Pasticho Venezolana, aka Lasagne Bolognese aka Pasticciata Bolognese aka The Real Italian Lasagna

If you are looking for a standard american lasagne, this recipe is not for you. It is, however, the food of my memories.

One of my absolutely all-time favorite dishes.  A traditional Italian lasagna, which relies on a great ragu for it’s richness, and a simple bechamel for it’s creaminess instead of mountains of cheese.  Much simpler, and so much more delicous.  Easily made lactose free by using lactose free milk, and using minimal amounts of romano.

Please feel free to add ricotta and mozzarella as you like, or whatever cheese is on hand that is a must-go.

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Ragu Bolognese, a guideline

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 pound rib meat, beef or pork – short ribs, flanken ribs, oxtail ribs, or any pork ribs
  • 2 cup onion, minced
  • 1 cup, carrots, minced
  • 1 cup celery, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 28-ounce can whole roma tomatoes, or crushed tomatoes, or tomato sauce
  • 2 bay leaves
  • As needed: Water and/or chicken, beef, or pork stock – preferably homemade.  Commercial stock can be a bit salty and tinny tasting.
  • Salt to taste

Brown  your meat.  I usually start with the bones first so that they get a good sear.  Push the meat to the side, and gently cook the vegetables till translucent.  (If you want to cook this in the slow cooker, at this point transfer all of the meat (and bones) to the slow cooker.  Add some water/stock to the skillet used to sear, and loosen up all the browned bits.  Add this to the crockpot.)  Note: traditional ragu bolognese calls for a cup of milk at this point, which I never do. Please add it if you choose – it is tradition.

Add the tomatoes, the bay leaves, and enough water/stock to cover the meat by about an inch or so.

Stir with a wooden spoon (straight edge, if you have it) or rubber spatula to loosen all the browned bits.

Stir often!! Tomato sauce will scorch on the bottom.  Simmer on stove for several hours (or place in oven, lidded, maybe 300 degrees) until the rib meat is falling off the bone, 3 to 4 hours. This is a great slow cooker recipe-no stirring required. Let sauce cool.

Remove rib bones from cooled sauce, and remove all the meat, discarding any gristle and the bones.  Finely chop rib meat, and return to the sauce.  At this point, I often will use an immersion blender (lightly) to make a slightly smoother sauce.  Not a gravy, but just to break up any larger pieces of rib meat and clumps of ground meats.

Bechamel

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup AP flour
  • 4-5 cups milk, warmed (lactose-free milk does work well here)
  • a grating of nutmeg,
  • salt and pepper

To make the bechamel sauce, melt the butter (do not let brown), and add the flour and stir with wooden spoon to incorporate well.  I find this sauce is best made using a temp just below medium, a simmer.  I tend to adjust the temperature throughout – lower in the beginning, a little warmer when I want to thicken the sauce.  To be on the safe side, lower temp is better. It will just take a few minutes longer.

Stir constantly for about a minute with a wooden spoon, then, put down the spoon and pick up your whisk.  Slowly add the milk, about a cup at a time, whisking vigorously to avoid clumping.  Add the remaining milk and continue whisking, constantly stirring from the bottom so the starch doesn’t stick to the bottom.

When the sauce is thickened, it will coat the wooden spoon.  It should  not be thick like pudding, nor should it be too thin.  If it’s cooked until it coats the spoon, it will be quite thick when cooled, and will also get thicker during the baking process..  If it is not allowed to get to that point, you will have simply a runny, starchy milk.  Add the nutmeg, about a teaspoon of salt, and a good grinding of pepper.  For a quart batch like this, I usually tend to use about 2 to 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt.  If you choose to add a little parmesan or romano to your bechamel, do not salt it until after. 

Set aside to cool.

To assemble the lasagne, you will also need:

  • Pecorino romano or parmesan, grated or shredded
  • Lasagna noodles (I usually use the no-boil ones)
  • Ragu
  • Bechamel

Spread a little bit of the ragu on the bottom of the pan.  Lay in your noodles, and top with more ragu.   Spoon some bechamel over, and lightly spread over the ragu. If you want to add some grated parm or romano to each layer, it surely can’t hurt. Top the bechamel with noodles, and repeat until you still have about 3/4 to 1″ inch left at top, as the lasagna will rise somewhat as the noodles absorb the moisture.  Finish with a heavy layer of bechamel, and top with grated romano or parmesan. Bake about 45 minutes if in a small (8×8 or 9×9 pan), a little longer in a larger pan.   I tend to make 2 or 3 small pans, bake one and freeze the others.

Note:  Like many slow cook dishes, I find that lasagna is better the next day.

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After many, many years of not making lasagna at all, one day last fall I made one of my favorite comfort foods.  I honestly didn’t think my family would care for it, but instead, they devoured it.  While I do make large batches of  ragu  several times a year (great freezer food), the last time I made lasagna of any type was probably over 6 years ago.  So happy to be making this again!  I hope you enjoy.

The lasagne I grew up with in Venezuela was totally, totally different from the one here.  As a matter of fact, after moving back to the states, making my own lasagna was one of the first big things I made for myself.  And ate it all, myself.  It did make great freezer food.

To have a good meaty lasagne of any sort, you don’t need a four-hour sauce, but, I will say that a lovely Ragu that has simmered on the stove all day, filled with bits of beef, and beef bones, and pork, and pork bones, and even a little pork skin ! has made the most delicious hearty meat sauce, that tasted the most like the one in my food memory.  A few years ago my husband did a Cochon d’lait for my birthday.  The best part of the pig roast for me is not the  pork that we ate that day, but all the good stuff that I made from the “leftovers”: hogs’ head cheese, chili and ragu.  We saved the bones, meat, and extra skin in the freezer, and then one day I pulled it all out and split the leftovers between two pots: one became chili, and one became ragu Chili and Ragu.  You can follow that method, or the recipe (a guideline, really) below.

Ps…this is what any lasagna will look like straight from the oven..

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But, if it is allowed to set overnight, you will get this:
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Pretty. Although, I have to admit, straight from the oven is very silky and delicious, before all the starches have set.

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