There is really something special about handmade pasta. Yes, it’s sometimes a bit of work, and yes, it’s often quite messy, but despite all of that, there’s nothing quite like watching that bright yellow, eggy pasta dough roll out into sheets of beautifully crafted noodles. My favorite part of making pasta at home is picking up the sheets and watching them fall over my hands as I move it around like worn-in linens. Store bought noodles just don’t have that kind of pliability or that level of softness; homemade pasta is so silky and smooth that you just want to wrap yourself up in it and fall asleep on your work space…or at least, I do. Equally gratifying is using a handcrank machine instead of an attachment (or, I assume, rolling it out by hand, but I have yet to perfect that technique – any tips?). I feel like the mixer attachments don’t give you the same level of control over your product that a handcrank does, plus the handcrank models have the added benefit of making you feel like an old Italian man working in a pasta shop on the Lower East Side at the turn of the century. Does anyone else have that daydream when they’re working in their kitchen? No? Just me? That’s fine, more for me.
This lasagna is a combination of everything I love about Italian food – good quality meat (I got some of Pat LaFrieda’s ground short rib, and let me say, it was fantastic), handmade noodles, luscious cheeses, and, of course, perfectly cooked mushrooms. The Italians just know how to do mushrooms, and as I was able to pick up some hedgehog mushrooms, I couldn’t have been happier. Hedgehog mushrooms are woodsy and meaty, with a lovely, slightly bristly texture that really hold their own in this massive lasagna. I, of course, used Italian tomatoes as well, which are so bright and flavorful that you’ll want to eat the sauce with a spoon on its own (and you may just give into that temptation, as I did – hey, cooking makes you hungry). The layers upon layers are finished with a healthy blanket of bechamel sauce, that lovely concoction of butter, flour, and milk that turns everything it touches into a gorgeous white wave of deliciousness. Everyone I served this lasagna to went back for seconds, and as it freezes well, you’ll be able to taste your hard work for days or weeks afterward.
Start by cooking your mushrooms, then your meat, then your shallots, celery, and garlic.
Add your tomatoes to the pan and reduce, then puree and season to taste. Add in the cooked mushrooms and meat.
Then begin kneading your dough until it is smooth and comes together, adding flour as you need it.
Cut the rested dough into quarters, and roll each quarter of dough out a bit so that it is thin enough to go in your pasta roller.
Lightly flour your dough and begin to roll it through.
Cut your pasta into equal strips (I recommend measuring your baking dish, first) and then boil it for a minute or so. When cooked, dip the noodles in cold water to stop them from cooking and lay out on parchment paper or a clean towel.
- 5 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup semolina flour*
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 8 large eggs
- 2 cups wild mushrooms, cleaned and halved (if necessary; I only halved about half of my mushrooms)
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 4 shallots, minced
- 4 stalks celery, thinly sliced
- 8 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 pound ground short rib
- 28 ounces whole canned tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
- 6 ounces tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
- ⅛ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- ⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves, roughly chopped
- 1 cup dry white wine
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 1 pint ricotta cheese
- ¾ cup Parmesan cheese
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole milk
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Lasagna noodles
- Mushroom and short rib bolognese
- ricotta cheese mixture
- bechamel sauce
- 2 cups Mozzarella cheese
- 2 cups Parmesan cheese
- fresh basil, for garnish
- Combine your flour and salt, then place it in a mound on your work surface. Make a large well in the center that goes down as deep as possible without touching the surface. Be sure to be careful to make as big a well as possible; remember, you’ve got to fit 8 eggs in there!
- Crack the eggs into the well, one at a time, whisking the yolks a bit before adding in the next egg. Begin to pull the eggs and dough together, being careful not to break the walls of your well (you don’t want egg all over the place, but the dough is generous if it does break and you need to add some more flour to mop up the eggs…let’s just say I know this from experience). Keep bringing the flour in to the eggs until a dough begins to form.
- When the eggs are completely incorporated into the flour, begin to knead the dough, adding a bit more flour as needed. I like to slap the dough down onto the counter, push down, and pull the dough into itself, rotate it 90 degrees, and do the same thing, much like kneading pizza dough or bread. Do this until your dough is soft and will form a smooth ball, about 5-6 minutes. When it’s ready, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes (or up to 2 hours).
- Lightly flour your work surface, bring a pot of water to a boil, and fill a bowl with ice water. Cut your dough into quarters and roll one quarter out a bit so it will fit in your pasta machine. Using your pasta roller (I prefer to use a simple handcrank machine, as I feel it gives you more control, but you can buy an attachment for your stand mixer, too), roll the dough out, re-rolling as needed until it is about ¼-inch thick. Measure your baking dish, and cut your strips of noodles out to fit side-by-side in the dish (I used a large 15×9 dish, so mine ended up being a bit longer than usual). Continue until you have used up all of your dough, and lay the noodles out on clean towels or parchment paper.
- Place your noodles, 1 or 2 at a time, into the boiling water for less than 1 minute, until the noodles float to the top, then dip in the ice water to stop the cooking. Lay out again on clean towels or parchment paper until you’re ready to use them.
- *You can use all-purpose flour in place of semolina, but I feel that the semolina helps the dough come together more easily.
- Whisk together the ricotta, cheese, and egg. Set aside until ready to use.
- In a large, deep pot or pan, add the mushrooms to a hot, dry skillet over medium-high heat, and cook for 3-4 minutes or so, until they begin to release some of their juices. Add in 2 tablespoons of butter and cook until slightly browned and tender, about another 5 minutes over medium heat. Remove the mushrooms from the pan and set aside.
- Add in 1 more tablespoon of butter, then add in the ground short rib and cook over medium-high heat until browned and cooked through, about 8 minutes. Remove the meat from the pan with a slotted spatula and set aside. Drain all but 1½ tablespoons of grease from the pan.
- Add in the minced shallots and celery and cook over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, until the shallots are translucent. Add in the garlic and stir to combine, cooking for 1 minute or so. Add in the tomatoes, the tomato paste, salt, pepper, fennel, red pepper flakes, and nutmeg. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat. Puree the sauce with an immersion blender or in batches with a food processor, until mostly smooth but still a bit chunky. Add in the fresh basil and oregano, mushrooms, short rib, and wine, then bring to a simmer, and cook for 30-40 minutes, until slightly reduced. Stir in the cream. Taste, adjust seasonings as necessary, and set aside.
- In a medium sized pot, whisk together the butter and flour over medium-high heat, until thickened but not browned (about 90 seconds).
- Whisk in the milk and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmering and whisk for 5-8 minutes, until thickened. Set aside until ready to use.
- Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Spread 1 cup of bolognese on the bottom of your casserole dish, followed by a layer of noodles, ⅓ cup of ricotta mixture, 1½ cups of bolognese, and 1 cup of mozzarella cheese. For the next layer, I did 1 layer of noodles, ⅓ cup of the ricotta mixture, 1 cup of bolognese, and 1 cup of Parmesan cheese, then a thin layer of bechamel, followed by another layer of noodles, ricotta, sauce, and mozzarella, and so on – you can really layer this however you like. Just be sure that the last year is a layer of noodles followed by a generous layer of bechamel sauce and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.
- Cover the lasagna with foil and bake for 45 minutes, then remove the foil, turn the oven up to 450 degrees F, and bake for an additional 8-10 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling. Let rest for 8-10 minutes, then slice and serve.