This lasagna is based on a recipe my husband makes that uses cinnamon and nutmeg in the ricotta layer, and Jamie Oliver's - which uses slow cooked stewing beef (in his case ground, in mine pounded to a pulp with a potato masher) and fall vegetables (in his case squash, in mine pumpkin.) The end result takes a long time to make, but the results are pretty darn good. This recipe is also pretty flexible - you can follow it exactly or approximately, and chances are it will turn out just fine.
The recipe makes a lot of sauce, which is just fine with me - I like my lasagna (heck, all of my pasta dishes) heavy on the sauce. If you don't want so much on top or on the side - feel free to adjust to taste.
Ultimate Fall Lasagna
Serves six generously or eight reasonably
6 slices Niman Ranch bacon
1 med onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 carrot, finely chopped
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 handfuls of chopped fresh herbs, such as oregano, basil, thyme, or sage,
or 2 teaspoons of dried herbs (any assortment)
salt and pepper
14 oz to one pound slice of bone-in beef shank
1 28 oz can San Marzano canned tomatoes or organic canned tomatoes - doesn't matter if they're diced, whole, etc.
2 Tablespoons of tomato paste
1 cup red wine
1 cup water or broth (beef or vegetable)
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pint organic whole milk ricotta cheese
3/4 cup canned pumpkin (about half of a can)
salt and pepper
1 cup loosely packed finely shredded parmesan
1/2 pint creme fraiche
about 2 tablespoons of milk
a pinch of cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
14 oz shredded mozzarella
1 handful of shredded finely fresh parmesan (about half a cup)
fresh lasagne sheets
1. In a large heavy dutch oven or saucepan, fry the bacon until golden. Remove from the pan to paper towels to drain, and pour off most of the fat. Chop the bacon roughly and set aside.
2. Dust the beef shank with flour and season with salt and pepper. Add two tablespoons of oil to the pan and brown the shank on both sides. Remove the shank to the plate with the bacon.
3. Add a little more oil to the pan if necessary, and cook the onion, garlic and carrots until translucent. Add the red pepper flakes, cinnamon and herbs and stir to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Place the beef shank and bacon back in the pot. Add the wine, water, tomatoes, tomato paste and bay leaves, cover and simmer for 1 hour.
4. Use tongs to remove the shank to a cutting board and chop the meat into half inch pieces, removing the bone and any gristle. Return the meat to the pot, and using a potato masher, smash the tomatoes and meat together. Simmer for another thirty minutes to an hour, tasting and adjusting the seasoning as you go. Give the sauce a good smashing every time you taste. If it seems too thin, remove the lid for the last fifteen or twenty minutes of cooking, so it can reduce a bit.
5. Meanwhile, make the ricotta mixture and white sauce:
In a medium bowl, whisk the egg with the nutmeg and cinnamon. Fold in the pint of ricotta cheese and season with salt and pepper. Divide the mixture in half, and fold the pumpkin into half of the mixture. Set aside. (note - next time I plan to try it with all pumpkin ricotta)
6. For the white sauce - stir the parmesan cheese and creme fraiche together in a small bowl. Stir in the pinch of cayenne and just enough milk to make the sauce liquid. Season with a little salt and fresh ground pepper.
7. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
8. Lightly oil an earthenware or glass lasagne dish. Lay one sheet of the pasta on the bottom of the pan and spread with sauce. Cover with the pumpkin ricotta mixture, and top with another sheet. Using a slotted spoon, scoop a generous portion of the meat from the bottom of the sauce and spread it over the pasta. Top that with a pasta layer, and spread with the plain ricotta. Spoon sauce over that - using both the meat and the liquid. Top that with another sheet and a thin layer of sauce. Pour the white sauce mixture over and spread. Sprinkle with the mozzarella cheese and parmesan.
9. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, until the top is brown and bubbling. Allow to rest for fifteen to twenty minutes before serving. Reheat the sauce while the lasagna rests (and make the salad).
10. Cut into portions, spoon sauce over, and serve with a green salad and red wine. Pass more sauce on the side.
**Post Script**: We just ate the last of the leftovers of this, after having frozen them for a week, and they were absolutely fabulous - even better than fresh from the oven. If you have the freezer space, I would highly recommend making one and freezing it! Also, I was thinking as I ate the leftovers that some mushrooms would be really good in this - maybe sauteed in a little garlic and broth or oil and added to the sauce layers?