Marco makes a mean lasagna. He only had to make it once for my family before they started requesting it every Christmas. They requested it not just as a meal but also as a Christmas gift. As in, “Marco, will you please make that lasagna again for Christmas dinner? Also, for my Christmas present, could you make me a *bonus* lasagna that I can freeze and bake later?” A new tradition was cemented in the Forman household.
Well, Marco made his lasagna a couple of weeks ago and posted a literal sizzler of a video on Instagram. Within less than 24 hours, we got several messages asking for the recipe, which I didn’t know because lasagna is kind of his thing. Also, he doesn’t use a recipe. After many years of trial and error, he simply knows how to make it.
So I sat him down to get the scoop. It’s not a complicated recipe. But it does take time, and it’s a little process heavy. I suggest making the ragu the day before. You can easily warm it up later so that it’s spreadable.
A few notes about the ingredients and process:
- This recipe uses ground pork sausage, not Italian sausage. Just plain ground sausage.
- The splash of balsamic will give you a nice boost in umami, but don’t go overboard. It’s just a splash.
- Traditional lasagna is made with bechamel, not ricotta. Several years ago, that surprised me. But trust the experts! Once you make it with bechamel, you will never go back to that weird grainy American version. Promise.
- Both fresh and dry pasta work well here. While you could flash boil the sheets, it is not necessary. They can go right into the lasagna as you layer. But one thing you must remember when placing the pasta in the casserole dish is that it’s more important to leave gaps rather than to overlap. Depending on the size of your dish, you’ll need to break or tear the sheets to fit. Also, don’t use more than 4 layers of pasta or the lasagna will be on the drier side.
- How toasty you would like the cheese on top is a personal preference. I like it extra toasty. So does Massimo Bottura. He likes the crunchy top layer so much that it inspired one of his signature dishes called “The Crunchy Part of the Lasagna,” which you can still find at Casa Maria Luigia.
So, here you go, folks. I present you with Marco Simonelli’s Famous Lasagna. There’s even still time to get all the ingredients before Christmas. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll start a new tradition in your own home. Buon apettito!
Marco Simonelli's Famous Lasagna
1 medium carrot, finely diced
1 rib of celery, finely diced
1 small onion, finely diced
5 TBSP Olivando Originale extra virgin olive oil
350 grams ground pork sausage
350 grams lean ground beef
1/2 cup red wine
A small dash of balsamic vinegar
50 oz tomato puree (2 large 24.5oz jars and of Mutti)
1 TBSP tomato paste
1/4 tsp salt
Several grinds of freshly cracked pepper
75g (2.65oz) butter
75g (2.65oz) all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk, warmed
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
Several grinds of freshly cracked pepper
Ingredients to Assemble the Lasagna
1 package of lasagna sheets (fresh or dried)
1.5 cups (or more) of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- First, you’ll start with the ragu. Finely (as in tiny) dice the carrot, onion, and celery. You could also pulse them in a food processor to make it quicker. Heat a heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the olive oil, and once hot, add the diced carrot, celery, and onion. Cook until softened, about 5-7 minutes.
- Add to the pot the ground sausage and ground beef. Brown both types of meat, breaking them down into smaller pieces with a wooden spoon and allowing most of the liquid to evaporate. Once browned, add the red wine and the splash of balsamic vinegar. Cook until that liquid is mostly evaporated and you no longer smell the alcohol.
- Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, salt, and pepper. Stir and cover, leaving the lid ajar with a wooden spoon. Cook over low heat for at least two hours, occasionally stirring to avoid burning on the bottom. From here, you can either move on to the bechamel and final assembly or put the ragu in the fridge and wait until the next day to finish the lasagna.
- Melt the butter in a small heavy bottom pot or skillet over low heat. Whisk in the flour, making a roux. Slowly whisk in the milk. Increase heat to medium-high. Add the nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Once it comes to a gentle boil, cook for another 4-5 minutes, continuously whisking. It is finished when the bechamel sticks to the back of a spoon and no longer tastes like flour.
- Pre-heat the oven to 175C or 350F.
- Set up the lasagna station with your ragu, bechamel, pasta sheets, and casserole dish. You’ll need a ladle for each sauce and a spoon to spread.
- To the center of the dish, add one ladle-full of ragu and spread to cover the bottom. Add a layer of pasta sheets. Remember – it’s better to have a gap than to overlap!
- Add another ladle of ragu, and this time, a ladle of bechamel. Use the spoon to press sauces together while spreading over the pasta, ensuring you cover corner to corner. All of the pasta should have a layer of sauce covering it.
- Continue layering and spreading until you reach a maximum of 4 layers of pasta.
- On the top layer of pasta, we’ll add the remaining ragu and bechamel, then cover with sprinkled parmiggiano.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes, until it’s bubbling and the cheese on top is toasty.