Lasagna — what’s not to love? It’s a meal that adults and kids can agree on, that can be adjusted easily to suit meat lovers or vegetarians, that is festive enough for company and casual enough for the neighborhood potluck, that feeds a crowd for a pittance, that is always a welcome “gift” for a family with a new baby in the house or a loved one in the hospital and that can be made months ahead and frozen. It’s an almost-perfect food — the culinary equivalent of a little black dress.

I’ve tasted and made a fair amount of lasagna in my life, and I was a bit skeptical when I found this recipe for “Really Good Lasagna” from “Perfect Recipes for Having People Over” by Pam Anderson (Houghton Mifflin, 2005). But I’ve been a fan of Pam Anderson’s since she wrote “Perfect Recipe,” (Houghton Mifflin, 2001), and I like her newest book a lot. Finally, when I saw that her recipe combined a classic Bolognese with a cheesy, garlicky white sauce, I figured she was on to something. She was. And here it is.

REALLY GOOD LASAGNA

For the meat sauce:

3 tablespoons butter

1 small onion, peeled and cut into small dice

1 small carrot, peeled, trimmed and cut into small dice

1 small celery stalk, trimmed and cut into small dice

2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into small dice

1 pound “meatloaf mix” (mixed ground meats such as beef, veal, pork and turkey) or 1 pound ground turkey or ground beef

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1/2 cup dry vermouth or dry white wine

1 cup whole milk

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

water, as needed

For the white sauce:

2-1/2 cups (2 percent or whole) milk

1 cup chicken broth

4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

3 tablespoons butter

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the noodles:

2 quarts hot (not boiling) water (hot tap water is fine)

1-1/2 tablespoons salt

15 oven-ready lasagna noodles (from 2 8-ounce packages), preferably ripple-edged lasagna noodles, such as Ronzoni

2-1/2 cups grated Fontina cheese (about 8 ounces)

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Make the meat sauce: Heat the butter in a Dutch oven or other heavy pot set over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and celery, and cook until just soft, about 3 minutes. Add the prosciutto and saute until the vegetables are fully softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add ground meat and cook, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste and stirring frequently, until it loses its raw color, about 3 minutes. Add the vermouth (or white wine) and simmer until almost evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add milk and cook until almost evaporated, 5 to 7 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally and adding water as necessary, until reduced to a thick sauce, about 45 minutes. Remove from heat.

Make the white sauce: Combine milk, broth and garlic in a saucepan set over medium-low heat until steaming and hot. (You can also do this in the microwave; make sure you use a microwave-safe bowl.)

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large saucepan set over medium heat. When the foaming subsides, whisk in the flour until well blended. Pour in hot milk all at once, and whisk vigorously until the sauce is smooth and starts to bubble and thicken. Stir in the Parmesan and season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and place plastic wrap directly on the sauce’s surface to keep a skin from forming.

To assemble and bake: Adjust an oven rack to an upper-middle position, and preheat the oven to 425 F.

Pour the hot water into a 13-by-9-inch baking dish, and dissolve the salt in the water. Add the noodles and soak until soft, about 10 minutes. Drain the noodles and stack them loosely. (They may stick together as they dry, but they will pull apart easily.) Wipe the baking dish dry.

Smear 1/4 cup of white sauce over the bottom of the baking dish. Top with 3 noodles, then 2/3 cup white sauce, 1 cup meat sauce, 1/2 cup of the Fontina and 2 tablespoons Parmesan. Repeat 3 times, and then make a final layer with the remaining 3 noodles, white sauce and cheese. Cover with aluminum foil. (The dish can be made up to this point and cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days, or frozen — well wrapped - for up to 3 months. Thaw before baking.)

Bake until very hot throughout, about 30 minutes. Leaving the pan on the rack, remove the foil and turn the oven to broil. Watching carefully, broil the lasagna until the cheese and white sauce are spotty brown. Remove from the oven and let stand to set, 10 to 15 minutes

Cut into portions and serve.

Vegetarian version: Omit the prosciutto. Substitute 1 pound sliced mushrooms for the ground meat in the meat sauce. Substitute vegetable broth for chicken broth in the white sauce.

Yield: 12 servings

Recipe from “Perfect Recipes for Having People Over” by Pam Anderson (Houghton Mifflin, 2005)

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Marialisa Calta is the author of “Barbarians at the Plate: Taming and Feeding the American Family” (Perigee, 2005). For more information, go to www.marialisacalta.com.



From the potluck party to the elegant buffet, serve Really Good Lasagna with confidence. Photo credit: Photograph by Rita Maas for “Perfect Recipes for Having People Over,” by Pam Anderson (Houghton Mifflin, 2005)



Copyright 2006, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

























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