I belong to a cooking club in my neighborhood—Tribeca in Manhattan. The group is composed of moms who meet once a month, and each of us brings a dish based on a theme chosen by our host. Some themes have been fascinating, like slow-cooker cooking, which yielded wildly different results, including a chocolate dessert that I happily lapped up until I found out it was composed of boxes of cake mix and pudding mix. Who knew?
Several months ago, the club’s theme was pasta, without question my favorite food group. At the time, I was working with my fellow food editor Maggie Ruggerio on developing recipes for the Seasonal Kitchen feature of our Italian-American issue. We were trying to approach some classic dishes in a fresh way; for example, Maggie created a delicious cacciatore made with veal instead of the usual chicken. Lasagne, of course, had to be a player in this story, and I wanted to do a lighter take on the American-style ricotta-and-meat-sauce version. First of all, I traded in the traditional thick, ridged noodles for egg-based no-boil lasagne noodles, which beautifully mimic the flavor and texture of handmade pasta. Second, I made a traditional Bolognese sauce enriched with pancetta, mirepoix, milk, and wine. Lastly, I decided to lighten the ricotta with milk to give it a more saucy consistency that becomes fluffier and lighter once it’s baked. I also added chopped spinach to it, which gave the finished layers a look reminiscent of the Italian flag—what a food geek.
So, obviously, I had lasagne on the brain when my cooking club met. And at that point, since I could make the dish in my sleep, I decided it would be my contribution.
But partly because I couldn’t face making the same recipe at home that I had been repeatedly tweaking in the test kitchen, I decided to take a slightly different version. My dish had the same hearty Bolognese sauce and layers of delicate noodles, but I bound it with a traditional besciamella sauce made with butter, flour, and milk. And even though the normally blustery early spring weather spiked to nearly 80 degrees that night, the lasagne disappeared. Everyone, save the sole vegetarian in our group, loved this lasagne, though few had ever attempted to make one because of the work involved. But lasagne is really a sum of its parts—and those parts are easily made in advance and thrown together before baking and serving. So the moral of this story is: Make a lasagne. Your friends and family will love you for it.