Authentic lasagna Bolognese is all about the meaty, luxurious ragu. Typically, the rich sauce is bound between thin sheets of pasta along with a creamy bechamel sauce and Parmesan cheese.
To simplify the process and keep our Ragu alla Bolognese in the spotlight, we decided to replace the traditional bechamel with a quick no-cook mixture of cottage cheese, heavy cream, a touch of cornstarch (to prevent the dairy proteins from curdling when cooked), garlic, and Pecorino Romano (which tasters preferred over Parmesan for its saltier, stronger flavour).
Fresh pasta tasted great but was very time-consuming to make; instead, we used dried wavy lasagna noodles, which gave the lasagna better structure, and briefly soaked them in boiling water before building the lasagna. Staggering the placement of the noodles in the dish instead of lining them up parallel to one another kept the lasagna level. Do not substitute no-boil noodles for regular noodles, as they are too thin.
LASAGNA WITH RAGU ALLA BOLOGNESE
Start to finish: 2 hours
14 curly-edged lasagna noodles
8 ounces (1 cup) cottage cheese
6 1/2 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (3 1/4 cups)
1 cup heavy cream
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 cups Ragu alla Bolognese (recipe follows), room temperature
2 tablespoons shredded fresh basil
Lay noodles in 13-by 9-inch baking dish and cover with boiling water. Let noodles soak until pliable, about 15 minutes, separating noodles with tip of paring knife to prevent sticking. Place dish in sink, pour off water, and run cold water over noodles. Pat noodles dry with clean dish towel; dry dish and spray with vegetable oil spray. Cut 2 noodles in half crosswise.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 F. Whisk cottage cheese, 3 cups Pecorino, cream, garlic, cornstarch, and pepper in bowl until combined.
Spread 1 cup ragu in bottom of prepared dish. Lay 3 noodles lengthwise in dish with ends touching 1 short side, leaving space on opposite short side. Lay 1 half-noodle crosswise in empty space to create even layer of noodles. Spread half of cheese mixture over noodles. Repeat layering of noodles, reversing arrangement of half-noodle, then spread 1 cup ragu over top. Create third layer using 3 1/2 noodles (reversing arrangement again) and remaining cheese mixture. Lay remaining 3 1/2 noodles over cheese mixture. Spread remaining 1 cup ragu over noodles and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup Pecorino.
Spray sheet of aluminum foil with oil spray and cover lasagna. Bake until bubbling around edges, about 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake until top is spotty brown, about 10 minutes. Let lasagna cool for 45 minutes. Sprinkle with basil. Cut into pieces and serve.
Ragu alla Bolognese:Makes about 6 cups; enough for 2 pounds pasta
Shopping Note: Eight teaspoons of gelatin is equivalent to one (1-ounce) box of gelatin. If you can’t find ground veal, use an additional 12 ounces of ground beef.
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup beef broth
8 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1 onion, chopped coarse
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped coarse
1 celery rib, chopped coarse
4 ounces pancetta, chopped
4 ounces mortadella, chopped
6 ounces chicken livers, trimmed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
12 ounces 85 per cent lean ground beef
12 ounces ground veal
12 ounces ground pork
3 tablespoons minced fresh sage
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
2 cups dry red wine
Salt and pepper
Combine chicken broth and beef broth in bowl; sprinkle gelatin over top and let sit until softened, about 5 minutes.
Pulse onion, carrot, and celery in food processor until finely chopped, about 10 pulses, scraping down sides of bowl as needed; transfer to separate bowl. Pulse pancetta and mortadella in now-empty processor until finely chopped, about 25 pulses; transfer to third bowl. Process chicken livers in again-empty processor until pureed, about 5 seconds; refrigerate until ready to use.
Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add ground beef, veal, and pork and cook, breaking up meat with wooden spoon, until all liquid has evaporated and meat begins to sizzle, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in pancetta mixture and sage and cook until pancetta is translucent, 5 to 7 minutes, adjusting heat as needed to keep fond from burning. Stir in chopped vegetables and cook until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook until rust-colored and fragrant, about 3 minutes.
Stir in wine, scraping up any browned bits, and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in broth mixture, return to bare simmer, and cook until sauce has thickened (wooden spoon should leave trail when dragged through sauce), about 1 1/2 hours.
Stir in chicken livers and bring to brief simmer. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 1 month.)