A savory-sweet scent hangs in the air, filling your head with a comforting, familiar warmth. The smell of toasted, crispy, melty cheese and rich, mouthwatering ragu instantly floods your chest with the ache of nostalgia. Ah, lasagna.
Let’s face it, everyone loves lasagna. Whether your nonna prepared it for Sunday dinner each week, or you remember your first slice of the carefully layered masterpiece with reverence, the infamous baked pasta holds a special place in your food-memory bank. And, as a result, we all have a preference for how we like it. Some people want thick layers filled with meaty ragù, while others want carefully piled layers of noodles with thin layers of sauce in between. Some desire a ragù consisting of three carefully chosen cuts of meat from three different animals, while others prefer their ragù meatless and filled with heart-healthy nourishment from forest grown spores. Then of course, instead of baking the lasagna in an oven-safe dish like most Italians, Sicilians from Ragusa bake theirs encased in a delicious crust of bread, delivering the mouthwatering bread lasagna known as scaccia ragusana. Every lasagna enthusiast has their signature ragù that is thick enough to hold together, and rich enough to deliver distinction to their baked marvel.
In our case, a slowly braised short rib ragù layered with a simply perfect bechamel sauce makes for a lasagna worth celebrating over. Don’t be afraid of the timing. Yes, it will take time, but we promise it is worth it.
SHORT RIB RAGÙ LASAGNA
For the Short Rib Ragù
▢ 5 lbs bone-in short ribs
▢ 1 medium onion, peeled and minced
▢ 2 carrots, peeled and minced
▢ 2 celery ribs, minced
▢ 5 cloves garlic, minced
▢ 1 tbsp Erbe de Sicilia
▢ 2 tbsp tomato paste
▢ 1 28 oz can peeled tomatoes
▢ 1 1/2 cups good red wine (Barolo or Nero d’Avola)
▢ 1 cup beef stock
▢ 1 bay leaf
▢ 4 sprigs fresh thyme
▢ salt and pepper to taste
For the Bechemel
▢ 6 tbsp butter
▢ 6 tbsp all purpose flour
▢ 4 cups whole milk
▢ 1/2 tsp nutmeg
▢ 1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
▢ Salt and pepper
▢ 1 box lasagna noodles, par-cooked
▢ 6 oz fresh mozzarella, cut into disks
- We start with the ragù. Pat your short ribs dry and season them generously with salt and pepper. Add 3 tbsp of olive oil to a large heavy-bottomed dutch oven and place it over medium-high heat. Sear the short ribs in the hot oil 2-4 at a time depending on the size of your dutch oven, browning each side before removing them onto a sheet pan. Be careful not to overcrowd the pan otherwise the meat won’t brown quite as well.
- Once you’ve browned all of the short ribs and set them aside on the sheet pan, add your soffrito (minced onion, carrot and celery) to the pan with the oil and saute until the mixture begins to soften, roughly 3 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, allow the sofritto to help loosen the delicious seared residue on the bottom of the pan.
- Add the garlic and saute for another 30 seconds before adding the tomato paste and Erbe de Sicilia. Stir until the paste begins to darken, roughly 2 minutes.
- Deglaze the pan with the red wine and allow to cook down, 2-3 minutes.
- Add the browned short ribs back into the pot with the can of peeled tomatoes, beef stock, thyme, and bay leaves. Reduce to a simmer and cover to cook until the meat becomes fork tender and pulls off the bone, roughly 3 hours. Remove the short ribs from the liquid to cool. Allow the sauce to reduce while you pull the short rib from the bone. You want the meat to be “shredded” without really shredding it. The key here is to pull it apart and allow it to continue to pull apart as you stir it into the ragù. Keep cooking the sauce down until it reaches your desired consistency for a ragù sauce (thick enough to hold together in the lasagna). Remove from heat.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F and grease a 9x13 inch baking dish.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Cook the lasagna noodles for about 5-6 minutes. You do not want them to be fully cooked as they’ll turn to mush if you do. Drain and set aside.
- Bring a large pan over medium heat and add 6 tbsp of butter. Once the butter is melted, add 6 tbsp of flour and stir to make a paste, roughly 1 minute. Add half of the milk and whisk together until it comes together into a sauce. Add the remaining milk and Parmigiano Reggiano and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Whisk until it all comes together and has thickened.
- Begin to assemble your lasagna by spooning a layer of ragù along the bottom of the dish, with a layer of bechamel on top, then a layer of lasagna noodles. Spoon another layer of the ragù over the noodles, followed by a layer of bechamel, and a layer of noodles. Do this two more times until the final layer is noodle. Spoon a little more bechamel over the noodles and finish with freshly sliced mozzarella.
- Bake the lasagna in the oven for 45 minutes. Turn your oven to broil to speckle the top of your lasagna, this should take seconds, not minutes. Be careful not to let it burn. Let it cool slightly before serving.