REAL lasagna with Roberta

One thing I've learned in Italy--Italians will scoff at the idea of ricotta cheese in a lasagna.
Instead, there is a melt-in-your-mouth creamy layer that I could never get enough of, and could never quite identify. Until now! Thanks to my new friend, Roberta!

Roberta took pity on me under her wing, and said yes when I invited myself invited me into her kitchen to teach me how to make her lasagna, which I had raved about eating a few weeks before.

"What IS this creamy stuff?" I asked her, and "Wait, do I taste cinnamon in here?!"

So we did it together start to finish, 5:30-8PM. And she said this was faster than her mother's lasagna. :)

Grated carrots, onion, and just a little bit of fresh garlic. Cooked in Olive Oil. (I grated all those by hand, thank you very much.)
We added two pounds of meat to this, which would become our ragu sauce--beef and ground pork, which she said keeps it from being too dry. We browned the meat just a little, salted generously, added about 1/4 c water, and let it simmer on low heat while we prepared the rest.

Next, the besciamella (the amazing, creamy, non-ricotta stuff that just makes this perfetto!)

Melt a stick of butter on low.

Then she added 2 heaping serving spoons of flour to make a roux.  I said, "Ohh we're making gravy!"

She added almost a liter of milk, and said you keep stirring on low heat til it's smooth with no lumps. We had a laugh about translating the words lumps (grumi) and how the likelihood of needing to know this word elsewhere was slim.)

Somewhere between this and the next step, we added tomato sauce to the ragu pot. Not a jar of marinara--straight tomato sauce, and a couple more teaspoons of salt. She said you can opt to add a cup of white wine. She did not drain the meat.* Roberta said her mother would have cooked this ragu all day, but for us, one hour is still plenty delicious!
Nice and smooth. Key to this sauce, Roberta said, is to never let it boil, and never let it stick to the bottom. We took turns slowly stirring this guy for maybe another half hour.
This portion would normally make me impatient, but I was surprised that it was actually relaxing. It was slow and easy, not stressful or frantic.

Roberta said, "Yes I think it is relaxing after a long day to come home and cook."

I remarked how it is not always that way, especially when trying to get something on the table quickly, and how if I were making this in America, I would've already been pushing buttons on my electronic gadgets. Roberta commented how that would not be as satisfying at the end. She is right. I appreciated those carrots more since I grated them myself.

We both agreed that cooking can be an art.

While stirring, she added a dash of nutmeg and cinnamon. She said her mom would grate fresh from a stick, but we were content with that from a spice jar. ;)
We diced two balls of mozzarella cheese--the real kind, with milky water in the package. I told her how when I made lasagna in America, that I bought a firm mozzarella that was pre-grated. She made a skeptical face at that idea.
I told her that my favorite cheese in America is cheddar, and I pointed to a nearby object with its same orange color. She said, "I do not understand. Cheese is made from milk, and milk is white. How can cheese be orange?" I laughed and said I had never thought of that before, but that cheddar cheese is still really good!
Fast forward--the white besciamella is done when you stop stirring and it could boil on it's own (although you don't allow this to happen). It's a little thicker, like cream, but no where near as thick as a gravy.

[*Note about draining grease: I remember making an authentic ragu in America, using American beef, and it was excessively greasy. It had a thick layer of congealed grease on the top when it cooled. This ragu doesn't do that. I've noticed while cooking in Italy that the beef is much leaner. Sometimes I even have to add a teaspoon of olive oil to the pan just to keep it from sticking. So my advice for my friends in America is to drain it a little before adding the tomatoes and wine, but definitely don't rinse because you remove the flavor of the carrots and onion. The only exception to this might be an extra-lean grass fed American beef.]

Now the layering! Choose your favorite box lasagna noodle. (Restaurants in Bologna typically serve a green noodle lasagna, which contains spinach in the dough. Many noodles are homemade here, but box noodles are just as common, and with a lot of variety.) Each one will have slightly different instructions, so follow the directions on the box.

Line the bottom of the pan with little bit of each sauce--just to cover the bottom. Then lay the noodles. Next, use a ladle of each sauce, making sure to cover all the noodles, leaving no dry spots. Roberta tears the corner of her rectangular noodle so that it fits in her rounded corner pan.
Then sprinkle with the diced mozzarella, and generously cover with a layer of grated Parmesan cheese. (I did the Parm, and therefore no picture, but know that my first two attempts at this layer were returned with instructions to put more. So really, I mean, generous with the Parmesan.)

Repeat layers 3 or 4 times, with the top layer being only ragu, besciamella, and Parmesan. Bake according to pasta's instructions.
Roberta and her (now our!) lasagna!
Buon appetito! 5 stars from all 5 Armentrouts!
We enjoyed a lovely dinner on her patio. I mentioned the phrase "dining al fresco." Roberta and Davide said that even though it uses Italian words for fresh air, no one would ever use that phrase for outdoor dining. It's a phrase that actually is used for "going to jail." And that if we asked to "dine al fresco" that probably people would understand what we meant, but that it would be very strange.
Roberta is a concert clarinetist, and demonstrated her instruments for us after dinner!
She let the kids gently feel the weight and the buttons. I think Roberta will make an excellent teacher one day.
Roberta said she hopes to teach music in the future, unless of course she first becomes famous from this blog, and gets her own cooking show. :) I asked her if she knew of Giada de Laurentiis. She had not. I asked her if there was a cooking show in Italy that was famous for American food. She again so kindly replied, "No, because this is Italy!"

Italy--where cooking is an art of relaxation, satisfaction, and creamy deliciousness!

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