As the daylight assumes to the beautifully warm and cozy nuances that are typical of September, and we slowly walk into fall season, it is time for some comfort food weekend planning.
One of my comfort foods par excellence is mum’s lasagna (so stereotypically Italian, I know. Can’t help it in this particular case). She used to cook it sometimes on weekends, during fall and winter season. To be more specific, the most comforting part of the overall very comforting lasagna was the crunchy and slightly burnt crust on the edges. To me, it really is a mouthful of heaven, I cannot find a better definition.
So while in the US, I had to come up with my own version (or actually many different versions, but I think this one is the best, to date). It’s baked in a round skillet (because a round lasagna, why not) and it has a subtly smokey inner soul, thanks to the addition of smoked paprika in the sauce, plus smoked gouda in one of the layers. So, if you are on the hunt for a weekend comfort-food project, look no more: give the smokey lasagna a chance, and you will not regret it!
[ P.S. it also works very well in a square pan, if you do not fill like violating lasagna’s traditional geometry 🙂 ]
Ingredients (for a 5 layers 9-inch. skillet)
- 1/2 – 2/3 package no-boil lasagna sheets. The equivalent in fresh pasta would be best, because you could cut it to fit the skillet, but if you cannot find it you can use the no-boil version and break it in smaller pieces (or use a square pan). Once it is covered with the sauce, it will work perfectly fine.
- 6-7 slices smoked gouda cheese
- 1/2 grated parmesan to finish
For the Bolognese sauce:
- 1 pound ground beef
- 2 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 2 small carrots, chopped
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 2 cans crushed San Marzano tomatoes (or tomato sauce)
- 1.5 tablespoon smoked paprika
- salt and pepper to taste
For the bechamel sauce:
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- Salt, black pepper and a pinch of nutmeg
Start with the bolognese sauce. In a large heavy pot or dutch oven, heat the butter over medium -high heat, add the vegetable and cook until softened. Add ground beef and the paprika, and cook until well browned. Pour in the white wine and cook until almost evaporated. Add the tomatoes (or tomato sauce) and stir well. Cover and cook over low heat for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally. If the sauce thickens too much, add water as needed. Season with salt & pepper.
Once the bolognese is ready, prepare the bechamel. In a medium heavy saucepan melt the butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour, to form a roux. Once the mixture starts to bubble lower the heat and cook for a couple of minutes, whisking constantly, until golden (but DON’T let the roux get brown). Whisk in the milk and raise the heat to bring the mixture to a boil. Then lower the heat and cook until the bechamel thickens, always whisking constantly (this is very important to avoid lumps).
Heat the oven to 350° and coat a cast iron skillet with butter, then assemble the lasagna. Start with a layer of bechamel, then add one layer of pasta. Cover with another layer of bechamel and spread a layer of bolognese on top of it. Add another layer of pasta, and cover with bechamel. Place the gouda on top of this layer of bechamel and cover with another layer of pasta. Add another layer of bechamel and bolognese and continue with alternate layers until your lasagna reaches the desired level of thickness. The last layer (the one exposed on the outside) should be bechamel and bolognese. Finish by sprinkling the parmesan on top of the upper layer.
Cover the skillet with aluminium foil and bake for 40 minutes, then take away the foil and bake for another 10 minutes. Set the broil on high and cook for a further 5-10 minutes until the top is brown and edges of the lasagna are crispy. Let cool for 10 minutes before cutting and serving it (if you can).