waiting for gabriella's lasagna no more

Well, after all the waiting and our own trial-and-error based experience, the one thing we learned is that there is no single right way to do really good lasagna. Gabriella and rita have inspired us with some key points, but the specifics are pretty flexible. One thing is essential: paper thin noodles stacked high separating sparing amounts of sauce. The best solution for the lasagna noodles is to buy sheets from a quality pasta provider and cut and roll them to the thinnest possible thickness in a traditional roller type pasta machine with an electric motor attached (get the KitchenAid pasta roller attachment kit, it's worth it).  We follow Marcella in omitting the traditional coarsely grated mozzarella in favor of just sparsely spread Bolognese sauce mixed with béchamel sauce and sprinkled with freshly grated high quality parmigiano over each layer, aiming for 10 to 12 layers. With different pan sizes and the irregularity of how much of each ingredient goes into each layer, it is difficult to predict exactly how much of everything you need.

When we do this, since it involves considerable effort, we like to make a lot, but found that the really big roasting pan is only good for feeding a really big crowd, since otherwise you are stuck with a large pan partially filled with lasagna afterwards, which does not fit very well in most refrigerators. Two smaller pans seems like a better idea, but this depends on what you have on hand at the moment. They must also be deep enough, at least about 2.5 inches, to hold the many layers. Bake them both and serve one to 8 to 10 people, keep the other for another similarly sized group. You need roughly a pound of pasta and 2 large cans of peeled Italian tomato based Bolognese sauce per pan, say if it is about 10x14 or 9x13, a little more, a little less. To complicate matters, the "large" size of canned tomatoes is not standard, since there are 28-oz and 35-oz sizes, differing by 25 percent in volume. And if you do rise to the challenge of making your own pasta dough, it is not clear to us what the egg/flour amounts are that correspond to one pound, which is why there are still question marks in the previous attempts at quantifying these numbers. We originally got 3 eggs/2.25 c flour per lb from early marcella, but other books seem to have 3 eggs/2 lb c flour per lb estimates. And then there are large and extra large eggs...

As for how much of the sauce ingredients to combine at show time, we have tried various extremes differing by factors of two with no discernable difference. Our friend and certainly more expert Italian mom herself, rita, has the following widely different (from us) ingredient ratios:
Gaby's Lasagna: 1.5 lb pasta (3 to 4 large eggs/2 c flour, she uses finely ground semolina flour), 4 c béchamel sauce, and a 3 or 4 large tomato sauce can / 2 lbs ground beef / 1 onion / 1 carrot / 2 celery stalk   meat sauce. She also adds salt to the meat to bring out flavor, throwing all the stuff in together with optional water / oil, but only uses wine and no milk in the evaporation stage. Plus large amounts of both mozzarella and parmigiano.


2 lbs pasta sheets (typically 8 2-oz sheets per lb), cut in half lengthwise (3 – 4 in wide)
bechamel sauce
8 to 9 c milk
2 sticks = 16 T butter
1 c flour
1/2 t salt
1/2 t nutmeg
Bolognese meat sauce
meat saute group
1 – 2 lb ground beef,  not too lean [lean too]
3 – 4 T olive oil 
food process group
1 – 2 c onion [1 large onion]
1 – 2 c celery [4 stalks]
1 – 2 c carrots [2 carrots]
1 leek
sauce group
1 – 2 c dry white wine
1 – 2 c milk
1.5 t nutmeg
3 28-oz or 35-oz cans italian plum tomatoes
as much as needed, maybe 1/2  –  1 lb, freshly grated parmigiano


  1. Allow at least 4.5 hours for the meat sauce, which can be done a day ahead. It takes about 1.5 hours to reach the stage where you throw in the tomatoes and begin simmering and then it needs at least 3 hours simmering.
  2. Assembly takes about 2 hours, maybe more, for 2 chefs working as a team. Baking is then half an hour. So we're talking 7 hours here, with 3 hours of down time while the sauce just cooks without being watched. Make sure your guests deserve this before you take on the challenge.
  3. For now, reread the previous attempt for the actual instructions. We use a couple pans, like one 9x13 and one 10x14. But everything depends on how you dole out the components on each layer, so you just go until you run out of noodles or sauce. The extra sauce is great on any pasta later. Cook only the noodles you need as you assemble and you won't have extra noodles if you run out of sauce. This requires a team of two in the kitchen. We bought a big stainless steel fine sieve with a handle to pull out the noodles from the boiling water one at a time, 2 at a time in the pot, and dunk them in cold water so we could then handle them with our fingers to straighten them out on cloth kitchen towels spread out over large cookie sheets as we used them. Shoot for a minimum of about 12 layers.
  4. Good luck.


  1. We're still waiting to finish this one...
  2. And a visit by afsaneh's parents from Tehran provides the excuse in 2002. We realize the baking temperature and time is nowhere to be found in our 3 separate stories, so we consult marcella and decide to do this one for 20–25 minutes at 400º to finish it off after assembly, which took about 1.5 hours this time for our now experienced team of two, with trained division of labor. We do the single 12x18 in Calphalon baking pan version, but it is more like 11x17 on the inside when fitting the lasagna noodles. For the bolognese sauce done a few nights earlier, we used 2 big onions and about 1.5 c each of celery and carrots (we measured them after food processing them together) and a big leek, and the 1 cup amounts of milk and wine. And a 9 cup milk bechamel sauce, but we had to thicken it up a bit with some additional flour when it seemed a bit thin at completion.

    Two pounds of lasagna noodles, about 12 (maybe 13?) 6x11 inch sheets of pasta which we sliced lengthwise into 3 inch wide strips, then two passes through the pasta roller machine (the second one stretched it a bit further) to about 3.25x19 inch noodles. We boil them 3 at a time for one layer of the 11x17 inch interior of the big baking pan. They expand a bit further during the 1 minute boiling phase (sometimes longer), then they are fished out one-by-one and layed flat on a kitchen towel. Cutting off 3 to 4 inches to make the cut to 17 inches, measuring with a carpenter's tape measure. The three noodles seem exactly right for the pan size. ani is the assembler while bob feeds the cooked noodles into the line. Starting with 24 noodles, 3 at a time bob figures 8 layers of whole noodles plus the piecework from the cut ends. Ani counts 12 layers amazingly reached by incorporating the pieces along the way and on the last one we have only two whole noodles, so we cut each in half lengthwise and lay them down equally spaced as the last and 13th layer. She drops globs of the two sauces around each layer and spreads them around with a plastic spatula, then sprinkles some grated parmigiano we did up earlier to be ready, about a half pound from our imported freezer supply. The sauce and cheese amounts prove to be just right with no leftovers. The afternoon result waits a few  hours till dinner covered on the stove. Had we refrigerated it (difficult considering the size) which would have been necessary if we had done it in advance, we would have had to rethink the baking time. Marcella said 15 minutes for her little lasagna, pulled out of the fridge. Use some common sense and check. You are shooting for a nice baked top look, golden without browning.

    The guests were pleased. Take a peak.

    Feeds about 16 people.

2011 update

Somewhere into the new century we started heading towards whole wheat homemade pasta noodles for the better carb effect. And a slightly downsized nonstick baking pan, officially billed as 15 x 10 inch but really measuring 14 x 9 inch inside. We do 1.5 lbs of homemade whole wheat noodles at notch 6 thickness (courtesy of our KitchenAid pasta attachment, although Wegmans is tempting us with whole wheat pasta sheets that would have to be thinned out before use), 8 cups of béchamel sauce, and Marcella's bolognese (since ani never reads bob's recipes) sauce with 1 lb of ground beef, two 28oz cans of peeled plum tomatoes passed through a food mill first, a cup of wine and a cup of milk, chopped onion/celery/carrot and spices, and we've been cheating more often than not by getting containers of pregrated parmigiano out of laziness. The electric motor driven pasta roller machine from Italy had gotten decommissioned when bob used the transformer on Geraldine's Raclette appliance from France and it suffered a meltdown. Too much current for the specs. Soon afterwards we sprung for the KitchenAid pasta roller attachment, having put off getting the KitchenAid way too long in our joint cooking career as well. They are both worth every penny, although we waited for a terrific sale at bloomies before deciding to purchase the mixer.

Check out the updated photos.

wfglsgn3.htm: 31-jan-2012 [what, ME cook? © 1984 dr bob enterprises]