Monday, August 12, 2013

Thyme for a Lasagna - Church PotLuck Main Dish

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Who doesn't love a really good Lasagna?  It just screams Italian Cooking (my favorite regional Cuisine).  And when done right, the alternating layers of noodles with oozing cheese, meat and sauce has a certain Zen like beauty!  A lasagna would be welcome at any home, any friends BYODish party and certainly at the Church PotLuck Dinner.

BUT, this dish does break one of my rules about any Church PotLuck dish.  It will require some special care to serve at the right temperature.  But there are a couple of ways around this...

First and easiest is to simply deliver this to the church kitchen and those hard working Church Basement Ladies will make sure that it stays in the warming oven before serving.  Tightly seal with either a lid or aluminum foil and an hour or two at 180 degrees will not affect the dish much.

BUT BUT BUT... Do check with the coordinator to make sure there is room for your dish.  Many churches have a standard home oven and the spaces could already be spoken for.  Make their job easy and do not assume they will be able to accommodate your needs.  Be sure to politely ask the servers to remove the lasagna from the warming oven about 20 minutes before first person cuts.

Alternatively (and my travel method of choice) I like to make my Lasagna in the morning before I leave for church.  Remove it HOT HOT HOT from the oven and immediately seal (lid or aluminum foil) and double wrap in a heavy beach towel.  Then I load the towel insulated dish into a large beer cooler (No ice,No beer).  This combination stays perfectly warm for several hours.

It is important to serve the dish at just the right temperature.  If the dish is TOO HOT, the layers will collapse.  You may as well serve with an ice cream scoop.  Taste the same but you lose that wonderful layered look.

If you serve a cold lasagna you could be reminding your friends of a midnight raid on the fridge more than a Sunday Supper.

A word of warning or advice on this recipe.  It is completely a scratch recipe.  Scratch made Meat Sauce, Scratch made Lasagna Pasta Noodles and even a scratch made Bechamel Cheese sauce.  Any and all of these ingredients have easy to replace alternatives.  Store bought sauce and a pound of hamburger, dry box of lasagna noodles, even the cheese sauce can be substituted with some drained cottage cheese.  Of course you lose the "bragging Rights" that come with this recipe and as I like to say...
Church PotLuck Suppers are a chance to share God's Bounty with your Church family and friends.  That bounty should be made with love and caring.

OK... Here's what I did...

To save time, I made a few links to the ingredients that I have already posted my goto recipes (like the pasta how-to tutorial I did with TONS of photos and tips)

Lasagna... A centuries old recipe that in the last few decades has evolved.  From spinach noodles to cottage cheese; vegetable to seafood; Chicken to Lamb... I even saw one that layered potato slices and axes out the noodles (conveniently enough called lasagna noodles).  Seems you can slap layers of about anything into a 9X13 pan and call it lasagna.  Some day I may tackle "52 Lasagnas", but I am a believer that you don't know where you can go without knowing where you have been.  Meaning before you start monkeying with a recipe you ought to know the basic traditional.

So, I tackled the time honored art of pasta making (easy really).

Basically, you need the noodles.  Sure, store bought is fine, but why not MAKE YOUR OWN FRESH PASTA.  The flat noodle you need is the easiest to make.  You can even make them without a pasta machine, just a rolling pin to get them thin, thin, thin.

And of course you need a great sauce.

As I have two almost identical posts.  One a traditional Italian make a FESTIVAL SAUCE, LOADED with meat, soffritto (vegetables) and the tomato sauce.  BUT the sauce is made with canned tomatoes.  This is the recipe I use about 9 months of the year when canned tomatoes taste MUCH MUCH better than the store available tasteless tomatoes of late fall, winter and early spring.  BUT, when you can get fresh and local (Farmer's Market or better yet, your own backyard), I have a recipe for small batch canning, Fresh Tomato/Meat Ragu Sauce.  Nothing better than a fresh tomato!

.  Sure, a jarred sauce and a pound of hamburger will work, but this is so much more with the vegetables sauteed along with the meat so all the meat drippings become a part of the sauce.  Simply loaded with flavor.

A Traditional Lasagna calls for a a Bechamel Sauce, one of the CLASSIC sauces of French cuisine (adopted by the Italians (some Italians say stolen by the French, but I digress... ).  Often called a white sauce, it is thickened milk (thickened with a roux (equal parts butter and flour)). Seasoned with Onion, Nutmeg and a Bay Leaf.

There is considered an Italian version of cooking the sauce which differs slightly from the classic French version.  The French Chefs will make the roux and add milk and heat.  Italians will heat the milk and then add the already made roux.  I tried this for the first time and it worked perfect.  It cut the time of making the sauce, it thickened fast and was ready to use in about half the time.  I also made an Onion Bechamel for this.

Onion Bechamel Sauce

  • 1 Quart Whole Milk
  • 1 Small Onion, Minced
  • 1 Whole Bay Leaf (to be removed when the Roux is added)
  • A Big Pinch Nutmeg
  • A Big Pinch Salt
  • Several Turns of a Pepper Grinder
  • 6 TBS Butter
  • 6 TBS Flour
  • 1 TBS Whole Milk, more as needed
Cooking Directions
  1. In a large sauce pan, over medium high heat, bring the milk to a slow simmer, add the onion, bay leaf, nutmeg, salt and pepper.
  2. Meanwhile, make your Roux, in a small saute pan, melt the butter over medium heat.
  3. Add the flour and whisk until combined. This is a white sauce, so cook only until well combined. Do not brown the butter or roux. Whisk, whisk, whisk continually for 2 minutes.
  4. Add the Roux to the gently simmering milk and whisk to combine.
  5. Add additional milk a TBS at a time to thin as needed. For a lasagna, the sauce should be the consistency of soft serve yogurt after it has been left out room temperature for a few minutes... soft soft serve.
  6. Use in many many dishes and ENJOY!
OK, once you have all of the ingredients, it is a matter of assembly.  Really Really old school, you can make this without any additional cheese.  I used some grated mozzarella in mine.

I Like Cheese...

Here's what I did...

Thyme for a
Traditional Lasagna 
(Lasagne Tradizionali)

  • 18 Sheets of Fresh Pasta
  • 1 Quart Bechamel Sauce
  • 1 Gallon Festival Ragu Sauce
  • 1 Pound Mozzarella Cheese, Grated
  • 1/4 Cup finely grated Parmesan
  • Fresh Oregano and Thyme, chopped about a quarter cup each
  • Sprigs of fresh Thyme For Garnish
Cooking Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. First, have all of the sauces ready. The Ragu is best if it simmers in it's own juices for at least an hour or two. The Bechamel is best made fresh right before it is to be used. If you make it more than 5 minutes before use, cover the top with a sheet of plastic wrap to keep a skin from forming.
  3. Have the pasta made, but wait to cook until right before assembly. You are going to bake this dish, so be sure to cook the pasta al Dente. If you are using dry pasta cook for 2 minutes laess than what the package recommends. If you are using fresh made, only 1-2 minutes (and NO MORE) in boiling salt water is fine.
  4. And now, assemble your layers...
  5. Little Ragu, single layer of Pasta, Little bechamel, Little Mozzarella, Little Parmesan and a little bit of spices
  6. Repeat making 4-6 layers, ending with the Ragu. Top the final layer of Mozzarella in batches so the red shines through making a patchwork look.
  7. Bake for 40 minutes until the cheese is slightly browning and the sauce is bubbly.
  8. Allow to cool for 20 minutes or longer before cutting . Longer you wait the better the layers hold together when you serve.
  9. Serve WARM AND ENJOY!!!


Everything old is new again, I have eaten so many "Specialty" Lasagnas over the last few years I feel like I have forgotten the original, the classic comfort food.  The component that is probably most ignored in newer versions would be the bechamel sauce.  But the nutmeg and creamy sauce mixing with the thick meaty ragu really sets this apart.  And remember that ragu is loaded with the Italian vegetable Soffritto (Onions, Carrots and Celery) that add a sweet Earthy flavor.

All in All, this is your Italian Grandmother's Lasagne!

My fresh thin lasagna noodles absorb the liquids as the dish bakes, making them grow and thicken.  And of course the cheese that melds into the ragu that melds into the bechamel just makes this traditional, original, the BEST!


This recipe has been added to my growing list of "52 Church PotLuck Dishes"!

A list of something NEW worthy of being shown off at a neighborhood BYODish (Bring Your Own Dish) Party, a Family special occasion dinner, Any Big Holiday Gathering or of course that glorious day when you bring a dish to share with your Church family...

Ages ago, literally almost a half century ago I was listening to our pastor talking about a PotLuck Dinner. It happened to be scheduled around a church work day when we were expected to weed, polish and do general cleaning and maintenance around the church (you know, back in the day when there were no no-wax floors and church pews smelled of Old English furniture polish). I am of course paraphrasing, but as I recall the pastor said,

"A potluck, like a church requires work. At a potluck everyone is expected to contribute.. At a church no one should come empty handed and no one should leave unfed".

I will confess that in my youth I brought more store bought plastic spoons and forks than I ever brought covered dishes and crock pots of fresh made love and caring delights. But now that I have become a hobbyist cook, I occasionally am reminded of those days and people from my youth. I reminded and I do wish that I could drop a dish of some new creation on those old tables at my fondly remembered Liberty Baptist Church.  Tables covered with newspapers and loaded with God's bounty prepared with love and caring... Enjoy


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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this! I have just taken over our church food ministry which is struggling and only a handful of people have been bringing a main dish meal before services on Wed evenings. With God's help I will be able to turn this around and feed the multitudes, so many are in real need right now!