We hosted our first dinner party before Christmas and it was a success! We sent out invitations, people came, good conversation was had, the food was tasty and on time, and we did it all ourselves. Yes, we have hosted the annual Thanksgiving feast for the last five years, but we have always had people helping in the kitchen. This was our first truly solo run. I am hooked!
The last eighteen months have been a time of holiday transition with my parents moving further away. The two hour drive turned into eleven so this year I started our own holiday traditions as a family of two. The the most daunting was hosting a dinner party for a small group of family and friends the Saturday before Christmas. Deciding on the menu was the easy part; I went to my favorite recipe of my mother’s, Lasagna Bolognese with a romaine salad. For appetizers I selected a variety of cheeses, toasted baguette and bruschetta and to round out the meal, a Gingersnap Pumpkin Tart. The most exciting part was dragging out our good dishes and wedding glassware which we do not use as often as we should.
In August, my mom taught me how to make the lasagna but while I had made it for ourselves, I had never made it for a group. It takes a bit of preparation with the bolognese, a six hour cook time, is best made the day prior. In contrast the béchamel sauce is best made right before you assemble the lasagna. To get the timing I put the lasagna in the oven as soon as the last guest arrived.
The recipe for Lasagna Bolognese is below. Let me know if you have any questions. Have a safe, happy and great food filled twenty-thirteen!
Recipe from my Mom
A few quick notes about this recipe. If you are going to go ahead and put the time into the bolognese, do yourself a huge favor and double the recipe. It freezes perfectly and you then have enough to make another lasagna with only half of the work! The bolognese can be made a day or two in advance. Just store in the fridge and reheat it gently on the stove when you are ready to use it. Do not skim any of the fat off of the cooled bolognese, you need it for the lasagna! The béchamel sauce must be made right before you assemble the lasagna. Do not allow it to cool or it will not be spreadable. Have the bolognese sauce warm and the noodles, cheese and pan out and ready to go. I use no boil noodles for simplicity and less mess.
Makes 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups, for one lasagna
2 Tbs chopped yellow onion
3 Tbs olive oil
3 Tbs butter
2 Tbs chopped celery
2 Tbs chopped carrot
1 lb lean ground beef (I used 93%)
1 c dry white wine
1/2 c milk
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2 cups diced or petite cut, canned tomatoes with their juice
Choose a large skillet or sauté pan for the bolognese, the heavier the better. Put the olive oil and butter in the pan over medium heat. After the butter has melted, add the onion and sauté until just translucent. Add the celery and carrot and cook for two minutes.
Add the ground beef, crumbling it in the pan as it cooks. Add one tsp salt and cook until the meat has lost its raw, red color. Add the wine, turn the heat to high and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the wine as evaporated.
Turn the heat back down to medium, add the milk, nutmeg and cook, stirring frequently, until the milk has evaporated.
After the milk has evaporated, add the tomatoes and stir well. Once the mixture has started to bubble you have two options: if you have a crock pot, transfer the mix into the crock pot and turn it on high for 4-6 hours leaving the lid cracked or you can turn the heat down to the laziest of simmers for 4-6 hours, stirring occasionally. Taste and correct for salt as needed. I use the crock pot method so I do not have to watch the stove all day.
3 c milk
6 Tbs butter
4 1/2 Tbs all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
In a small pan or microwave safe container heat the milk until it comes to the very edge of a boil.
While the milk is heating, melt the butter over low heat in a separate heavy, medium sized saucepan.
When the butter is melted, add all of the flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Let the butter and flour bubble for two minutes stirring constantly. Do not let the flour become colored. Turn off the heat.
Add the hot milk one small ladle full at a time, into the butter and flour mixture while continuing to stir constantly. Once the first ladle has been incorporated, add a second, always stirring. Continue this process making sure every milk addition is fully incorporated before adding another. Once you have added a cup of milk to the mixture, you can begin adding the milk in larger portions – a half cup at a time, until you have added it all.
When all of the milk has been incorporated, turn the heat back on to low, add the salt, and stir constantly until the sauce is as thick as a thick cream.
Assembling the Lasagna Bolognese
1 box no boil noodles
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (or more as needed)
2 Tbs butter
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and pull out a 9×13 baking dish.
Smear the bottom of the baking dish with a little of the bolognese sauce, skim the sauce from the top where there is more fat and juice. Place a single layer of pasta, overlapping the pasta no more than 1/4 of an inch. Spread a thin layer of bolognese sauce over the pasta, just enough to dot it with meat. Spoon béchamel over the meat, being sure to cover the edges of the pasta. At this point, be sure that all of the pasta has been coated in either meat or béchamel sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Repeat the steps, beginning with another pasta layer. Do not layer higher than 1/2 inch from the top of the baking dish. The last layer is a pasta layer covered with béchamel, sprinkled with cheese and dotted lightly with the butter.
Place baking dish on a rimmed cookie sheet and bake on the uppermost rack of your oven for 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes to let the layers set up for cutting. Serve and enjoy!
Photograph by Kassena Hillman. Thank you!