With two chef parents and an Italian grandmother presiding over the household, holiday meals at the family home of Williams Sonoma Test Kitchen Director Belle English were nothing short of fantastic! The English family may have varied their holiday menus slightly from one year to the next, but one course in their celebratory meals remains consistent—an appetizer consisting of, in Belle’s words, “a big ole’ serving of lasagna!”
This traditional part of many Italian American holiday menus is proof positive that our favorite holiday recipes are often those that are the least fussy and just the type of casual comfort food we look forward to year after year. Belle explains, “Over time this recipe has evolved from a classic mozzarella, ricotta and marinara to a Bolognese base, the first recipe my father ever taught me how to cook. Oh yeah, and I swapped the ricotta for a Parmesan BÉCHAMEL because why not! The family lasagna recipe as it stands today is a culmination of my grandmother, dad and me working together every Thanksgiving to make it just right. P.S. There is one important step not included in the recipe—the nap you have to take between this and the rest of the meal. Don’t skip this one!” Sounds like just the plan we need for 2020!
The English Family Lasagna
For the Bolognese:
- 3 Tbs. olive oil
- 3/4 lb. (375 g) ground veal
- 3/4 lb. (375 g) ground beef chuck
- 3/4 lb. (375 g) ground pork
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 5 Tbs. unsalted butter
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 2 carrots, peeled and diced
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 Tbs. tomato paste
- 1/2 cup (4 fl. oz./125 ml) dry red wine
- 2 cans (each 28 oz./875 g) San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes
- 2 cups (8 oz./250 g) grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 1/2 cups (12 fl. oz./375 ml) half-and-half
For the béchamel:
- 7 Tbs. unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup plus 3 Tbs. all-purpose flour
- 6 cups (1.5 l) whole milk
- 1 1/2 cups (6 oz./180 g) grated Parmesan cheese
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- Olive oil
- 1 lb. (500 g) dried lasagna noodles, parcooked for 4 minutes
- 20 oz. (625 g) fresh mozzarella cheese, shredded into 1/2-inch (12-mm) pieces
- 1/2 cup (2 oz./60 g) grated Parmesan cheese
Make the Bolognese
In large rondeau or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Add the veal, beef and pork and cook until browned, breaking the meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then use a spider or slotted spoon to transfer the meat to bowl; set aside.
Scrape up any bits from the bottom of the pot, then add the butter. Add the onion and carrots and sauté until tender, about 10 minutes, reducing the heat if the vegetables begin to burn. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste until combined, then add the wine. Cook until the wine has evaporated, 3 to 5 minutes.
Using your hands, crush the tomatoes, then add to the pot. Stir to combine, increase the heat to high and bring to a boil for 5 minutes. Return the meat to the pot, then add the Parmesan and half of the half-and-half. Bring to a vigorous simmer for 5 to 7 minutes, the stir in remaining half-and-half and cook a few minutes more. Reduce the heat to low to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Make the béchamel
In a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. When it starts to foam, whisk in the flour until it forms a paste. Continue to cook, whisking occasionally, until the flour turns a light golden brown and begins to smell nutty, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the milk and whisk until combined. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, whisking occasionally, the béchamel thickens and becomes smooth and velvety, 10 to 12 minutes. Whisk in the Parmesan and season with salt and pepper. Set aside to let cool slightly.
Assemble the lasagna
Preheat an oven to 325°F (165°C). Grease a 9-by-13-inch (23-by-33-cm) ceramic baking dish with olive oil. Spread about 1 scant cup of Bolognese on the bottom of the dish. Arrange a third of the noodles in an even layer over the bolognese, then top with half of the remaining bolognese, a third of the bechamel and half of the mozzarella. Repeat the layering of noodles, bolognese, bechamel and mozzarella, then top with a final layer of noodles, the remaining bechamel and an even sprinkling of Parmesan.
Cover the lasagna with a greased piece of aluminum foil and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour, then uncover and increase the oven temperature to 450°F (220°C). Bake until the lasagna is deep golden brown, the cheese is bubbling, and the noodles on top are crisp, about 10 minutes. Let rest for 15 minutes, then cut into slices and serve. Serves 8.