Whole wheat lasagna from scratch

I’ve been meaning to post this recipe for a while, ever since my sister mentioned how complicated she thought making lasagna could be. I have a fairly simplified version of lasagna I have been making for a long time based on a Betty Crocker recipe. I make a lot of food that reflects my time — simple with local ingredients and fresh flavors — but it never hurts to have a classic cookbook on your shelf as a starting point for some traditional comfort foods.

Of course, this isn’t just any ol’ lasagna. I made my own whole wheat pasta sheets, which are the real star of the show. They make the lasagna a tad healthier, and they also provide a more chewy backdrop to the whole dish. I use other good ingredients, including Cento’s San Marzano tomatoes, which are romas that taste like in-season saucy tomatoes. I also bought ricotta cheese from the local market, so it was fresh and light and wonderful. It should be no surprise that good ingredients make for a good dish.

Bear with me, as this is not a quick recipe, but it’s certainly one you can break up into parts and prepare ahead of time. Lasagna freezes well uncooked for weeks, even months, and you could just pop it in the oven when you’re ready to bake it.

Think of this recipe as having three distinct parts: making the tomato sauce, forming the pasta and then assembling the lasagna.

Let’s start with the sauce:

In a sauce pot over medium flame, cook 1 lb. lean ground beef, 1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped, 2 chopped garlic cloves, 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper and 1 tsp. salt for 10 minutes, until the onion is transparent and soft and the meat is no longer red.

Add 30 oz. of canned Roma tomatoes, preferably Cento San Marzano brand, 1 tsp. sugar and 3 tbsp. freshly chopped parsley. Simmer for 45 minutes over low flame, stirring occasionally. (By the way, the sugar won’t really sweeten the dish. It’s just there to cut the acid that exists in canned tomatoes. You can omit if you use fresh tomatoes, in which case you’ll also add a little water and increase your cooking time.)

Done with the sauce! This will keep in the fridge for 3 days, and you can always toss this basic marinara sauce with pasta for a simple dinner.

You can prep your cheese at this point, too: Simply mix 15 oz. whole milk ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup grated Pecorino cheese and 1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano leaves. Keep refrigerated until ready to use.

Now, for the pasta:

In a large mixing bowl, mix 1 cup whole-wheat flour, 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1 cup semolina flour. Add 3 large eggs, lightly beaten, 1 tbsp. olive oil and about 1/3 cup of warm water. Pour the water in a little bit at a time, using only as much as you need to get the dough to stick together in a ball. (The amount of water will vary every time, depending on the volume of your eggs, which is never the same.)

On a floured surface, work your ball of dough for at least 10 minutes to get the gluten going. It’s ready when it is springy if you poke it. Let it rest for 30 minutes.

You could do this part first and then get your tomato sauce going, totally up to you.

When you’re ready to roll out your pasta sheets, use a pasta maker (manual or an attachment to a Kitchen Aid) to work 1/6 of the dough at a time. Run it through on the lowest setting, 1, fold in thirds, and repeat twice. Then set the pasta maker on 3 and roll the dough through. Repeat on 5.

Hang the pasta sheet on a pasta ladder or something comparable (I use the handle for my oven) as you work the rest of the dough. Normally we would dry the dough before cutting it, but since we are using sheets, we can start working with it as soon as you’re done rolling out the sheets. And unlike packaged sheets, you don’t need to cook them before putting together the lasagna.

Time to assemble the lasagna!

In a 13 x 9 baking pan, spread 1/3 of the tomato sauce on the bottom. Top with the pasta sheets, cutting them to fit lengthwise across your pan. You should have three rows, but it really doesn’t matter how you cover it.

Top with half the cheese mix as well as 1 cup shredded mozzarella, and then add another layer of pasta sheets.

Pour on and spread out another 1/3 of the tomato sauce, then pasta sheets, the remaining cheese mix and another cup of mozzarella and more sheets.

Finally, pour over the rest of the sauce and drizzle on a little more mozzarella and 1/4 cup grated pecorino. (I used fresh mozzarella, which is why my photos shows circular cheese slices on top of the lasagna, but I recommend going with shredded.)

Cover with foil and freeze, or if you’re ready to bake, cook for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Uncover and bake for an additional 15 minutes, or until the cheese begins to brown on top and the sauce is bubbly. Don’t overcook it or your sauce will dry out.

Let it rest outside the oven for an additional 15 minutes before cutting in and enjoying your tremendous feat! Share with pride!

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