In 1970, Julia Child made a surprising admission on her show, “The French Chef.” She said didn’t understand how the Italians assemble lasagna. She even substituted cottage cheese for ricotta. Fast forward to today, when frozen lasagna is a household staple for many Americans.
Anna Hezel is a senior editor at TASTE and author of “Lasagna: A Baked Pasta Cookbook.” Good Food’s Evan Kleiman spoke with her about this layered pasta dish and its enduring popularity among Americans.
Part of the fun of spaghetti carbonara is that it combines all the best parts of breakfast (like eggs, ham, and cheese) with the best parts of dinner (like pasta, and having time to actually eat a sitdown meal). This lasagna version of carbonara includes mild Fontina, pancetta-studded ricotta, and eggs baked right in, toad-in-the-hole style. It’s as equally delicious served with a chilled bottle of Lambrusco on a Friday night, or for breakfast the next morning with cold brew.
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus more for the dish
- 12 ounces thick-sliced pancetta, cut into ¼-inch dice
- 2 medium shallots, halved and thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
- 1 pound ricotta cheese
- 4 ounces Fontina cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
- 2 ounces freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about ½ cup)
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, removed from the stem
- 1 ½ cups heavy cream
- ½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt (preferably Diamond Crystal)
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 recipe (12 sheets; about 12 ounces) Fresh Pasta Sheets (recipe follows), cooked
- 4 large eggs
- Preheat the oven to 375°F with a rack in the lower third. Lightly butter an 8 x 11-inch (2-quart) glass or ceramic baking dish.
- Make the cheese mixture: Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the fat is rendered and the pancetta is golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the shallots and cook over medium heat, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shallots and pancetta to a bowl. Let cool slightly, then stir in the ricotta, Fontina, and Parmesan.
- Infuse the cream: Pour off the fat and return the skillet to medium-high heat. Stir in the thyme, then the heavy cream, scraping up the browned bits stuck to the pan. Bring just to a simmer and season with the salt and pepper. Remove from the heat.
- Assemble the lasagna: Cut the noodles to fit the dish and arrange a layer of two in the bottom, overlapping slightly. Dollop with one quarter of the cheese mixture and top with another layer of noodles. Repeat three more times with the remaining filling and noodles, ending with a layer of noodles (you will have several leftover). Pour the cream over the lasagna. Shake the dish gently to distribute. Press with a spatula to compact slightly.
- Bake the lasagna: Bake the lasagna until golden, about 40 minutes. Crack the eggs into individual bowls. Press a 2-inch round cookie cutter into the lasagna, going about halfway down. Carefully remove the top layers of lasagna to create a well. Repeat to create three more. Gently drop 1 egg in each well and return to the oven. Cover with foil and bake until the egg whites are just set, 5 to 7 minutes longer. Let rest for 15 minutes before serving.
Fresh Pasta Sheets
Makes 1lb of dough (12 sheets; enough for 1 large lasagna or 2 smaller ones)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour (9 ½ ounces), plus more for rolling
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt (preferably Diamond Crystal), plus more for boiling
- Place the flour, eggs, olive oil, and salt in a food processor and pulse in 1-second intervals until the dough is moistened and comes together in small beads that resemble couscous. Don’t let the dough form a ball.
- Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead (without adding flour) until smooth and elastic, 2 to 3 minutes (the dough will be almost too stiff to knead). Wrap the dough in plastic and set aside at room temperature to rest for 30 minutes or up to an hour (the dough will soften and be easy to work with after sitting).
- Arrange several clean kitchen towels on a work surface and dust them lightly with flour. Cut the dough into quarters and cover 3 pieces with a damp towel. Flatten 1 piece of the dough and dust it lightly with flour. Roll the dough through a pasta machine, starting on the lowest (widest) setting. Fold the rolled dough into thirds like a letter, then roll it through again, feeding the open, less wide end (the side where you can see the fold) through the machine first. Repeat three times, then start to roll the dough using thinner settings, folding it and putting it through the same setting two times before progressing to the next thinner setting, and flouring the dough as needed to keep it from sticking. Work your way through to the second to last setting (#6 on most machines, or the thickness of two playing cards). The completely rolled sheet should measure 4 to 5 inches wide and 22 to 24 inches long.
- Cut into three 8-inch sheets and place them on the floured kitchen towels. Repeat with the other 3 pieces of dough. Turn the sheets on the kitchen towels occasionally so they dry slightly. They should be pliable but a bit leathery.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Boil the pasta in 2 batches, cooking just until the pasta is tender and the color changes from deep yellow to pale yellow, about 1 minute. Remove the sheets, drain, and rinse briefly with cold water. Arrange the lasagna sheets on clean kitchen towels, pressing them slightly to flatten. Use immediately or keep covered at room temperature for up to an hour.