Saturday, March 20, 2010

Lasagna Bolognese Recipe

lasagna bolognese

I made lasagna last week to help me tackle the physical and mental challenge of the daily classes and rehearsals involved in the staging I’m doing of Merce Cunningham’s Summerspace for the phenomenal dancers of The Juilliard School for their spring concert. My diet is mostly vegetarian, but it was a long, cold, and snowy winter, and lately, I’ve been craving lots of meaty fortification against the brutality of it all. It is the last I will make of winter’s hearty meals, however, for spring is here, and I am shedding. I even wore sandals today. And shorts. It was a Summerspace kind of day.

Thinking a lot lately of Merce and John Cage (Merce’s long-time partner and collaborator), I’ve been revisiting some of John's books and came across one of my favorite passages from Silence. A student of Zen Buddhism, and an avid wild mushroom hunter, John curiously searched for a Japanese haiku involving the fungus, and came across this one, by Bashō:

matsutake ya
shiranu ko no ha no

This haiku is translated literally into English as:

pine mushroom
ignorance leaf of tree

John Cage found this haiku in R.H. Blyth's compilation of haiku poems, the autumn section, where Blyth translates the literal Japanese words into the following English haiku:

The leaf of some unknown tree
Sticking on a mushroom

The story goes that John read this translation to a Japanese composer friend (Ichiyanagi or Takahashi, he can’t remember who), and the composer replied that he found Blyth’s translation uninteresting, and, at Cage’s urging, came back two days later with this version:

Mushroom does not know
That leaf is
Sticking on it

After three years of thought on the matter, John created his own version:

That that’s unkown
Brings mushroom and leaf together

And then, later, this one:

What Leaf?
What Mushroom?

So, in honor of Merce and John and Summerspace at Juilliard next week, here’s my version:

The lost leaf of tree
and mushroom stick together

And this:

Wayward tree leaf,
Earthy mushroom togetherness

And taking some liberties:

Adhere to me, leaf
On your mushroomy free fall

Next time, Japanese mushroom lasagna it is. With shiso leaves, perhaps.

Lasagna Bolognese from Mario Batali

Serves six to eight.



1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 medium onions, finely chopped

1 carrot, finely chopped

4 stalks celery, finely chopped

5 cloves garlic, sliced

1 pound veal, ground

1 pound pork, ground

4 ounces pancetta, ground

1 8-ounce can tomato paste

1 cup milk

/2 cup white wine

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


5 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup flour

3 cups milk

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg


3/4 to 1 pound fresh pasta sheets, about 7 by 4 inches, or dried lasagne noodles blanched for 6 minutes and refreshed

1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Oil for brushing

Cooking Instructions


In a large heavy-bottom saucepan, heat olive oil. Add onion, carrot, celery, and garlic, and sweat over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until vegetables are translucent. Add veal, pork, and pancetta to the vegetables, and brown over high heat, stirring to keep the meat from sticking together. Add the tomato paste, milk, wine, thyme, and 1 cup water, and simmer over medium-low heat for 1 to 1 1/2 hours (if the ragù becomes too thick, add a little more water). Season to taste with salt and pepper, and remove from heat.


Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, add the flour, and whisk until smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring regularly, until the mixture turns golden brown, about 6 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a separate pan until it is just about to boil. Add the milk to the butter mixture, 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until the sauce is very smooth. Bring to a boil and cook for 30 seconds longer. Remove from the heat and season with salt and nutmeg.


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish with melted butter or oil, and layer in the following order from the bottom: ragù, pasta, béchamel, and grated cheese (saving about 1 cup béchamel for last topping), making 3 to 4 layers of pasta, finishing with ragù, béchamel, and 1/4 cup of the Parmigiano-Reggiano sprinkled over the top. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the casserole is bubbling. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for 20 minutes, slice, and serve.


Bo said...

Looks delicious...Japanese mushroom lasagna sounds interesting.

Richard said...

Interesting, thinking of studying Japanese myself. :P

Tau-Mu said...

Fascinating story Hungry Bear. I need to learn more about Cage. Here is my version:

Pine mushroom
Ignorance, fallen leaf of tree

The lasagna looks really tasty!

Geoffrey said...

Looks good! In making the Béchamel, though, I always just add all the milk directly to the butter/flour mixture, all at once and without heating it up. Seems to work just fine, and one less dish to clean!! Thanks!

Banu said...

Yes, Geoffrey, as do I add cold milk (but not all at once, a little bit at a time), I just didn't make a note of it. Thanks for the reminder.

Tau-Mu: love it!

Thanks, Bo and Richard.

Sir Thomas AKA (Winters Reaper) said...

OMG girl that rocks the heavens...

you are good...

PFx said...

Properly made!

Oh no...Hungry hungry hungry.

Pekin Ogan said...

So the mushroom said to the fallen pine needle
I was resting peacefully before your impertinent meddle
I go into soups, casseroles, lasagnas and such
Whereas the best you can do is turn into mulch
So please be a good needle, go away and stop sticking on me
as contrary to what was said, I know you are there, you see
So I know this rambling is not proper Haiku
But for this act, I will l not commit seppuku

Velva said...

The lasagna looks hearty. I can see why you wiould crave the 'meatiness".... Today, it was warmer in NYC than in North Florida, what's up with that? :-) No doubt that you were 'shedding" awesome!

Fritz Bogott said...

Thanks, Banu! This left me smiling, as your posts always do.

Hathor's Bath said...

Lasagna was one of the few things my mum was capable of cooking as she used to work in Mama D's kitchen in Minnesota - I havent' made it in ages and, you're right, it's a pretty heavy dish but hm...sorely tempted now!

Michelle J said...

That lasagna looks so good. My stomach is growling!

I had to do a Haiku project back in high school. So of course I had to scour the earth to find the weirdest haiku ever. Here are my 2 favorites, as best as I can remember them -

behind the toilet
slime coated copper ball floats
in the water tank dark

dead cat lies frozen
stuck to winter's lawn
peeling her off

I guess that I was a weirder than normal teenager. ;P

Fritz Bogott said...

lasagna fortifying
a weary dancer

Banu said...

Oh, YES, everyone; I'm so happy my blog is fueling the creative fire in all of you!

Michelle J said...

Because you rock -

;) Michelle

Banu said...

Michelle J

You're so cool. Thank you for nominating me for a Stiletto Award, and congratulations on your own!

Blogging To A Better Bonnie said...

I should never have looked up your blog while I'm starving. I got as far as the photo and that was it for me.
One more day and my newly renovated kitchen will be complete. And this is the dish I'm going to make.
Thank you Banu.

Citrus Quark said...

lasagna is a nice food to eat while contemplating the mysteries of life.

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