Lasagna is a popular oven-baked pasta dish. The classic lasagna, if such a dish can be said to exist, is based on a meat and tomato ragu and a bechamel sauce. These are layered between sheets of pasta dough (two or three layers for a lasagna) in an oven dish, covered with cheese (usually parmesan or mozzarella) and baked in the oven for about half an hour.
Many lasagna variations exist. Vegetable lasagna, lasagna without bechamel, chicken lasagna, meatless cheese lasagna, lasagna without any sauce (just vegetables and/or meat) or even lasagna without the pasta.
When creating a lasagna, start with the main ingredient (ragu, vegetables, seafood, etc.), add a layer of bechamel, then one layer of pasta sheets and then the main ingredient again. Continue until the oven dish is full. End with a layer of pasta, spread some bechamel on top and sprinkle the cheese over it.
Some recipes call for the bechamel to be mixed through the ragu or tomato sauce, while others tell you to layer it between the pasta and the ragu. This seems to be based on personal preference and taste.
Besides sprinkling cheese on top of the lasagna, it’s also a good idea to mix some through the bechamel sauce, to give the lasagna some cheese flavor throughout, instead of just on top. Turn the heat off under the bechamel sauce before adding the cheese, or the sauce will become rubbery.
When it comes to the pasta dough there is a choice between home-made pasta and store bought dried pasta. Since dried pasta is made with just water and flour and home made fresh pasta usually includes eggs, there is a distinct difference in flavour and texture. The main difference, however, comes from ease of use. Making pasta from scratch can be a lengthy process and takes some practice to get it right. Fresh pasta also needs to be precooked before assembling the lasagne. See the pasta page for a fresh pasta recipe.
Dried pasta is usually precooked, so it can be put in to the oven dish straight out of the packet.
In the US, pasta sheets generally have a curvy surface. Outside the US, they are almost always flat.
Here is a recipe for traditional lasagna. For more lasagna and pasta recipes [http://www.goodcookrecipes.com/Category/Pasta/103] visit Good Cook Recipes.
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 lbs Minced beef
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or crushed
1 can chopped plum tomatoes
10-15 basil leaves, chopped or torn (or 1 tsp dried basil)
1/2 tsp dried oregano
5 crushed black peppercorns (or to taste)
1 tsp sea salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp sugar
One pack of lasagna sheets
1 1/2 pints Bechemel Sauce *
Finely grated parmesan
* Bechemel Sauce:
1/4 cup (4 Tablespoons) butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk
Salt, white pepper, and nutmeg, as desired
Melt the butter in a sauce pan. Add the flour and whisk together over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Do not allow to brown. Remove from heat and allow to cool nearly to room temperature.
Add hot milk and whisk to combine.
Add the salt, white pepper, and nutmeg, and heat till just simmering.
If desired, you may bring the sauce to a boil; once the béchamel sauce has come to a boil, lower the heat to low and very slowly simmer for about 45 minutes. Stir it often with a whisk to avoid sticking to the bottom. Do not allow the sauce to brown. The longer the sauce is simmered, the smoother it becomes due to the cooking and swelling of the starch grains
Heat the olive oil in a heavy base or non-stick pan over a medium-high heat. If the oil browns, turn the heat down.
Add the onion and fry until golden brown.
Increase heat to high and add the meat and garlic. Fry until brown. Minced/ground beef takes some time to cook well. Fry until there is little moisture left in the pan. If necessary, spoon out any excess fat.
Add the tomatoes, cover the pan and lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the bechemel sauce.
Pre-heat the oven to 375 f.
Mix the basil, oregano, salt & pepper in to the ragu.
Place a thin layer of ragu in the base of the ovenproof dish and cover with a single layer of pasta sheets. Spread a layer of bechemel sauce over the pasta. Repeat this until you run out of meat, making sure that you have enough bechemel sauce left to cover the top layer of pasta.
Sprinkle the grated parmesan over the top.
Place the dish in the oven on the top shelf and cook for about 45 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned and the sauce is bubbling.