CAMPIONI DEL MONDO! Celebrating with lasagna bolognese
Wooooooooohoooooooo!!!!!! Champions, baby!
What better way to celebrate than with another tricolour dish? That's why it's time to unveil Hungry In Hogtown's ultimate lasagna bolognese. Check it out. Every last bit of it is homemade -- the spinach pasta, the ragù, you name it. It's so good, you'd probably headbutt someone in the chest if they ever tried to steal a piece.
There are only a few keys to making a brilliant lasagna, and fresh pasta is the first. I know, making pasta is something of a pain in the ass, but paper-thin layers of pasta fresca are infinitely better than those clumsy frilled shrouds sold in stores. It takes mad skills to assemble a ten-layered lasagna (what can I say? I have the skills to pay the bills), and it just can't be done with store-bought pasta. Fresh pasta deserves a post of its own, and we will eventually get around to it, but here's Mario Batali's recipe if you're eager to get your hands dirty in the meantime.
The second key is to find the freshest ricotta you can... and then use it in some other preparation. Bloody hell, nothing bothers me more than eating a lasagna filled with ricotta and plastic mozzarella. Made the traditional way, with a silky besciamella (that's béchamel, for those of you who may have cheered for the losing side), lasagna is better. Yes, that gooey cheesiness is delicious, but save it for another dish. There's an old Italian saying: "Once you try besciamella, you'll never go mozzarella." Try this recipe, but I urge you to liven it up by grating a large handful of parmesan into it.
The final key to a great lasagna bolognese is ragù. Now, I wish I had a ragù recipe I could share with you, but I don't. My ragù is still evolving, you see, though I think it's nearing its final form. If the only meat in your ragù bolognese is ground beef, it's time to experiment a little. In my opinion, the humble pig is the key to a great bolognese. I'm not talking just ground pork either, though that's a good start. I like to start my ragù by crisping up some lardons of pancetta or quality bacon.
My no longer secret ingredient, however, is prosciutto. Last time I made ragù we had some leftover slices of prosciutto -- how the hell did that happen? -- so I diced them and tossed them in the pot. It added a whole new layer of meaty complexity to the dish, and I will never again make a ragù bolognese without it.
Now, ragù is one of those Italian preparations about which Italians disagree (oh wait, that describes all Italian preparations). Everyone thinks their mother knows the one true way to make a proper ragù, and as I see it, they're all kind of right. That's why I don't want to provide a recipe, though I will reluctantly point those who must have one here. Ragù is about experimenting with different flavours until you find a combination you adore, so experiment.
Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Four meats good, two meats bad! Use a variety of meats. Our bolognese includes ground pork, veal, and beef, as well as prosciutto and pancetta or bacon. Some ragù include mortadella, chicken, and even chicken livers.
2. Be patient. A ragù needs to simmer for a long, long time. Let those flavours mingle and mellow for as long as you can.
3. If you save your parmesan rinds, be sure to toss a large one in the pot. If you don't, start saving them. They're a fabulous way to season ragùs, braises, and soups. We even occasionally roast whole chickens stuffed with parmesan rinds, lemons, and herbs.
So you have a fabulous ragù that has simmered away, a pot of besciamella, and have coaxed some silky sheets of spinach pasta out of the Kitchen Aid mixer that has saved you untold agonies. (We've used hand-cranked pasta makers, and they're quite the workout. Even with a machine, lasagna is better tackled with a two-person team). You've cursed as your pasta ripped, and sweated up a storm with your myriad pots burbling away. You've gently layered the pasta with alternating spoonfuls of rich ragù and creamy bechamel, topping it all with a final generous blanket of bechamel and parmesan. You've let it all meld in the oven, and then cooled it carefully (many bolognesi prefer their lasagna at room temperature) so the lasagna doesn't become a hot soupy mess when you finally cut into it.
Take a bite, letting the myriad textures and flavours explode, and rejoice. Forza Italia!