The Lasagna of My People — Lasagna dei Bartolini

The third week of January is another birthday week for the Bartolini Clan. Nonna’s birthday was January 26th, a date my Cousin shares with her. Not to be outdone, tomorrow, the 24th, is my birthday. It’s not a significant one but, boy, am I getting close! In the past, I’ve tried to pick a dish as a means of celebrating the person and birthday. Well, with that in mind, today I’m going to share what I consider to be one of the jewels in the Bartolini Crown of Recipes: Bartolini Lasagna.

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As I’ve mentioned in prior posts, ours is not a ricotta-filled lasagna. In fact, ricotta isn’t even among the three cheeses used. (I’ve a recipe for a ricotta lasagna and I’ll share it sometime in the future.) This lasagna’s cheese filling is entirely a Bartolini invention, although not the way I had always believed. For years, I assumed that this was one of the recipes that my Grandma had taught her girls. I told my friends that, as well. You can imagine my surprise when, a short while ago, Zia corrected me and explained how this recipe came about.  Years ago — certainly before my memories begin — she & Mom had grown tired of ricotta-filled lasagne and were dissatisfied with those that called for a besciamella sauce. They decided to try something different and, Ecco! Bartolini Lasagna was born. This is a lasagna that is unlike most others and one that family and friends alike thoroughly enjoy.

Speaking of friends, did I mention that this lasagna has therapeutic qualities? Yes, there is that. You see, one of the unfortunate consequences of maturing is that the good health one took for granted before reaching the age of 40 may not be as apparent beyond that age. Things happen and, when they do, oftentimes friends and family will respond with a variety of foods and baked goods to assist in the recuperation. Well, when illness strikes a friend, I hit back with lasagna. That’s right. Bartolini Lasagna. I know that when I’ve been in a similar situation, there were times when eating was, shall we say, problematic. On those occasions when my appetite did return, it often vanished — or worse — by the time I got my meal on the stove. A casserole, however, solves that problem. A serving can be placed in the microwave and served within a few minutes, ensuring the patient receives much-needed calories to fuel the recovery. And what better casserole-type dish is there than lasagna? It certainly has the calories and, by any standard of measurement, Bartolini Lasagna has proved beneficial to each friend’s convalescence. OK, to be fair, our lasagna isn’t comparable to the waters of Lourdes and you certainly won’t find any crutches hanging from my kitchen’s ceiling. Follow our recipe, though, and you’ll have one tasty lasagna. Even Lourdes can’t do that.

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This is normally where I would mention points of concern for the day’s recipe. I really have none for our lasagna recipe other than to mention the noodles used. Today, you can purchase noodles that need to be cooked before use, “boil”, or those that need no prior cooking, “no boil.” Of course, if you prefer, you can make you own — which I would highly recommend.  No matter whose lasagna recipe you follow, using homemade noodles will transform your dish. (A friend once compared my lasagna noodles to pastry.) If you do make your own (see Notes), remember that they only need to be boiled for a few minutes and they’ll be ready for use in your lasagna. If you use “boil” noodles, follow the package directions. Once boiled, you can lay them flat on a baking tray, coating each with a little olive oil, or, lay them flat in a baking dish filled with cold water. Work quickly or they may stick to each other. If using “no boil” noodles, I’ve found that they work better if each is given a quick rinse in hot tap water before being placed in the lasagna dish/pan. Don’t fret if your noodles are a little larger that your baking dish or pan. The exposed edges will crisp during baking and many find that very enjoyable.

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The Bartolini Lasagna Recipe

Ingredients

Tomato Sauce (click on sauce name for recipe)

Cheese Sauce (see Notes)

  • 6 tbsp (85 g) butter
  • 12 oz (1½ pkg) (339 g) cream cheese
  • 2 – 3 tbsp (29 – 44 ml) milk
  • Pecorino Romano cheese, grated

Lasagna

  • Enough cooked lasagna noodles (or “No Boil”) to make 3 or 4 pasta layers (see Notes).
  • mozzarella (sliced or grated)
  • Pecorino Romano cheese, grated

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Directions

Prepare the Cheese Sauce

  1. Place butter, cream cheese, and milk in a microwave proof bowl. Place in microwave and cook, on High, for 3 to 4 minutes, depending upon the microwave’s power.
  2. Remove and whisk until smooth.
  3. Set aside

Assemble the Lasagna

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350* F (177˚ C).
  2. Generously butter a baking dish or non-reactive pan.

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3. Coat the bottom of the dish with tomato sauce.

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 4. Add 1 layer of noodles.

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5. Coat the noodles with tomato sauce.

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6. Add ½ or ⅓ of the cheese sauce, depending upon the number of layers,  and spread evenly. Sprinkle with Pecorino Romano.

Repeat Steps 4, 5, and 6 once or twice depending upon noodles used and dish/pan’s depth. (See Notes)

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7. Add a final layer of noodles.

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8. Cover with the rest of the tomato sauce.

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9. Place the mozzarella on top and sprinkle with Pecorino Romano cheese.

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10. Place in pre-heated oven and bake until heated through, 40 – 45 minutes or until top layer of cheese is cooked to your liking. If using sliced mozzarella, once the lasagna has baked for 45 minutes, raise the oven temperature to 400˚ F (205˚ C) and continue until top layer of cheese is done.

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Let rest 15 minutes before serving.

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Notes

I use Mom’s Pasta Dough recipe for making lasagna noodles. This will result in approximately 1½ pounds (680 g) of dough. I used about 14 oz (500 g) of dough to make my noodles for an 11 X 7″ (28 X 18 cm) pan. Now, you can cut Mom’s recipe to make less dough, or, you can do as I do. Roll out the extra dough and use it to make linguine, fettuccine, pappardelle, fazzoletti,  or quadretti.

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Fold, Cut, & Unfurl Pappardelle

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When making homemade lasagna noodles, I roll them by machine until they are a little thicker than what I use for making linguine or pappardelle. If your rollers are at their widest at a setting of 1, then roll your dough up to and including setting 5. If your rollers are at their widest at 10, then roll your dough up to and including setting 6.

Much depends upon the type of noodles you use and the size of the baking dish or pan. If using store-bought noodles, “boil” or “no boil,” you’ll probably only be able to have 3 layers of noodles. If using homemade noodles, you can create another layer, if you wish. This is because store-bought noodles are thicker than those you’ll make by hand.

The amount of cheese sauce prepared in the recipe is intended for use in a 9 X 13″ (23  X 33 cm) baking dish. For that size dish, I estimate about 4 oz (113 g) of cream cheese and 2 tbsp (28.3 g) of butter for every layer of cheese sauce needed. Since I used homemade lasagna noodles, there were 4 layers of noodles and 3 layers of cheese sauce.

For a smaller dish/pan of 11 X 7″ (28 X 18 cm), no matter what kind of pasta or how many layers are created, I use 8 oz of cream cheese (226 g) and 4 tbsp (56.6 g) of butter with a little milk. If you prefer, you can scale back the ingredients, following my example with the larger pan. For me, frankly, scaling back the cream cheese would result in an ounce or 2 of cream cheese left in my fridge, where it will probably spoil before I think of it again. As they say, “In for a penny, in for a pound.” Might as well use all 8 oz and be done with it.

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Variations

While discussing this recipe with Zia this past weekend, I learned that she prepares the cheese sauce differently than Mom did. Where Mom prepared her cheese sauce using butter, cream cheese, and a little milk, Zia only uses cream cheese and milk. She does, however, use enough milk to make up for the amount of butter Mom used. In short, Zia has never used butter in her lasagna while Mom and I’ve never made lasagna without it. Who knew?

As is the case with any lasagna or homemade pasta, you can go green, verde, if you like. When making your dough, add a few tablespoons of cooked, finely chopped spinach. The effect will be to die your pasta dough green. Use as you would any regular pasta dough.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Not My Mom’s Lasagna

Since today’s post shared a lasagna recipe, I thought I would end with another. Using last week’s Blast from the Past Marinara Sauce, this lasagna features a parmesan besciamella with a layer of mushrooms and another with prosciutto.  Surprisingly light, the flavors within this lasagna are equally delicate. You can check out the recipe by clicking HERE.

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