Everyone loves lasagna: it is filling and comforting and often delicious. When I was very little in the US midwest, lasagna did not exist in my neighbourhood. It would have been considered ‘exotic.’ So, curiously, in my recipe-for-lasagna research, I was surprised to come across an early recipe (1950’s) from a chic NY Italian restaurant owner who wrote a book (forwarded by President Eisenhower, no less).
This man’s lasagna is so different from what we think of today, I had to have a go. It was truly a creation of those days when ladies wore tiny waisted shirtdresses, pageboy hair, and very red lipstick. It seems to me that if fashions can rise again in the clothing trends, why not try to go back to the culinary styles as well.? So what follows is a lasagna recipe that could satisfy any besuited, cigar puffing, Scotch swilling Madison avenue inhabitant. Put on that vintage frilly apron and give it a try.
- 1 lb mince beef, steak
- 1 pound pork minced
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/2 bunch parsley
- 1/2 cup fine bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese grated
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup currants
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper black
- 1/2 lb mince steak
- 1/2 lb minced pork, fairly lean
- bunch of parsley, stems removed
- 1 large garlic clove
- 2 ounces diced smoked bacon,
- 2 medium size onions, chopped
- salt and pepper
- 1 1/2 lb plum tomatoes from can, chopped 2 cans
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup butter (3 oz)
- 1 small red pepper chopped
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- Also meatballs (see below) added later
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- 3/4 cup of Tomato sauce (see above)
- 2 tablespoons strong white flour
- 2 lbs ricotta cheese
- 1 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
These meatballs are so easy, just combine all ingredients well (yes, best to do this by hand) and form into 1” balls, making around 36. It’s always easier to use both hands when making the little balls as you can tell how evenly weighted they are, plus it’s twice as fast!
This sauce is so retro it is hard to believe. Where we all now whip a fresh tomato sauce up as quick as a wink, way back then an Italian sauce took hours, so put some time aside for this one.
Combine the two minced meats in one bowl and chop the parsley and garlic together and put in another bowl. Put olive oil, butter and smoked bacon (or pancetta if you can find some) into a heavy pan and heat. Add the onions and cook them until the edges are browning: this is far beyond ‘sweating’ them and should take 10 to 15 minutes, stirring a good bit all the while. Then add the meat and brown for 4 minutes, then add the parsley and garlic, plus salt and pepper and cook for 20 minutes. You have to keep stirring this or it will burn. Then add tomatoes and red pepper and cook for another 10 minutes. Check for salt.
Add half of the 1” meatballs into your sauce at this stage. Take the other half and put them into a 350F preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Leave these to cool, you will add them to the assemblage later.
With meatballs added to sauce, cover the pot with a lid, leaving a little off kilter, and cook the mixture for an hour more over low heat. Yes, a whole hour. You could even add an extra half hour to this but you’d have to watch it very carefully. Stir occasionally, checking for sufficient liquid. Italians are not afraid to add a little water to the pot if necessary: water doesn’t change flavors and keeps things from burning.
To prepare this melt butter in the cream over low heat, add the tablespoon of flour, stir a little then add the tomato sauce. Stir a little more: finished.
By all means, use your Nicholas Mosse large rectangular ovenware dish for this, lightly greased on sides and bottom! And preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Now you should have a large pot of tomato sauce with a few intact meatballs, a bunch of roasted meatballs, 2 lbs of ricotta cheese, 1 1/2 cups parmesan grated, sheets of lasagna pasta, and the topping. The oven should be 350F, the cooking dish lightly oiled. Ready?
Smear a little tomato sauce over bottom of lasagna dish, then cover with the pasta sheets. Put half of the ricotta on top: not as easy as it sounds, you may have to hold the pasta down while you distribute the ricotta. Put the roast meatballs on top of the cheese and then sprinkle 1/2 cup Parmesan over them. Then put next layer of pasta over this and start again: remaining ricotta, meatballs from the tomato sauce, Parmesan, and some of the tomato sauce to cover. One more layer of the pasta, then cover these sheets with the special topping. Sprinkle remaining Parmesan over all, cover with foil and put in oven for 20 or so minutes. Check at this stage and remove the foil.
Cook another 20 minutes (it should be bubbly around the edge) and remove, if you think it’s done. These times depend on oven speeds, so keep your eye on it. You should have a bit of the tomato sauce left, it’s delicious so keep it for another day!
This lasagna is so rich, so full of protein, so ‘reduced’ it is truly a discovery. Make it for special occasions only, specially when men are involved. And don’t forget the martinis, the cigars, and the frilly apron.