This is our all-time favorite lasagna. It’s light, delicious, simple and delicate. By light, I don’t mean lite (God forbid). What I mean is that it’s not the heavy, spicy, meaty, cheesy kind of lasagna you get in a typical Italian-American restaurant, or at a deli.
My mom, Rita, first gave me the recipe, verbally, with no quantities or measurements and a lot of expressions like “just blob it around.” She will tell you that it’s the kind of lasagna they make in the North of Italy, where her people are from.
The result is thin, refreshing, tasty and simple, and also quite easy (though not quick) to prepare. Tonight was the first time I’ve recorded the recipe, and I’m really excited, because it came out perfectly!
I use a sauce adapted from Marcella Hazan (see below for recipes), for sentimental reasons, and also because it’s a wonderful sauce. You could probably use another sauce, you just want it to be on the lighter, simpler side, and not heavily spiced or too dark and thick.
For cheese, you need either bufala mozzarella or regular fresh mozzarella, the bright white kind that comes in a ball. I often use the bufala from Costco (see my Costco shopping list here).
The recipe uses bechamel sauce instead of ricotta cheese. The bechamel, plus the fresh mozzarella is what makes it creamy and light.
• Rita’s Lasagna •
For the Bechamel
(adapted from Trattoria Cooking by Biba Caggiano)
2 cups milk (whole or 2%)
4 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons flour
salt to taste
12 sheets Barilla No-Boil lasagna pasta sheets (they come in a package of 16, you will only need 12)
1 ball fresh mozzarella, approx 3/4 to 1lb OR 4, approx 2″ diameter balls bufala mozzarella
1/4 cup finely grated pecorino cheese
Make the tomato sauce first, instructions are at the links above, it will take 45 minutes. Season with salt sauce to taste.
While the tomato sauce is cooking, make the Bechamel. In a saucepan, heat milk over low heat so that it is warm. Melt butter in another saucepan over medium heat. When the butter foams, add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon, constantly, for two minutes, do not brown. Remove from heat and add the milk stirring vigorously to avoid lumps. Return pan to medium-low heat and cook, stirring, for 3-5 minutes until the sauce is thickened. Add salt and taste for seasoning, keeping in mind whether your mozzarella is salted or not. Remove from heat and set aside.
When the tomato sauce is done. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Oil a 13×9″ glass baking dish with olive oil. Using a wooden spoon, scoop two spoonfuls of bechamel into the bottom of the baking dish and smear it around to distribute, you don’t have to be meticulous at all. Layer 4 sheets of pasta, they will overlap slightly, in the bottom of the dish. Spread about a third of the remaining bechamel sauce over the noodles.
Distribute half the mozzarella over the pasta and bechamel. If you are using regular fresh mozzarella, halve the ball and cut it into approximately 1/4″ to 1/2″ slices (see photo below). If you are using bufala mozzarella, you can just rip little chunks off of the balls and distribute evenly.
Spoon about 1/3 of the tomato sauce over the cheese. Repeat with 4 sheets of pasta, another third of the bechamel, remaining mozzarella and and another third of the tomato sauce. For the final layer use 4 sheets pasta, the remaining bechamel and the remaining tomato sauce. Sprinkle pecorino evenly over the top of the lasagne.
Cover baking dish with foil and bake for 35 minutes, until bubbly and soft. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes before serving. The lasagna will be thin, wonderful and gooey (particularly gooey if you use bufala mozzarella). Serve with a simple green salad.