Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lasagne alla Bolognese

I recently started going through a bunch of Heston Blumenthal recipes. This guy is over the top. If you think Alton Brown is complicated, this guy makes him look like Betty Crocker.

(Check out his "Perfect" Steak - best comment, "Sh**, it's 5 o'clock, the kids will be home, and I need to make dinner. Good thing I found this 36 hour recipe. lol")

That being said, I couldn't help but to start obsessing over which of his recipes I could (or would) do at home. I found two. 

The first is a Spaghetti Bolognese recipe that is strikingly similar to Alton Brown's (sorry AB, but you definitely "borrowed" from this one) and I've made Alton's sauce three or four times in the past, so I figured I'd give Heston's a try. (The other is for chili, but I'm not doing that til later in the week)

The thing is though, I wanted to make lasagna, not spaghetti.

So I found a really interesting twist on his recipe by this computer programmer in England that shortened some steps and generally just riffed on the established recipe. 

While I liked some of the liberties he made, I had to stick with some of the details in the Blumenthal/Brown recipe because I know they have worked for me in the past. BUT using his ideas has saved a lot of effort on the sauce and I think contributed in a really good way, so I "borrowed" a bit from him.

So - I give you my,

Lasagna alla Bolognese

10 oz pork shoulder
10 oz chuck (or other stewing meat)
4 oz of pancetta, diced
1 yellow onion
2 tablespoons of oil, divided
1 whole star anise
1 red onion 
3 celery stalks
3 carrots
28 oz can of diced tomatoes
14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes
3 Portabellini mushrooms 
6 cloves of garlic, minced, divided
1 tablespoon butter
2 cups of white wine (half a bottle)
1 cup of milk
1 teaspoon Thai fish sauce
2 teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
~1 cup of beef broth 
salt & pepper to taste
Lasagne sheets (I'm lazy and use the "no boil kind")

Bechamel sauce:
3.5 tablespoons butter
3.5 tablespoons of AP flour
~1 cup of milk
2 oz of grated mature English cheddar cheese (plus a bit extra) (can sub Parmesan or Asiago)


Ok, so this recipe calls for a lot of prep work. I started this first thing in the morning while my son was asleep and my daughter painting.

You want to get a pretty fine dice on all your mirepoix components. They should all end up the same size. 



Red onion
Dice up the yellow onion normally. You don't have to do it very finely.

I started my onions to caramelize as soon as I had them prepped because it takes a while to get them done.

Add a tablespoon of oil to a pan over high heat.

Toss in the diced yellow onion, season with a little salt and the whole star anise. This lends a really amazing depth to the onions. Don't skip this.

Cook the onions over high heat until they start to caramelize. Add small doses of water along the way to speed up the process.

While the onions are going, prep the meat.

You can use regular ground pork and ground beef, but I wanted to do it Blumenthal's way.

Weigh out your meat and dice it. Having it nearly frozen helps a lot here.


Do your beef.

I got some super cheap shanks at the store and was planning on using both of them but only ended up using one.


To start the sauce get a big soup pot over medium/low heat and add 1 tablespoon of oil and 3 cloves of finely minced garlic.

Cook for 30 seconds.

Toss in your mirepoix.

Give it a stir and cook for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables have started to soften.

Your onions should be done by now. Hold them until the mirepoix has cooked for 20 minutes.

Chop up 3 portabellini mushrooms. I will cut them as fine as the other veggies next time.

Add some oil and the remaining 3 cloves of garlic to your onion pan over medium heat. Cook for 30 seconds.

Toss in the mushrooms and toss constantly.

Add a pat of butter as they brown. Cook until they get some color around the edges then remove from the heat.

Your mirepoix should be done by now.

Add the caramelized onions and the mushrooms to the pot.

Give it a good stir to combine.

Cook your diced pancetta in the same pan over medium heat.

Cook until the edges just start to brown.

Drain the fat and add to the pot.

Add both cans of diced tomatoes to the pot.

Give everything a stir.


Ok, now for the meat.

Get a cast iron skillet or something that can take high heat and brown off the meats in batches. Do not crown the pan.

Drain the fat from the meat and add to the pot.

Repeat with the beef.

Measure out the wine and get ready to deglaze the pan.

Carefully pour in the wine and scrape up the bits on the bottom.

Reduce over high heat until you have half as much as you started with (1 cup).

While that reduces, stir the pot and add a cup of milk. I used 2%.

Add 1 teaspoon Thai fish sauce, 2 teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce, 1 tablespoon ketchup, 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar and 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar.

When your wine has reduced, add it to the pot.

Give everything a nice stir and bring the pot to a boil.

When you reach a boil, drop the heat to medium/low and let simmer, half covered for 4-6 hours. I let mine go for about 6.

As you simmer, you may lose a bit of liquid. As you check it, add some beef broth to ensure the ingredients are submerged. I ended up using nearly a cup by the end of the day.


When you are about an hour out of dinner, remove the cover and start simmering until you thicken up the sauce a bit. You don't want it too runny.


To make the Bechamel, add 3.5 tablespoons of butter to a sauce pan over medium heat.

Gradually add 3.5 tablespoons of flour until you have a nice smooth roux.

Grate your cheese and stand by.

Add the milk when the roux turns slightly dark and whisk well to combine.

Add your cheese and whisk well to combine.

Season with black pepper to taste.

Hold over low heat while you build the lasagna.


Get a nice deep 9x13' dish.

Start with 2 ladles of sauce on the bottom. (about 2 cups)

Add a layer of noodles.

I broke mine up to fill in the gaps.



Top with the remaining sauce.

I had almost exactly 8 cups. Worked out perfectly.

If your Bechamel has tightened up, add a splash of milk to loosen it up.

Pour the sauce over top.

Add a bit more cheese.


Bake at 350F for 40 minutes or until the top is browned.

Serve with more cheese to amazed mouths.

Yes. This recipe is kind of involved but it really was the best lasagna I've ever had. Taking care to prepare each element properly makes a world of difference in a finished product. Every step contributed to the whole and really made an outstanding dish.

After all the effort I found the reward deeply satisfying.


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