Ever get that question? Well every time a guest tastes a mouthful of my piled high lasagna, that’s the first question I hear. Well finally, I’ve decided to share but, please don’t expect precise measurements! Actually at the request of others, plus a fleeting desire, I once attempted a recipe book. That meant back tracking, experimenting, measuring with exact accounts of all, and how much of each ingredient went into each dish. Good grief! Now that’s grueling work…Only because our family never measured! We basically looked at approximate amounts to get a feel of how much a given ingredient permeated the dish.
So minus the proportions, I’m happy to share a few secrets of what made our lasagna famous at our family restaurants.
We were noted for sky high lasagna with rich flavors. The higher the pan, the better. And BTW, Good luck finding those 6” high pans today, not easy. And why so high? Well, we used lots of ricotta (pronounced ri-gour-ta) cheese with raw eggs allowing the lasagna to rise high. While on the subject of ricotta, be sure to use good salty grated cheese when flavoring and fresh parsley, not dried. I prefer aged goat cheese. And speaking of goat cheese, that’s another layer of flavor I often add for extra creaminess. Along with these cheeses, I add Mozzarella, sharp Provolone, and smoked Gouda. Actually if you get a nice brick of aged provolone and coarsely grade…you can even forget the Mozzarella! I prefer mixing smoked Gouda with sharp provolone.
Now let’s look at the meat and the sauce used at our restaurants. Because of the aromatic sausage oozing with my favorite spice….fennel, plus sausage herbs, along with the spicy meatballs….Well one can only imagine what these savory ingredients added to the dish! I’m not a big fan of pork these days, so I make a combination of sausage / meatball flavors with fresh organic beef. Try this: crush lots of fennel seeds (about ¼ cup) with mortar and pestle, and coarse salt. While the beef is browning, add the fennel, pinch of hot pepper flakes, salt and pepper. If there’s herbs out of the garden you love, feel free to incorporate, such as parsley or basil, etc. to your liking. One day I grabbed a ton of Swiss chard and replaced the beef with smoked Gouda. The flavors were amazing!
Okay, back to the beef….To incorporate the meatball flavor, after the meat cooks, drain the juice into the prepared sauce. Let it cool a bit, then create another layer of flavoring by adding grated cheese and breadcrumbs to the beef mixture by dusting lightly, and mixing throughout. So there you have it: a meatball/ sausage combination with cheese, fennel, hot pepper flakes, and breadcrumbs. Yummy! Again, if making a jumbo pan, you will need about 4-5 lbs of ground meat.
Another question always pops up...do I see eggs there? Are there hard boiled eggs in there? Actually eggs with sauce are quite common in Sicily. Grandma used eggs in Barciole with bacon that was absolutely delicious! And so goes with the lasagna. Here’s a proportion…use about 9 eggs per extra-large pan, chopped fine. Eggs go in-between the layers.
If you’ve never made a pan of lasagna before, here goes the order. If using box noodles like Barilla, pre-soak in hot water according to directions. Get the pan ready for layering. Ladle sauce on the bottom, about ¼”, then snuggle the noodles in rows so the sauce is covered. Add half the prepared Ricotta and spread around. I use 2-16 oz containers of Ricotta for each extra-large pan adding about 4 raw eggs, along with the grated cheese about a cup or more, and fresh parsley with fresh ground pepper. Oh, and a few dashes of nutmeg is lovely too.
On top of the ricotta sprinkle half of the meat mixture, then finely chopped eggs seasoned with salt fresh pepper. On top of the eggs, try some chopped green onions, a cup here, and a cup on the next round of layers. Seal this layer with either Mozzarella, Gouda or sharp Provolone. Here also is where the creamy goat cheese can be applied by dabbing pieces around.
Start the process again by adding sauce and repeat the layers until all ingredients are applied. The top exposed portion gets the last layer of lasagna noodles followed by sauce and a sprinkle of grated cheese. Bake for about an hour till bubbly around 375°. I usually bake with cover off at first to brown nicely and evaporate liquids, then cover for the last 15-20 minutesto trap in moisture.
Different types of sauce can be used as well. At the restaurant it was always a hearty sauce simmered with lots of meat. I often go in-between with a lighter mix of tomatoes for sweetness. Whatever the sauce, to me, fresh basil is a must not to mention a gift from heaven!
I hope one day you will find the time to enjoy this dish, although a lot of preparation, it can be a wonderful family event made with love.
Forgive me mother for releasing our family secrets, but is time to share the love….