive oil, for serving
- Salt and Pepper
1With an immersion blender roughly puree the tomatoes to a smooth creamy consistency.
2Add olive oil to a large pan over medium heat. Once hot, add the onions and saute until they are soft, and before it actually starts browning a bit, add the garlic. If you’d like to make the sauce spicier, add a pinch red pepper, optional.
3Add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper.
4Simmer on a medium-low flame for about a half hour. Thrive for balance in the consistency of the sauce, it has to be fluid but it should not look overly wet. A few minutes before taking the sauce off the fire, add half the basil and season with salt and pepper.
BESCIAMELLA (Béchamel Sauce)
1In a small saucepan, warm up the milk over medium heat.
2In a medium skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon, about 5 minutes. Be careful not to burn the flour.
3Add the warm milk to the butter-flour mixture and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 15 minutes until thickened.
4Season the sauce with freshly grated nutmeg, salt, and pepper to taste. Taste to ensure the flour flavor has dissipated. If you still taste the flour, cook a few minutes longer.
1Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large non-stick skillet. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add red pepper flakes and sauté for 20 seconds and season with salt and pepper.
2Add the spinach in batches by large handfuls and toss in the hot oil until it all wilts down. Season spinach with salt and pepper and saute until tender, about 6 minutes.
3Remove to fine mesh sieve to drain as it cools. Once cool, place in a clean tea towel and squeeze out excess water. Roughly chop and reserve in a bowl.
4Wipe out skillet (or use a different large skillet), and add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, and place back over medium high heat. Once hot, add the zucchini and cook for about 12 minutes, until tender and golden. Remove the zucchini to a bowl and reserve.
5Preheat the oven to 375º.
6Butter a 13 by 9 by 4 baking dish and add a thin layer of besciamella. Cover with a layer of noodles (4 across) and then another thin layer of besciamella. Sprinkle some spinach and zucchini across the layer, and then top with ¼ of mozzarella and sprinkling of Parmesan and a ladle of red sauce.
7Repeat for 2 more layers. Top with a final layer of noodles and spread a final layer of besciamella, red sauce, mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese and a few pats of butter to help the cheese crisp-up when cooked in the oven.
8Cover the lasagne with foil and bake for about 30 minutes. Turn heat to 400 degrees, uncover and bake for 10-15 minutes more, until the cheese just begins to brown and the sauce bubbles.
9Let rest for 15 minutes before slicing. Serve dressed with some Parmesan and a drop of extra-virgin olive oil.