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White Lasagna

White Lasagna

The holidays keep our schedules packed. Attending candlelight services on Christmas Eve has been a tradition in our family for years. But the challenge was juggling Christmas Eve activities and meal preparation. I needed something I could prepare in advance, let it cook while we were out and have a fabulous meal ready to serve when we got home. White Lasagna has become the answer.

White Lasagna is a variation of the lasagna my dear friend Jane and I made when we were catering. Sheets of pasta are layered between a delicate meat sauce and a creamy, ricotta béchamel sauce. The combination creates an unbelievable dish.

The meat sauce is made with pork, veal, lamb and sirloin cooked with sweet onions and carrots then simmered in white wine and tomato sauce. Then it’s seasoned with parsley, basil, oregano and bay leaves, adding an earthy tone. The meat sauce provides a flavor far different than a thick, tomato-heavy version we’ve all been served.

The béchamel sauce is a wonderful twist to this lasagna and adds an elegant and decadent touch. Don’t be put off by the name. This classic sauce is very simple to make, starting with a roux made of butter and flour then finished with milk and cream before blending in the ricotta cheese.

You can make the meat sauce several days in advance – it gets more flavorful by the day. And the beauty of this recipe, you can assemble the lasagna the night before or early in the day you’re going to serve it – just refrigerate until you’re ready to bake. Using “ready-to-bake” lasagna pasta sheets takes out the step of having to pre-cook pasta noodles, one that is tedious at best. I admit I was a skeptic about using the “ready-to-bake” pasta sheets but they work really well!

Luscious and hearty – this dish is large enough to feed a crowd of even the pickiest eaters!

White Lasagna

For the lasagna you’ll need:

1 package “ready-to-bake” lasagna pasta sheets, 1) 9-ounce package

2 cups shredded or grated Parmesan cheese (I use shredded between layers then top with ½ cup grated.)

For the meat sauce:

¼ cup butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 small onions, rough chopped, about 2 cups

3 small carrots, rough chopped, about 1 cup

1 pound ground pork

1 pound ground veal

1 pound ground lamb

1 pound ground sirloin

3-1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

¾ cup dry white wine, such as a Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio

2 cans tomato sauce, 15-ounces each

1 can tomato paste, 6-ounces

2 teaspoons dried basil

2 teaspoons dried parsley

4 teaspoons dried oregano

3 bay leaves

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, melt butter with olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onions and carrots and cook for about 10 minutes until the vegetables start to soften.

Add the ground meat, breaking up and mixing with the vegetables. Add 2 teaspoons kosher salt and the black pepper. Continue cooking until the meat is mostly cooked through and no longer pink. Drain off any excess drippings.

Add the white wine, the tomato sauce and tomato paste along with the herbs, red pepper flakes and remaining kosher salt or to taste.

Mix well and cook partially covered over medium-low heat for 45 minutes.

While the meat sauce simmers, make the béchamel sauce:

½ cup butter

½ cup flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

1 quart milk, warmed

1 cup heavy cream

1 carton ricotta cheese, 16 ounces

In a large pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, the kosher salt and black pepper and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes to cook the flour.

Slowly pour in the warmed milk and continue cooking over low heat until the sauce thickens. Stir in the cream and the ricotta cheese blending until the sauce is smooth.

To assemble the lasagna:

Lightly spray a large, deep baking dish with a cooking spray. (The pan I use is 15” x 10” x 3” deep or you can split between two smaller baking dishes.) Remove the bay leaves from the meat sauce then spread a thin layer in the bottom of the dish.

Next, lay sheets of pasta on top. The pasta will expand as it cooks.

Cover the pasta with half of the remaining meat sauce then spread ½ cup of the shredded Parmesan cheese over the top.

Add another layer of pasta sheets and cover with half of the béchamel sauce, sprinkle with ½ cup of the shredded Parmesan cheese.

Repeat with a layer of pasta, top with the remaining meat sauce and another ½ cup of Parmesan, then finish with a final layer of pasta sheets and the remaining béchamel. Top with ½ grated or shredded Parmesan cheese.

Cover with foil and let the lasagna rest 30 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes covered, remove the foil and continue baking for another 15 minutes or until the lasagna is hot and bubbling.

Let the lasagna rest for 15 minutes for cleaner cuts.

To make this ahead, cover the lasagna with plastic wrap and refrigerate. About an hour before you bake it, let it rest at room temperature, remove the plastic wrap and then bake as above. If you want to “slow bake”, let the lasagna rest for about 30 minutes and set the dish on a large baking sheet. Remove the plastic wrap, cover with foil and bake at 250 degrees for 2 hours. The last 10-15 minutes remove the foil and finish baking until the lasagna is heated through.

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