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Traditional Lasagna alla Bolognese

Besciamella, known more commonly by the French "bechemel," is a creamy white sauce made with flour, butter, and milk. It is a staple in traditional lasagna, but in American kitchens, it is often replaced by ricotta cheese. The besciamella and Bolognese sauce can be prepared a day or two ahead and refrigerated until assembly.

This and other great recipes are from The Culinary Institute of America's cookbook, Italian Cooking at Home.

This recipe makes 6–8 servings.

Lasagna alla Bolognese recipe by the CIA - F

Ingredients

Besciamella

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup minced yellow onion
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose or “00” flour
  • 5 cups milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed
  • Pinch of grated nutmeg

Bolognese Sauce

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups minced yellow onions
  • 1 cup minced celery
  • 3/4 cup minced carrots
  • 2 lb coarsely ground beef
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 1/2 cups canned diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, as needed

Pasta Dough

  • 3 2/3 cups all-purpose or “00” flour (1 lb)
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp olive oil

  • 2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (8 oz)

Directions

Besciamella

  1. To make the besciamella, heat the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is tender but has no brown color, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture is a golden brown color and it has a rich, nutty aroma, about 6 minutes.
  2. Add the milk and the bay leaf and stir well with a whisk to break up any lumps and smooth the sauce. Stir the sauce constantly with a wooden spoon as it returns to a simmer.
  3. Once simmering, lower the heat slightly and continue to cook until the sauce is thickened and creamy, 10 to 15 minutes. Taste the sauce and season it to taste with salt and pepper, and nutmeg. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and reserve. (You may make the sauce up to 3 days in advance. After straining it, let it cool completely, then store in a covered container in the refrigerator. Warm the sauce over very low heat or in a microwave when you are ready to assemble the dish.)

Bolognese Sauce

  1. To make the Bolognese sauce, heat the butter in a 5-quart pot (a Dutch oven is a good choice) over medium-low heat. Add the onions, celery, and carrots and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the beef and cook, stirring to break up any large clumps, until the meat loses its raw color, 6 to 7 minutes. Add the wine and let it cook down until it has nearly evaporated, about 2 minutes.
  2. Add the tomatoes, the stock, and bay leaves. Bring the liquid to a gentle simmer over low heat, season with salt and pepper, partially cover the pot, and continue to cook very slowly until the sauce is very rich and has reduced, 4 to 5 hours. As the Bolognese sauce cooks, stir it from time to time and add a bit more stock or water if it starts to stick to the bottom of the pan.

Pasta Dough

  1. To make the pasta dough, mound the flour on a clean surface or put it in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Create a well in the center and place the eggs and oil in the center. Using a fork, whisk the eggs and slowly start dragging the flour into the egg mixture. Knead well by hand or with the mixer until all the ingredients are well combined and the dough seems smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes if working by hand, about 5 minutes in a mixer with a dough hook). Wrap the dough in plastic wrap or place it in a covered bowl and let it rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Set up a pasta machine and set it to the largest opening. Dust a work surface with flour. Cut off pieces of dough about the size of an egg. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll the dough into sheets about 1/8 inch thick.
  3. Cut the sheets into noodles that are about 5 inches wide and as long as your lasagna pan (usually about 10 inches) and reserve them on a baking sheet.
  4. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add the noodles all at once and stir a few times to separate them. Cook uncovered at a gentle boil until the noodles are just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes.
  5. Drain the pasta immediately through a colander. Shake well to remove any water clinging to the pasta. Immediately rinse the pasta under cold running water until the pasta feels cool. Drain in the colander, and then set the noodles flat on a clean cloth towel or several layers of paper towels to dry completely.

Lasagna Assembly

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Brush a lasagna pan or baking dish (about 3-quart capacity) liberally with butter or oil. Layer the lasagna in the following order: 3/4 cup besciamella spread into an even layer, topped with lasagna noodles (lay them into the pan so that they very slightly overlap each other), another 3/4 cup besciamella, 3/4 cup Bolognese sauce, and 1/3 cup cheese. Repeat this sequence 3 more times. Spoon the remaining besciamella sauce over the lasagna to make a top layer. Spread it evenly to make sure that the noodles are coated. Spoon the remaining Bolognese sauce on top of the besciamella and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
  2. Bake the lasagna until it is very hot all the way through and a rich, golden crust forms, 40 to 45 minutes. Let the lasagna rest for at least 15 minutes before cutting into pieces and serving.

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