Because this crowd-thrilling lasagna has to bake for only 45 minutes and rest for just 15, you can prepare and assemble it up to an hour before your guests arrive, and put it in the oven during the first round of cocktails. But keep in mind that the sauce needs to be started 3-4 hours before the lasagne is composed.

Unless you really enjoy soaking and scraping and cleaning a lasagna pan, use a disposable "Medium Roaster" aluminum pan, approximately 16" x 11" x 3" (supporting the bottom with a jelly roll pan, of course). The aluminum pan even folds up nicely to store foil-covered leftover lasagna.

This recipe uses "no-boil" lasagna noodles, which rehydrate rather thirstily, so don’t be stingy with the wines.

The Beginning:
3 tablespoons good olive oil
3 medium cloves of garlic, minced
3 medium onions, well chopped

The Sauce:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 1/2 lb. sweet Italian sausage, preferably without fennel,
casings removed
1 1/2 lb. ground chuck
1 cup whole milk
32 oz. of your favorite bottled tomato sauce
(Raos is very good; so is Muir Glen with Romano Cheese)
28 oz. can of tomatoes and their juices, squished with
your impeccably clean hands (Muir Glen preferred)
14-oz can of diced tomatoes and their liquid
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, if available
(never use dried basil; it has no flavor)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons fresh chopped thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 cup dry French white vermouth
1-3 tablespoons tomato paste

The Fillings:
1 lb. assorted sliced fresh wild mushrooms, especially shiitakes, chanterelles, and/or criminis
3/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms, soaked for 20 minutes
in hot water to cover
Two good pinches of crumbled dried rosemary
1/2 cup Marsala wine
2 lbs. ricotta cheese
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
10-15 grates of fresh nutmeg
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 lb. grated Monterey Jack cheese
1 cup creme fraiche
1/2 lb. prosciutto (di Parma, if possible), torn into bite-size slices
1 lb. fresh mozzarella (for topping)

The Noodle:
about 3/4 pound of No-Boil Lasagna Noodles (Delverde preferred)

Set a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 3 tablespoons oil, the garlic, and the onions, and sweat until the onions are very soft, 10-15 minutes. Remove all but about 4 tablespoons of this mixture and reserve it for the filling.

To the saucepan, add and brown the sausage and ground chuck, breaking up with a wooden spoon. Salt the meat to taste. When the last pinkness begins to disappear, drain fat to taste and add the cup of milk. Boil gently until the milk has virtually vanished, about 15 minutes.

Add the remaining sauce ingredients, heat, stirring, and taste carefully. Now simmer the sauce, partially covered, for at least three hours. The mixture should seem a bit soupy as it goes along; add wine if it’s not. The noodles will absorb a lot of liquid.

Now make the filling: First, get those dried porcinis soaking.

Place the reserved onion mixture over medium heat in a large deep saute pan, and "refresh" it with 2-3 tablespoons fresh olive oil. Add sliced fresh mushrooms to the pan, and cook two minutes, just until they release their liquid.

Remove rehydrated porcinis from warm water and set aside. Pour the water through a very fine sieve into a cup, and pour it into the pan. Chop the porcinis well and turn them into the pan with the rosemary. Cook until the liquid is virtually absorbed, a few minutes.

Add Marsala and let it, too, reduce for a few minutes.

Transfer mixture to a large bowl, add the rest of the filling ingredients (except Jack and mozzarella cheeses and creme fraiche), mix well, and set aside.

Taste the sauce carefully. Adjust seasoning, adding tomato paste, salt, and/or even a jot of sugar.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter an aluminum "medium roaster" pan. Cover the bottom with two ladlefuls of sauce. Lay in a layer of lasagna noodles to fit, spread on about a third of the filling, sprinkle on Jack cheese, dot with crème fraîche, then sauce again. Repeat until everything’s gone, finishing with the last of the sauce. Layer the top with the prosciutto and 1/4" wedges of fresh mozzarella. Sprinkle with oregano, if you wish. The lasagna can be assembled to this point and left to stand at room temperature for an hour before baking.

Bake at 375 for 45 minutes or until nice and bubbly.

Let the lasagna rest for 15 minutes before cutting into serving wedges.

Yield: 10 or so servings

Copyright © 1999 - 2007 by Tom Steele. All rights reserved.