WRITTEN ON June 16th, 2009 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Beef, Dinner, Italian, Pasta

A close friend of mine had a baby late last week, and I’m hoping to meet the little guy today. Now, in my family, when someone gives birth, or gets sick, or moves into a new house, you bring food. Going to stay with friends for the weekend? Show up with a basket of cheese, fruit and muffins (and don’t forget the wine, of course). Since I was small, it’s been ingrained in my head that you never show up empty handed. Now, this new little bundle of joy was born right here in NYC and has a father who hails from Strong Island. And what do New Yorkers love better than Italian food? Nothin’. Enter homemade lasagna. This is the real thing. We’re talking baby lasagna here, akin to birthday lasagna or dinner party lasagna. In other words, special occasion food. Fresh pasta, creamy parmigiano bechamel, and a long simmered sauce. It is a completely different dish than one with store bought no-bake noodles, Polly-O ricotta and jarred sauce. I urge you to try all of it from scratch. Of course, I realize time is an issue, so buy dried noodles if you must, but if you can find fresh pasta sheets, grab ’em and run. It makes a world of difference. Your taste buds will thank you. It’ll make you wish you had a baby every day (ok, maybe I’m getting a little carried away…)

Not your mama's lasagna

Not your mama's lasagna

Lasagna (Serves 4)
Making the Pasta
If you have a pasta attachment to your kitchen aid, or a pasta machine that’s collecting dust in your basement along with that fondue set, I beg you to try this. Fresh pasta is what makes this so good, and so incredibly different from “regular” lasagna. When complete, this dish is actually very delicate, and that’s because of the fresh pasta. You can have a box of dried noodles on hand just in case.
1 cup all purpose flour
2 large eggs
Pour flour onto a clean countertop. Make a large well in the center (you are cracking the eggs in to this hole, so make sure the flour “walls” around it are sturdy and that it’s large enough to hold both eggs). Crack the eggs into the well. Stir them with a fork for a bit to combine white and yolks. As you stir, begin to pull a bit of flour into the eggs. This will start to form a paste. Continue until the eggs are no longer runny. At this point, ditch the fork and begin to incorporate the remaining flour with your hands until you have a loose ball. If the mixture feels too sticky and moist, add more flour (you can also do all of this in a food processor, just combine the flour and eggs, pulse until a ball forms). Once all the flour has been incorporated, clean and dry the work surface, and dust with flour. Knead the pasta ball for 8-10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Cut into 5 pieces. Click here for directions on how to use the pasta machine. Once pasta is rolled out, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Dip each sheet into the water, cook about 1 minute. Pull sheets out with slotted spoon, layer onto clean kitchen towels to dry (don’t dump them out into a colander, they will stick together and become a big gluey ball of mess).
Roll baby roll

Roll baby roll

For the Bechamel:
5 tbsp butter
5 tbsp flour
1 ½ cups milk
1/8 tsp nutmeg
¾ cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in flour (this is called a roux). Cook mixture about 1 minute, without coloring, to allow the flour taste to “cook out” of the roux. Add cold milk in a slow stream while whisking constantly. Whisk until all lumps have disappeared (don’t neglect the sides of the pan). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat immediately to low (the boil is what helps the sauce to thicken). Add nutmeg, cheese, and salt and pepper to taste.

Assembly:
8 thin slices fresh mozzarella
Bechamel sauce
Fresh cooked pasta noodles
Sunday Sauce
Spray a rectangular 8×11 glass baking dish with no stick spray. Spoon a thin layer of meat sauce. Lay pasta sheets in the next layer. Spread béchamel over pasta. Add another layer of pasta. Spread meat sauce. Repeat until the baking dish is full (basically you want alternating layers of cream sauce and meat sauce). On the top later, spread thin layer of meat sauce, and sliced fresh mozzarella. Bake in a 375 oven for 25 minutes until bubbly and golden. Crucial: allow to rest about 10 minutes before cutting, so that the cheese can firm up a bit. Enjoy!

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