I don’t know at what point lasagna became too commonplace, too normal, too ordinary, but it did. However, something my Italian friend once said changed my mind about the simplicity of this dish. I was complaining that Brad had requested lasagna for his birthday but I felt it was too plain and not special enough, to which Angela replied, “But lasagna is not plain, not the way we make it in Italy”.
Hmmm, perhaps we bastardised lasagna in our attempt to make everything “on the go”, quick, accessible. I know I had a taste bud awakening on our first trip to Italy together with a realisation that, unfortunately, the North American version of Italian food I was familiar with was fattier, meatier and less flavourful. Was it also true for lasagna?
A little while I ago I made Italian Beef Ragu, the kind you’d get in the best restaurants. To make that ragu I cooked a large roast doused in red wine with garlic, thyme, rosemary and plum tomatoes in a slow cooker for 12 hours. The result by far exceed my expectations. Luckily, we had plenty of leftovers which I froze. I knew even then I wanted to put that meat in a lasagna and see what happened. Well, I finally got to it and I am sharing the findings with you today.
I also had some eggplant so I broiled it with a light sprinkling of olive oil and layered those tasty slices into my lasagna. I really thought I was taking quite a few liberties with the original recipe but it turns out the end result was closer to the original recipe than what we know as lasagna now.
I read up on the origins of lasagna and found out it’s one of the older pasta dishes of Italy, the first written recipe coming from Bologna, and was made with Beef Ragu and a variety of vegetables! I guess it’s not really surprising that centuries ago they weren’t using ground beef, but rather a sauce cooked over a long period of time to tenderise cheaper cuts of meat. Now mine didn’t seem so odd. Italian cuisine is very regional and lasagna recipes also vary depending on what part of Italy they come from, so in other regions the pasta sheets were layered with ricotta and parmesan.
This lasagna was now beginning to look like more “back to the roots” lasagna, so I decided to give it a more personal twist. I had a few cheeses to choose from that were leftovers from our pizza making Friday, so I decided to include them in the recipe as well. That’s how Three Cheese Lasagna was born, namely-Parmesan, Fresh Mozzarella and Smoked Gouda. The last one added so much flavour!
You are probably thinking that you don’t have leftover Beef Ragu in the freezer, so how would you be able to make this delicious lasagna. Good news is that the Ragu recipe is cooked in a crockpot so the ingredients could be easily loaded in the morning and let the machine do its magic. The sauce will be ready for you when you assemble lasagna an hour before dinner which will make your job much quicker and simpler.
- 2- eggplants, sliced thickly
- olive oil
- 3 cups- Beef Ragu recipe
- 2 cups/500ml- Tomato Passata/ Crushed Tomatoes
- 9- lasagna sheets (use more or less depending on the size of them enough for 3 layers)
- ¼ cup- Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
- 1/220 gr- fresh mozzarella ball, torn
- 50 gr- smoked gouda or other smoked cheese
- 1- tomato, sliced
- 4-5- basil leaves
- Turn your oven on to a broiler/grill setting and set the rack 6" away from the top.
- Slice the eggplants ½" thick, arrange on a baking sheets and lightly brush with olive oil or spray with a low calorie spray.
- Broil for 5-6 minutes on one side, turn the slices over brush with olive oil and broil for 4 minutes longer. Set aside.
- Turn the oven temperature to 350F/180C.
- Mix your Beef Ragu with tomato passata or crushed tomatoes in a medium bowl, season with more salt if needed.
- Take a ladleful of the sauce and spread on the bottom of a baking dish in a thin layer.
- Then lay your lasagna sheets in one layer, cover with more sauce and grated parmesan, then eggplant layer, reserving 3-4 slices for the top and parmesan, another pasta layer and sauce, finishing with the third layer of lasagna sheets and the sauce.
- Cover the top with torn mozzarella ball, grated smoked gouda, sliced tomatoes, reserved eggplant slices and basil leaves.
- Sprinkle remaining parmesan on top.
- Cover with tin foil and bake for 30 minutes, uncover and bake for 15-20 minutes longer till cheese is bubbly and golden.
- Let it stand for 15 minutes before cutting in squares.