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Basics of preparing great Lasagna
July 17, 2016, 10:20 am

There is nothing more delicious than a good pan of lasagna – a famous Italian many layered baked dish of interleaved noodle sheets, sauce and molten cheese that come together as a single sumptuous whole. But one small mistake and you might end up with mushy noodles, soupy sauce and congealed cheese. To avoid lasagna disaster make sure you heed the tips given below.

Over-cooking noodles: Remember not to overcook the noodle sheets. Noodles cooked a little short of al dente are the best option, as you will be cooking them again by baking in a hot oven. Cook the noodles for four to five minutes and baking will take care of the rest.

Clumpy noodles: Once you have cooked your noodles to just under al dente, do not dump them in a colander to drain in the sink as you prepare the sauce and cheese. The result will be a clumpy mess. Instead, after you have drained the pot, lay each noodle flat on an oiled baking sheet. It will take up some extra time, but it is worth the trouble.

Béchamel Sauce: While many lasagna recipes call for a béchamel or a marinara sauce, you can also use a meat-based ragú sauce as long as you remember to add plenty of milk or cream. In short, for the lasagna sauce you need some dairy beyond the cheese; moreover a cream-based sauce also helps to keep things moist and, in the case of marinara, it counters the acidity of the tomatoes.

Start with sauce: The first layer of your lasagna should always be sauce. Not only does it help keep things moist, it ensures that the noodles will not stick to the pan.

Use the right cheese: Parmesan cheese is a good option as it adds a salty, nutty flavor – especially when paired with a good sauce. In case of ricotta, the cheese is said to turn lasagna dry and cracked on the surface so it is advised to combine and beat with eggs, herbs, salt and pepper before spreading on the noodles.

Go for more layers: Lasagna should have at least three layers and when opting for a pan, choose one that is big enough to hold all of it.

Cover when baking: If you leave your lasagna uncovered in the oven, it will become dry. Use a foil-topped tray for a portion of the baking time. Once the lasagna has baked halfway through, remove the foil so the top can brown. If, once it is fully cooked, the top still looks pale, turn on the broiler to help move things along. But keep an eye on the casserole; it can burn quickly.


Greens and Cheese Vegetable Lasagna

Béchamel: To prepare Béchamel, heat three tablespoons of unsalted butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until foaming. Whisk in three tablespoons of all-purpose flour and cook, whisking constantly for about a minute. Add three cups of warmed whole milk, one cup at a time, whisking to incorporate after each addition. Bring to a simmer and cook, whisking occasionally for six to eight minutes. Remove from heat and add 2 ½ cups grated Parmesan cheese, whisking until melted and sauce is smooth; season with salt and pepper.

Lasagna: Preheat the oven to 175°C. Cook 340 grams lasagna noodle sheets in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally. Cook for two minutes less than the package directions so that they do not turn mushy when baked. Drain and transfer to a lightly oiled baking sheet and turn to coat (this will prevent them from sticking to one another and make them easier to handle).

Meanwhile, heat ¼ cup olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add four thinly sliced garlic cloves and cook for about a minute, stirring constantly. Take two bunches of collard greens and Tuscan kale, thick stems removed, coarsely chopped and add a few handfuls at a time, tossing and adding more as they wilt, for five minutes and season with salt and pepper.  

Combine one kilogram ricotta, two large eggs, one tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, and one teaspoon finely grated lemon zest in a medium bowl; season with salt and pepper.

Lightly oil a 33x22cm pan and arrange the noodle sheets to cover, cutting to fit as needed. Spread one-third of ricotta mixture evenly over noodles, top evenly with one-third of cooked greens and then spoon one-quarter of béchamel over greens and spread evenly to cover. Add another layer of noodles. Repeat the layers two more times and finally top the last layer with noodles and remaining béchamel. Scatter 250 gram mozzarella, torn into bite size pieces over top.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until bubbling and beginning to brown on top. Then let it cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.

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