lasagna roman style: a review

The dr bob ms ani cooking partnership has a long history with Roman style lasagna, characterized by freshly made paper-thin lasagna noodles, Bolognese sauce, beschamel sauce and parmigiano cheese, no mozzarella. The delicate noodles separate very thin layers of the two sauces spread around together and sprinkled with the cheese, and then stacked as high as the large baking pan will allow. In our early days we were ambitious making 2 lbs of fresh pasta and assembling the dish in a very large rectangular baking pan that accomodated 12 to 13 layers that once baked and served, would melt in your mouth. We usually forgot our layer count during assembly and then had to try to identify the individual strata after the fact in order to verify our target goal. In the end the count did not matter, only the delicious end product that seemed universally enjoyed by our guests.

For many years we had in mind an in-home workshop with an Italian "nonna" Gabriella living near the Pope's summer home in Castel Gandolfo where her daughter was the Vatican Observatory director's assistant for many years before meeting her American husband while working half time with the Jesuit astronomer members in Tucson, AZ. So we started out with only a few second hand pointers from the daughter, but eventually the long awaited lesson arrived and we felt like we had earned our lasagna certificate. We proudly proclaim ourselves lasagna masters, with good justification.

In the beginning we made traditional semolina and type 00 Italian pasta flour noodles with an electric motor powered manual Imperia pasta roller machine imported by hand from Italy, but as we evolved in life as well as in the kitchen, we graduated to Lidia Bastianich's whole wheat noodles with our pasta roller attachment for our KitchenAid mixer, perhaps the best investment we ever made in a relatively expensive kitchen gadget. This change of instrumentation was precipitated by the melt down of our transformer for the Italian roller machine motor when we lent it to a French friend for her raclette machine she  brought along from France. An event illustrating the proverbial silver lining inside the dark cloud, since this finally forced the issue to realize our lustful wish for an unnecessary kitchen gadget upgrade. Evidently melting cheese is a high amp activity. Our transformer was not up to the task.

With each new lasagna experience we gradually developed our stable routine for each phase of the process. KitchenAid dough production, with the normal mixing beater followed by the dough hook. Then after resting, rolling out the pasta sheets starting with several passes of the inital lump at the 0 setting (i.e., without passing to the first actual thickness notch numbered from 1 to 8), then folding in thirds, and repeating, then lengthening with one team member (bob) turning the knotch selector one by one while two experienced hands (ani) passing the noodles once through each knotch, handing off to the knotch selector at 6 to be carried over to the kitchen towel covered table and covered with another kitchen towel until all the dough is converted to the noodle format. The Bolognese sauce is done at least the night before noodle production and assembly, but the beschamel sauce is prepared just before starting the noodles so that it can cool, while the parmigiano grating is done with the food processor very efficiently. Meanwhile a pretty pasta pot with basket insert is filled with ice below the insert level and then cold water is added to within 3/4 inch of the rim for cooling down the quickly boiled noodles, boiled two at a time for a minute or so and then fished out with a really pretty (expensive) stainless steel shallow wire sieve on a handle to a kitchen towel covered counter and dried with another towel. Then transferred to the table where several layers are built up, each covered by kitchen towels.

Assembly starts with spreading some beschamel and Bolognese sauce together evenly on the bottom of the deep rectangular baking pan. bob cuts the noodles for proper length with his wooden spoon measuring stick, notching the corners which end up in the corner of the pan, making a two noodle wide pasta layer. Then this is repeated but with the parmigiano sprinkling till a safe distance from the rim is reached. Some of the pasta cuttings are put together for additional internal layers to make the noodles go as far as possible. In the beginning we were using a single humongous nonstick pan with 11 or 12 layers, but more recently graduated to a ceramic 9x13 deep lasagna pan with fewer layers, leading to overflow product filling a shallower 9x9 inch square pyrex dish to freeze for another day.

Along the way we tried a pesto lasagna after sampling it at a friend's home in Rome. A few times, once to allow for a single vegetarian guest who decided he wanted only to eat salad. Then we experimented with a Bolognese meat sauce with the meat replaced by crumbled mushrooms, similar in texture. bob thought the flavor was even better than the original, but the color was a bit duller than the traditional version.

Homemade lasagna is great for a dinner with guests since the prepared lasagna can be  refrigerated after the prep a day before and inserted into the oven just before the meal, and it hands down beats any Italian-American version which is typically oversauced and made with thick noodles and a layer count that only needs one hand to enumerate. The veggie version can even accomodate the increasing number of dinner guests who have chosen to adapt their diet to a sustainable future for the planet. Regretably we are not there yet.

notes

Four part story with pause and postscript, one actual note:

  1. Waiting for Gabriella's Lasagna.
  2. Still Waiting for Gabriella's Lasagna.
  3. Waiting for Gabriella's Lasagna No More!
  4. A slight detour: Pesto Lasagna!
  5. The nutritional upgrade: Whole wheat pasta. [some illustrations, though each chapter in the story has its own photo page links]

    Postscript:
  6. Gabriella's Lasagna Goes Vegetarian with Mushrooms.

2019 marks the year in which the drbobenterprises.com website moved to its own domain as host after 2 decades of URL forwarding. The Facebook announcement of this momentous occasion made with the present document follows:

Due to an unexpected firewall blockage of the 2 decades old drbobenterprises.com website at a certain university that will remain nameless, the content was quickly transferred to the private sector yesterday, which also marked our return to the real lasagna production business after a several year hiatus, concisely reviewed in the new document "lasagna roman style: a review" which will undoubtedly be ignored in its new seemlessly relocated site just as effectively as it has been in the past by an unsuspecting public that doesn't know what it is missing. 

Illustrations available.

lasagna.htm: 24-nov-2019 [what, ME cook? © 1984 dr bob enterprises]