The highlight of any homemade lasagna – aside from the homemade cheese of course – is the sauce. This sauce hides generation after generation of ingredients, methods, tweaking and most importantly tradition. Whether it is your mother, father, aunt, grandmother, etc…. most of us have at some point in our childhood, clenched someone’s apron and helped stir the family recipe on the stovetop. These recipes that have no specific list of ingredients and are handed down from generation to generation, and the only way you remember how to make them is by standing by the process and hopefully getting to taste it hot from the pot before anyone else gets to. Now that, just that, makes the recipe memorable. That is the moment that your taste buds will remember forever, until one day you put those ingredients together for your family and friends to pass on the tradition.
This is how my sauce originated. Une vraie de vraie sauce à spag! It is a meat and tomato sauce that my mother made over and over, while I stood by paying attention to every ingredient every step of the way, until one day I finally made my own. I have decided to share my version of this sauce with you, but by all means feel free to stick your own because at the end of the day, that’s the one that matters.
Kristel’s Meat Sauce
- 2 medium onions, about 2 cups chopped
- 3 stalks of celery, about 1 cup chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 8 oz of crimini (brown) mushrooms, stems removed and chopped, caps cut in quarters
- 300 grams lean ground pork
- 700 grams lean ground beef
- 2 cans diced tomatoes (28 oz each can)
- 2 cans of water (28 oz each can)
- 1 can tomato paste (156 ml can)
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp chili flakes (or to taste)
- 2 tbsp herbes de provence
- 2 bay leaves
- Salt and pepper to taste
I’ve decided to break this down step by step:
Step 1 – Sweating
In a large pot drizzled with olive oil, start to sweat (cook until translucent) on medium-high heat the onions, celery, the chopped mushrooms stems and garlic, with about a tablespoon of salt, the chili flakes and pepper. The salt will help draw out the moisture from the vegetables but make sure they don’t brown.
Step 2 – Browning
Add the ground pork and beef to the pot. Break up the meat as is starts to cook through. Add the herbes de provence, the bay leaves and mushrooms caps as the meat continues to brown. Stir-in the canned diced tomatoes, the tomato paste and the water, as well as the teaspoon of sugar. The reason for adding sugar to a tomato sauce is to balance out the acidity of the tomatoes.
Step 3 – Simmering and Reducing
Bring the sauce to a boil, turn the heat down to low and simmer for about three hours. At the halfway point do a taste test to see if you sauce needs more salt, pepper or chili flakes; adjust the seasoning to your liking. When you first add the tomatoes and water the sauce will look very watered down but that is normal. Simmering the sauce for 3 hours plus will help concentrate the flavours and you will notice that the overall volume of the sauce will have reduced. I like to use my cooking spoon to measure the level when the water has been added and after the sauce has been reduced. I usually notice that the sauce content has reduced by an inch or two. At this point I can safely assume that my meat sauce is ready for serving, storing or in this case, layering in my lasagna.
Here are the additional ingredients you will need: 400g of lactose-free mozzarella (which you can now find in most grocery stores) and lasagna pasta. Choose a rectangular baking dish and estimate how many sheets of pasta you will need. I had four layers in my dish and I used three sheets per layer, making a total of 12 sheets of pasta. Cook the pasta until al dente and strain (skip this step if using fresh pasta).
Now, this is when you start layering: begin with a ladle of sauce, just enough to barely cover the bottom of your dish. Put down the first layer of pasta (1). Cover with a few ladles of sauce and top with a layer of pasta (2). Spread the homemade cheese and spinach filling, then add another layer of pasta (3). Cover with a few ladles of sauce and top with a final layer of pasta (4). Add one last ladle of sauce, just enough to cover the pasta. Top the dish with the shredded lactose-free mozzarella and c’est fini!
Finally, about an hour before you’re ready to eat (maybe longer if you’ve made it ahead of time and kept it in the fridge), preheat the oven to 350°F and cook the lasagna until brown and bubbly on top. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 15 before serving!
I know it’s a long process to make the cheese, simmer the sauce and layer the lasagna, but why not make a day of it, invite your friends, spend some time with family, open up a bottle of wine and maybe see if you can create your own culinary tradition!
Got any food traditions you’d like to share? I love hearing about them. Feel free to comment here or email me!