Lasagne al Forno with Bolognese and Béchamel Sauce

By 6 m read

Lasagne Al Forno with Bolognese and Béchamel Sauce (Photo by Erich Boenzli)

Lasagne al Forno is my favorite lasagne. I’ve tweaked many different recipes over the years, but always came back to the same conclusion. If you want your lasagne to taste like you’re in Italy – a classic, thick, tomato-based bolognese, with a creamy béchamel sauce – there are no shortcuts to making it. It’ll take time. It’s a process. It’s amazing.

 

I’m talking 4+ hours total time. It’s not constantly hands-on, but you can’t really leave the house either. So if you’re looking for a recipe that will get your lasagne done in 90 minutes or less, you’ll have to go to one of those big recipe sites with their celebrity chefs, but you’ll never get the flavor and depth of the real thing.

 

Ok, one shortcut: I normally don’t make my own lasagne sheets from scratch. I buy a pack in the store and cook them fully before assembling the lasagne.

 

Something else to think about regarding recreating “classic Italian dishes”: A recipe for Lasagne al Forno can actually be found in the book, Apicius, which is a collection of Roman recipes compiled in the 1st century A.D.

 

But in this original lasagne recipe, two “classic” ingredients were not mentioned at all: Béchamel sauce and tomatoes. Why? Because Béchamel sauce wasn’t invented until the Renaissance and tomatoes weren’t eaten until the mid 16th century. Tomatoes originate from South America (Peru) and were brought to Europe by Spanish conquistadors. They were considered poisonous and only slowly found their way into the kitchen.

 

It wasn’t until 1889, when the Neapolitan pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito invented the Margherita pizza in honor of Queen Margherita of Savoy, that the tomato finally found its place in Italian cuisine and quickly conquered the rest of Europe.

 

Lasagne al Forno Ingredients

Ingredients for Bolognese sauce (Photo by Erich Boenzli)
(Photo by Erich Boenzli)

For the Bolognese Meat Sauce

  • 1 onion, chopped (one cup)
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped (one cup)
  • 2 carrots, chopped (one cup)
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 28 oz crushed Italian plum tomatoes (canned)
  • 3 cups beef stock
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 4 oz pancetta, chopped
  • 9 oz ground beef
  • 9 oz ground pork
  • Salt & pepper
Ingredients for Bechamel sauce (Photo by Erich Boenzli)
(Photo by Erich Boenzli)

For the Bechamel sauce

  • 1/4 c butter
  • 1/2 c flour
  • 4 c hot milk
  • Salt & pepper

 

For the Lasagne

  • 12 pre-cooked lasagne sheets
  • 1/2 c beef stock
  • 1 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese

 

I know, it’s a long list, but don’t be daunted by it. The cooking process is straightforward. Heat the butter and oil in a large saucepan until sizzling. Then add all the vegetables and pancetta, and stir occasionally for 10 minutes. You want the vegetables to soften up a bit. At this point, your kitchen will already smell of what’s to come.

Cooking vegetables and pancetta (Photo by Erich Boenzli)
Cooking vegetables and pancetta (Photo by Erich Boenzli)

Now you can lower the heat a bit and add the meats. Gently cook them by stirring and breaking up any clumps. After about 10 minutes, season with salt & pepper. Add the wine and stir for about 5 minutes until reduced. You may have to turn up the heat a little bit for this step.

Meats added to Bolognese sauce (Photo by Erich Boenzli)
Meats added to Bolognese sauce (Photo by Erich Boenzli)

So far we’ve been cooking hands-on for 25 minutes. Now add the crushed tomatoes and about a cup of beef stock and bring to a boil. Next, lower the heat to a gentle simmer, and over the next two hours, occasionally stir and add beef stock as needed to keep the ragu from sticking to the pan.

Tomatoes added to Bolognese sauce (Photo by Erich Boenzli)
Tomatoes added to Bolognese sauce (Photo by Erich Boenzli)

So it’s been 2-1/2 hours since we started cooking and your bolognese sauce will taste like no bolognese sauce you’ve ever had before. But wait, there’s one more thing: add the heavy cream, stir very well, and let simmer for another 30 minutes.

Bolognese sauce (Photo by Erich Boenzli)
Bolognese sauce (Photo by Erich Boenzli)

And this is what it looks like.

 

I cook the lasagne sheets while making the Béchamel, so they’ll be ready. Preheat the oven to 375℉. At this point, you can add some more stock to your bolognese (you want the sauce to be pretty runny). If you made the sauce in advance, warm it up at this point.

 

Let’s make the Béchamel sauce: heat up the milk in a saucepan. In a different saucepan, melt the butter, add flour, and stir for about 2 minutes. Bring to a boil, slowly add the warmed milk a little bit at a time, while whisking vigorously, until the sauce becomes thick and smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Ready for the oven (Photo by Erich Boenzli)
Ready for the oven (Photo by Erich Boenzli)

Now let’s put this bad boy together. In a greased 9” x 13” baking dish, add about a third of the bolognese, cover with a quarter of the Bechamel, and add four lasagne sheets. Repeat two more times. Add remaining Bechamel and sprinkle your Parmesan evenly on top.

Lasagne Al Forno with Bolognese and Béchamel Sauce (Photo by Erich Boenzli)
Lasagne al Forno with Bolognese and Béchamel Sauce (Photo by Erich Boenzli)

Bake for about 40-45 minutes and let rest for about 10 minutes before serving. Have some friends over and look at their faces when they take their first bite. Yes, you were working on the dish for a good 4 hours, but your friend’s smiles and empty plates in no time will more than make up for it.

 

We told our friends to come visit, to share this “classic” Italian dish. We ended up enjoying it with three different Italian red wines that were all fantastic with this lasagne.

 

I know, I’m usually more into cooking delicious 30-minute meals with a couple fresh ingredients and otherwise using my essential food pantry, but once in a while, there’s just nothing that beats a slowly cooked meal to incorporate all the flavors together.

 

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Lasagne Al Forno with Bolognese and Béchamel Sauce (Photo by Erich Boenzli)

Lasagne al Forno with Bolognese and Béchamel Sauce

This is my favorite lasagne. I’ve tweaked many different recipes over the years, but always came back to the same conclusion. If you want your lasagne to taste like you’re in Italy - a classic, thick, tomato-based bolognese, with a creamy béchamel sauce - there are no shortcuts to making it. It’ll take time. It’s a process. It’s amazing.
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 3 hrs 45 mins
Total Time 4 hrs 5 mins
Servings 6

Ingredients
  

Bolognese Meat Sauce:

  • 1 onion, chopped (one cup)
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped (one cup)
  • 2 carrots, chopped (one cup)
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 28 oz crushed Italian plum tomatoes (canned)
  • 3 cups beef stock
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 4 oz pancetta, chopped
  • 9 oz ground beef
  • 9 oz ground pork
  • Salt & pepper

Bechamel Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 4 cups hot milk
  • Salt & pepper

Lasagne:

  • 12 pre-cooked lasagne sheets
  • 1/2 cup beef stock
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Instructions
 

Bolognese Sauce:

  • Heat butter and oil in a large saucepan until sizzling.
  • Then add all the vegetables and pancetta, and stir occasionally for 10 minutes. You want the vegetables to soften up a bit.
  • Lower the heat a bit and add the meats.  Gently cook them by stirring and breaking up any clumps.  After about 10 minutes, season with salt & pepper.
  • Add the wine and stir for about 5 minutes until reduced.  You may have to turn up the heat a little bit for this step. 
  • Now add the crushed tomatoes and about a cup of beef stock and bring to a boil.
  • Next, lower the heat to a gentle simmer, and over the next two hours, occasionally stir and add beef stock as needed to keep the ragu from sticking to the pan.
  • Add heavy cream, stir very well, and let simmer for another 30 minutes.
  • Add some more stock to your bolognese (you want the sauce to be pretty runny).

Bechamel Sauce:

  • Preheat oven to 375℉.
  • Cook the lasagne sheets while making the Béchamel, so they’ll be ready.
  • Heat up the milk in a saucepan.
  • In a different saucepan, melt the butter, add flour, and stir for about 2 minutes.
  • Bring to a boil, slowly add the warmed milk a little bit at a time, while whisking vigorously, until the sauce becomes thick and smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Assemble Lasagne:

  • In a greased 9” x 13” baking dish, add about a third of the bolognese, cover with a quarter of the Bechamel, and add four lasagne sheets.
  • Repeat two more times. 
  •  Add remaining Bechamel and sprinkle your Parmesan evenly on top.
  • Bake for about 40-45 minutes and let rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

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