Submitted by Antimo Cimino
Anna’s Lasagna (Serves 4)
Anna is my mother (next month she turns 80)
If you know some southern Italians or you have lived in the south of Italy, you know for sure that food and family are everything for us. Can you guess what is the first thing a southern Italian mother will ask you when she knows you are visiting? What would you like to eat?
I have been living in the USA for now 25 years, and when I go home to visit my parents, my mother gives me a lengthy choice of all the seasonal dishes she plans to make me. Lasagna is on the menu on Sunday for sure like when I grew up.
There are so many dishes I could have chosen to share with you but Lasagna is the best, and here is why. When I was a teenager, my aunts and my grandmother would get together on Saturday to prepare a Sunday feast at the beach. You see my mother’s sister married my father’s brother so we spent a lot of time together.
My aunts and their mom (my grandma) would make the lasagna sheet from scratch. My grandmother and I would make the sauces. I was in charge of stirring the béchamel, often being scolded to not reverse the stirring motion (Oh no no, you can’t do that or it will split). It truly was a family affair from cooking to enjoying the meal together. The food, baked for 10-12 people, would go from the oven onto the truck and off we drove 15 minutes to the beach.
Of course, during the 4-5 hours of preparation incredible stories were shared, so the kitchen was the place to be if you were curious like me. My brother instead, was too busy or didn’t think that a man should be in the kitchen, that was a woman’s role, obviously I could have cared less.
You see, lasagna for me isn’t just an Italian dish, it is nourishment of the soul, each bite tells a story and it brings back memories.
4-6 cups Bolognese Sauce, 3 cups béchamel sauce, thin sliced ham, parmesan cheese, shredded mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, ripe roma tomatoes, dry oregano, oven ready lasagna sheets (Best at Trader Joe’s).
Bolognese Sauce: - Ingredients
1 can chopped tomatoes (1lb)
1 can of tomato sauce
1 lb of ground pork
1 lb of ground beef
1 glass of red wine
2-3 stalks of celery
3 oz olive oil
Chop or mince the onion and join in a saucepan with the olive oil. Chop or mince carrots and the celery as well. Join then to the light brown onions. Cook for about 5 minutes stirring often. Add the ground pork and beef and allow it to brown before you add the red wine and let it evaporate (5-10 minutes). Time to add the canned chopped tomatoes, with 5-6 leaves of fresh basil, and some salt. Cook for about 15 minutes before adding the tomato sauce. Rinse both cans with half glass of water and add it to the sauce. Lower the heat to a slow simmer and cook for 2 hours, stirring often to prevent sticking.
Béchamel Sauce – Ingredients
5-6 tbsp butter
2-3 spoons of flour
3 cups of milk
1 teaspoon of nutmeg
Melt the butter, take it off the heat and start sprinkling the flour over it, with a tablespoon stir to a nice creamy consistency by adding—very slowly—some of the milk. Make sure you are not making any lumps. Once you have incorporated all the milk, add some salt and the nutmeg.
Put back on the stove at medium high heat stirring continuously in one direction. Over the next 15-20 minutes it will start to thicken. Turn off the heat and set to the side to cool off.
This can be done just 15 minutes before you start assembling your lasagna.
Assembling the Lasagna
In a square, tall pyrex or aluminum dish, add a ladle of Bolognese sauce with a ladle of hot water. Cover the bottom with a layer of lasagna sheets. Add a ladle of béchamel making sure that it is evenly spread over the lasagna sheets. Add a layer of ham, a handful of parmesan cheese, some fresh leaves of basil, a ladle or two of Bolognese sauce, and a hand full of shredded mozzarella. Continue layering the same way till you reach the top of the dish.
Add a layer of Bolognese sauce on the top and another ladle of hot water. Finish with thick sliced roma tomatoes sprinkled with salt and dry oregano.
Bake into a 380-degree oven for 1 hour.