For the bolognese:*
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 large or 2 small carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2-3 tbsp. olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
2 lbs. ground chuck, round, or brisket (or a combination)
1 (12 oz.) can tomato paste
2 cups red wine
Water, as needed (about 3-4 cups)
2 bay leaves
2-3 sprigs of thyme, tied in a bundle
For the pasta:
1½ cups all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
½ tsp. salt
1-2 tbsp. water, if needed
For the béchamel:
½ cup (8 tbsp.) unsalted butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 clove garlic, minced
4 cups whole milk
1 tsp. salt
Dash of grated nutmeg, to taste
Freshly grated pepper, to taste
1 2/3 cups grated Parmesan cheese
*This recipe will yield twice as much sauce as you need for one lasagna, but since you’re already taking the time, go ahead and make the full batch. Freeze the leftover sauce and then you’ll have it ready next time you want to make this dish.
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To make the bolognese, combine the onion, carrots, celery and garlic in a food processor. Pulse briefly until finely chopped. Add the oil to a Dutch oven and heat over medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, add the chopped vegetables and season them generously with salt and pepper. Cook the vegetables, stirring frequently, until they are a light golden brown, about 15 minutes.
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Add the ground beef to the pan and season again with salt and pepper. Brown the beef well. Allow to cook for 15 more minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook 3-4 minutes more. Add the wine to the pot, scraping up any browned bits. Simmer until the wine has reduced by half, about 5 minutes more. Add enough water to the pan to bring the liquid level about 1 inch above the meat. Stir in the bay leaves and thyme and bring the mixture to a low simmer.
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Over the next 3-4 hours, stir the sauce occasionally, adding water as the liquid in the sauce cooks off (not more than 1-2 cups at a time). Taste occasionally, adjusting seasonings as needed. This will simmer for about 3-4 hours, until it has reached your desired consistency.
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To make the pasta, combine the flour, eggs and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the mixture forms a ball that is firm, but not sticky. (If necessary, add a drop of water at a time until the dough comes together.) Transfer to a floured work surface and invert a bowl over the dough. Let rest for one hour.
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Divide the dough into quarters. One piece at a time, flatten the pieces enough that they can be fed through a pasta roller on its widest setting. Repeat with the remaining quarters. Continue feeding the pieces through the rollers, going to a thinner setting each time. If the sheets become too unwieldy to work with, cut them in half and proceed. Make the pasta sheets as thin as you can without being difficult to handle (mine were fine at the thinnest setting on my rollers, #8). For more tips on making homemade pasta, see this post.
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Lay the pasta sheets out on pieces of floured wax paper. (Don’t forget to flour them – trust me.) Bring a large pot of water to boil. Slice the pasta sheets into rectangular/squarish shapes. (They don’t need to be uniform by any means since everything will be all layered together.) When the water is boiling, have a bowl of ice water ready. Cook a few of the lasagna noodles at a time, 1-2 minutes. Remove them from the pot with a skimmer, swish them in the bowl of ice water, and transfer to a lightly floured baking sheet. (It’s fine if they are still wet.) Repeat this process until all the noodles have been cooked.
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To make the béchamel, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and garlic to the pan and whisk it into the butter until smooth. Allow the mixture to cook for a minute or two, whisking constantly, until light golden. Slowly whisk in a small amount of milk at a time, until about half of the milk has been added. Whisk in the remainder of the milk. Add the salt, nutmeg, and pepper. Bring the mixture to a simmer, reduce the heat, and cook, whisking frequently, until the sauce thickens and bubbles, about 8-10 minutes.
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Preheat the oven to 400˚ F. Lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Spread a thin layer of the béchamel over the bottom of the dish. Add a layer of the cooked noodles, slightly overlapping as needed. Add 1 cup of the bolognese sauce and spread out over the noodles. Drizzle ½ cup of the béchamel over the bolognese. Sprinkle evenly with 1/3 cup of the Parmesan cheese. Repeat this process three more times (pasta, 1 cup bolognese, ½ cup béchamel, 1/3 cup Parmesan). Add one more layer of noodles. Spread a very thin layer of the béchamel on top of the final layer of noodles, and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until golden brown and bubbling on top. (Because the pasta is quite delicate, the dish may puff up a bit while baking. Don’t worry, it will settle down when it comes out of the oven.) Let rest at least 10 minutes before serving.
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This lasagna can be assembled and refrigerated up to one day in advance.