It’s no secret that in the Morrisong household, we love our pasta making attachment for the Kitchen Aid mixer. Yeah, it makes me sound like a total food snob when I say it, but the pay off for the texture and taste of fresh pasta is more than worth the extra step of making some instead of using dried. It’s not really than much of an extra step really: five minutes of kneading, let it sit for 20 minutes, then roll and cut the dough, cook in less than 2 minutes. And when it comes to lasagna, you don’t even need to cut the pasta, just roll out sheets and you’re ready to assemble.
Of course, I haven’t always had such a breezy attitude towards making lasagna with fresh pasta. The first time I tried it, I was unsure about whether I’d have to cook the pasta first, so I did. Admittedly, the time it took to wait for the water to boil to cook the pasta while I stared at the flour dusted countertop and waited for my homemade Bolognese sauce to reduce down made making dinner into a near four hour process. Ridiculous, I know. The second time I made it though, I tried not cooking the pasta, just layering them after rolling them out. With a mix of bechamel sauce and a ground pork based Bolognese, it was without a doubt the best lasagna I had ever made. Each forkful was that comforting blend of textures: velvety soft, gooey strings of cheese, slightly chewy pasta.
I wanted to recreate that perfect lasagna texture experience but wanted to cut down on the cooking time even more if possible. For me, the next step for faster cooking but still managing delicious, full flavor, was to make my favorite tomato sauce, instead of a meat sauce– just throw together 5 tablespoons of butter, a white onion split in half, and a 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes and let it simmer for 35-40 minutes, or the time it takes to make your pasta dough and roll it out into sheets.
I also made the bechamel as I think that this adds a rich, milky flavor and I love how it gently bubbles up and mixes with the tomato sauce, turning the sauce into a rosy pink. Although there’s nothing wrong with the simple comfort of a cheesy lasagna, I wanted a bright flavor to contrast with all that richness. With a freezer stocked full of pesto, the answer was simple– dollop spoonfuls of pesto with the bits of ricotta filling that I mixed with fresh basil and dried oregano. The end result? Lasagna perfection! My lasagna retained that perfect texture combination of slightly chewy pasta and softness from the pillowy ricotta and melted cheese. The acid from the tomato sauce and bright licorice flavor from the basil pesto paired nicely with the buttery, creamy flavors of the bechamel and cheeses. Even better– this is a lasagna with the benefits of fresh pasta and homemade sauces, but takes the same amount of time to prep and bake as one made with store-bought ingredients. Eat that Sandra Lee.
- 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 1 stick of unsalted butter divided into 5 tablespoons and 3 tablespoons
- 1 medium white onion, peeled and split in half
- salt and pepper
- 12 oz all-purpose flour, plus an additional 2 tablespoons
- 5 eggs, divided
- 2 cups whole milk
- pinch of nutmeg
- 8 oz basil pesto
- 15 oz part-skim ricotta
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chiffonade
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 lb fresh mozzarella
In a medium saucepan, combine the crushed tomatoes, 5 tablespoons of butter and split white onion. Simmer gently over medium low heat for 35-40 minutes or until butter has melted and tomatoes have reduced slightly. Remove the onion and season with salt and pepper to taste.
While sauce simmers, mix together 12 oz of flour with four eggs in a standing mixer (or pulsed in a food processor) until just combined. On a lightly floured surface, empty out the flour and egg mixture. Using your hands, knead the dough for about 5 minutes or until dough is smooth, adding more flour if necessary to keep dough from being sticky. Form the dough into a ball and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Let dough rest for 20 minutes.
While dough rests, make the bechamel sauce. Melt the remaining three tablespoons of butter over medium low heat in a small sauce pan. Scatter flour over melted butter and whisk until combined. Let this roux cook for 1 to 1.5 minutes, then whisk in the two cups of milk. Raise heat to medium high and continue whisking until sauce thickens, about 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat and season with 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/8th teaspoon of pepper and a pinch of nutmeg.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, remaining egg, fresh basil, dried oregano, and grated parmesan cheese, mixing until combined. Roll pasta according to your pasta maker instructions, rolling them out to the number 6 setting on the roller. Cut each sheet of pasta into thirds, or until each pasta sheet is about 9 inches long and about 4 inches wide. Pour the bechamel sauce into the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking pan. Place 3-4 pasta sheets on top of the bechamel so they fit in the pan. Dollop with spoonfuls of ricotta mixture and pesto, using 1/3 of both the ricotta and the pesto. Repeat these layers 2 more times then top with remaining pasta sheets. Pour tomato sauce on top and cover with slices of fresh mozzarella. Bake for 30-40 minutes then let lasagna sit for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.
CSA Count: 1 (but considering the volume used, this should count as 10)
Fresh basil (in pesto and chiffonade)