Let’s talk about one of the most famous and loved dishes in Italian cuisine: lasagna alla bolognese. This delicious dish is made from sheets of fresh egg pasta, meat sauce, and béchamel. To create the perfect recipe, it took centuries and the genius of some restaurateurs from the city of Bologna.
About this Recipe
By: Silvana Lanzetta
Have you ever tried the original lasagna alla bolognese? Trust me when I say, it’s one of the most delicious dishes out there! Even though I grew up in Naples and never had this version of lasagna during my childhood (we had the Neapolitan version which is super rich and filled with all sorts of goodies), I immediately fell in love with it when I tasted it for the first time.
Imagine layer upon layer of freshly made egg and spinach pasta sheets, smothered in a rich and savory bolognese sauce, and topped with a creamy bechamel sauce. Each bite is like a little piece of heaven in a dish! It’s the perfect combination of flavours and textures that will leave you feeling satisfied and happy.
For the sauce:
- 300 grams of coarsely ground beef
- 150 grams of pork belly
- 50 grams of carrot
- 50 grams of celery stick
- 50 grams of onion
- 300 grams of tomato puree or peeled tomatoes
- 125 ml of dry white wine,
- 125 ml of whole milk,
- 1 liter of vegetable stock
- olive oil or butter
- salt and pepper to taste
For the lasagna:
- 400 grams of white spelt flour
- 2 eggs
- 250 grams of fresh spinach
For the béchamel:
- 100 grams of white spelt flour
- 100 grams of butter
- 1 liter of fresh whole milk
- fine salt, to taste
- nutmeg, to taste
A brief history of lasagna
Now, let me tell you about the fascinating history of lasagna, a dish that has been around for thousands of years. The first references to lasagna date back to Roman times, where the Greek term “laganon” and the Latin “laganum” were used to describe square or rectangular sheets of dough made from wheat flour, cooked in the oven or on the fire, and stuffed with meat. However, cheese was not yet included at this time.
It wasn’t until the 14th century when the recipe was codified in a recipe book of the Angevin Court of Naples called Liber de Coquina. In this version, the pasta was boiled but still made with leavened dough instead of egg pasta, and cheese was added to the recipe.
In the late 1800s, a recipe book from Naples called Il Principe dei Cuochi introduced the use of tomato in the recipe for the first time. The version of lasagna that is more similar to the modern one can be found in a cookbook published in Bologna in 1863 by Francesco Zambrini. This recipe featured layered egg pasta and cheese.
What makes lasagna alla Bolognese so special?
The origin of lasagna alla Bolognese is rather controversial as there are several regions that claim to be the birthplace of this delicious dish. However, it’s believed that the Emilian tradition, specifically the Bolognese version, is the most authentic. In fact, the original recipe for lasagna alla Bolognese calls for egg pasta to be green, which is achieved by adding spinach to the pasta during preparation. The traditional recipe consists of layered Bolognese sauce, béchamel, butter, and Parmesan baked in the oven.
The Italian Academy of Cuisine has deposited the recipe for lasagna alla Bolognese with the Bolognese Chamber of Commerce, certifying it as the original and traditional one. While there are many variations of lasagna, including mushroom-based toppings, the traditional recipe remains a favourite among Italians and people around the world.
Lasagna alla Bolognese contains a high amount of total fat and saturated fat, as well as a significant amount of cholesterol and sodium. Therefore, it should be consumed in moderation and not on a regular basis, especially for individuals who have certain health conditions such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
- Proteins 20.2% 20.2%
- Carbs 42.4% 42.4%
- Fats 37.4% 37.4%
Lasagna alla Bolognese: the ingredients:
The original Lasagna Bolognese calls for green lasagna sheets. Yes, you heard it right! But don’t worry, making your own lasagna sheets is easier than you might think.
1- The flour
To start, let’s talk about flour. Say goodbye to those over-processed pasta flours and say hello to white spelt flour! It’s been used for making pasta since forever and has a delicious taste. Plus, it’s lower in gluten, making it a great option for those with gluten intolerances.
2- The spinach
Next, let’s talk spinach. Please, please, please don’t use those “natural” vegetable powders seen all over instagram. They are obviously not natural and can be harmful to your health. Instead, buy some fresh spinach, let it wilt, and squeeze out all the water.
3- The eggs
When it comes to eggs, use medium-sized ones, especially if your spinach is extra watery. And don’t add salt to your pasta dough, it’s not necessary.
So, are you ready to give it a try? Check out some tutorials on YouTube or come to one of my classes, and I’ll be more than happy to show you the ropes.
Don’t give in to the temptation of buying pre-made bechamel sauce! Trust me, making your own is super easy and quick, plus the taste is out of this world compared to anything you can get at the store. Here’s what you need: white spelt flour (I prefer it to the overly processed 00 flour), high-quality dairy butter (no margarine or vegetable butters here, they’re super processed and not great for your health), and full-fat milk. Using full-fat milk creates a silky-smooth sauce that’s bursting with flavor. Give it a try, and I promise you’ll never go back to the store-bought stuff again!
The centerpiece of this dish, the one that makes or breaks your lasagna, is the ragout. If the ragout is bland, then the entire dish will be a flop.
1- Only fresh ingredients
Above all, your ingredients need to be top-notch fresh. Don’t even think about trying to cheat your way to yumminess by using pre-made sauces or other shortcuts. This is one dish where you really need to put in the effort to get the best possible result.
2- The meat
Firstly, let’s look at the meat: you’re going to want a fatty cut. This is because the ragout is going to be cooking for several hours, and lean meat just won’t hold up well during that slow cooking process. Also, make sure all of your meat is double minced for a creamy, smooth texture. You can ask your butcher to do this for you, or quickly pulse the meat in a food processor (just don’t overdo it, or you’ll end up with stringy, tough meat).
3- The onions
Another key point is the choice of the right onions, go with brown or white (in Italy, the go-to onion for ragout bolognese is a big white onion, called tonda musona). Avoid red onions, which are too flavourful and will throw off the delicate balance of flavours in your ragout.
4- The soffritto
Then, let’s talk veggies. It’s important to chop them finely and evenly, so you don’t end up with big chunks of carrot or celery in your creamy ragout. And, of course, use only vegetable stock (preferably homemade) – anything else will spoil the taste of the ragout.
5- The wine
When it comes to wine, stick with white. Red wine is too strong and will overpower the dish. And don’t forget the milk! Full-fat milk breaks down the protein in the meat, making it nice and tender.
6- The tomato sauce
As for tomato sauce, less is more. Don’t give in to the temptation to add more – this dish is actually better with just a little bit of tomato sauce.
Finally, cook your ragout at a low temperature for 2-3 hours. The longer it cooks, the better it will taste.
And please, please, please – do not add garlic or herbs. Trust me, you won’t miss them.
Tips for a perfect lasagna alla bolognese!
Prepare your ragout the day before: it will taste so much better.
Check my article on the 10 mistakes to avoid when making lasagna, to achieve lasagna perfection!
For substitutions and other practical tips on making lasagna alla Bolognese, check below the recipe.