Friday, March 23, 2012

Weekend Homemade Lasagna with Italian Bechamel Sauce

As I snuggle under my duvet tonight to write these memories, I am a mother whose heart is swollen with pride.  I have so many emotions coursing through my body at this moment that I can barely contain myself.  I must tap out my emotions in order to breathe in and out the thoughts that fly through my mind.   The college responses are coming in...and the news is favorable.

I must confess that I have the most delicious caramel filled milk chocolate bar from Lake Champlain Chocolates sitting by my bedside helping me to tap out my joyous news.  I am savoring every gooey milky morsel.

Anyone who has gone through the teen years with their children understands the wrenching pains and uplifting joys of watching their children stumble, struggle, hurt, succeed, and then celebrate their first tastes of success in life.

Just the other weekend, we were moving through our leisurely Sunday trying to be carefree and relaxed while  flipping pancakes like always, listening to the sizzle of sausages on the stove, and sliding an egg onto each person's plate.

Knowing our daughter is daily glancing out the window to see if the mail has passed and anxiously checking e-mails to see if "the news" will be that day, can make parents feel so helpless.  It's time.  It was time for the "acceptances" and "rejections" from college applications.  Would we say the right words?  Would it be rejections?  Would we comfort or help celebrate?

We want nothing more than to assure her she will be alright. That she is worthy.  That she is valued.  But, this is one of those momentous turning points in life.  This is the beginning of the 'hills' and the 'valleys' that weave the tapestry of a life that will be beautiful at times and painful at others.  This feels like so much more than a scraped knee, a bee sting, or a bad dream.

We are not parents filled with gloating pride of accomplishment.  Seriously and honestly, that isn't it.  But, rather we are celebrating the joy bestowed on us as parents to watch our child be joyous and uplifted for these precious moments in her life rather than be anxious and distressed.  

To manage these interim weekends of waiting and wondering what life will bring our first born, we've kept busy on weekends creating, stirring, rolling, and mixing recipes in the kitchen.  

Patrick is still happily tickled to pull out his Father's Day gifted pasta maker.  Last weekend, he suggested we tackle lasagna...from scratch...bechamel and tomato sauce and all.  

Rolling out pasta dough has to harken back to playdough playing days of pre-school.  Remember taking clumps of playdough and squeezing it through those little molds to make all sorts of shapes?

One of the cutest items we bought when we lived in Japan was this little playdough "sushi" maker kit.  You could squeeze though little rice mounds, sheets of nori, and all sorts of raw fish toppings to create 'obento' boxes.  We had countless Japanese tea parties.

Bechamel sauce in lasagne brings this traditional pasta dish to new levels.  I'm not sure what was more sensual...the aroma while cooking the sauce or indulging in the final result.  I would have been willing to imbibe the sauce by the spoonfuls with morsels of dense Italian bread and flakes of pungent crumbly Parmesan cheese.

Hearty, thick, chewy, Italian bread is compulsory for this Northern Italian lasagna indulgence.  I realize that this requires doubling up on those evil carbs, but ...just don't eat all I can say!  I usually put out a cheese tray with fruit mid-afternoon so I can concentrate and save my appetite for a Sunday dinner.

One of the beneficial side effects from the labor of stirring the sauce, squishing the tomatoes, cranking through the pasta dough, and layering this heady goodness on top of each other is the assured knowledge of ...leftovers.

My heart as a mother is singing with joy (and relief) for the happy news that our daughter is receiving from the colleges of her choice.  I've been through many of life's 'ups' and 'downs'.  I know I can handle disappointments and failures that come my way.  

It is truly heartbreaking to watch your children struggle through these moments in life when they are fraught with self doubt and uncertainty.  You, as a parent, know they do not quite have the perspective to foresee that they will survive and be stronger in the future.

Tonight, we are thankful for the strength and joy that comes this time with good news. 

Furthermore, delicate nibbles on caramel filled milk chocolate squares do wonders to promote those celebratory moments.

Weekend Homemade Lasagna with Italian Bechamel Sauce
(recipe courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis)


Bechamel Sauce:

  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 2 tablespoons for the lasagna
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups whole milk at room temperature
  • Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups tomato sauce, (recipe follows)
  • Salt and white pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound ground chuck beef
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds ricotta cheese
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 pound thick lasagna sheets, cooked al dente
  • 2 packages (10 ounces each) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 3 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan


Preheat oven to 375˚ degrees F.
Bechamel sauce:
In a 2-quart pot, melt 5 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. When butter has completely melted, add the flour and whisk until smooth, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly to prevent any lumps from forming. Continue to simmer and whisk over medium heat until the sauce is thick, smooth and creamy, about 10 minutes. The sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of wooden spoon. Remove from heat and add the nutmeg and tomato sauce. Stir until well combined and check for seasoning. Set aside and allow to cool completely.
In a saute pan, heat extra-virgin olive oil. When almost smoking, add the ground beef and season with salt and pepper. Brown meat, breaking any large lumps, until it is no longer pink. Remove from heat and drain any excess fat. Set aside and allow to cool completely.
In a medium sized bowl, thoroughly mix the ricotta and eggs. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Into the bottom of a 13 by 9-inch baking dish, spread 1/3 of the bechamel sauce. Arrange the pasta sheets side by side, covering the bottom of the baking dish. (Be sure that you don't make your pasta sheets too thin.  They will get lost in the thick layers of filling. We made ours too thin.) 

Evenly spread a layer of all the ricotta mixture and then a layer of all the spinach. Arrange another layer of pasta sheets and spread all the ground beef on top. Sprinkle 1/2 the mozzarella cheese on top of the beef. Spread another 1/3 of the bechamel sauce.

Arrange the final layer of pasta sheets and top with remaining bechamel, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Cut the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter into 1/4-inch cubes and top lasagna.

Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place lasagna dish on top, cover and put on the middle rack of the oven and bake until top is bubbling, about 30 minutes. Remove cover and continue to bake for about 15 minutes.

Simple Tomato Sauce:

(**We made our sauce the day before and that helps with time constraints)

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 (32-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, optional
In a large casserole pot or Dutch over, heat oil over medium high heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until soft and translucent, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add celery and carrots and season with salt and pepper. Saute until all the vegetables are soft, about 5 to 10 minutes. 

Add tomatoes and bay leaves and simmer uncovered on low heat for 1 hour or until thick. Remove bay leaves and check for seasoning. If sauce still tastes acidic, add unsalted butter, 1 tablespoon at a time to round out the flavors.
Add 1/2 the tomato sauce into the bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth. Continue with remaining tomato sauce.
If not using all the sauce, allow it to cool completely and pour 1 to 2 cup portions into freezer plastic bags. This will freeze up to 6 months.


  1. lasagne is one of my FAVOURITE meals. I also make my own bechamel, but you have upped the ante here, my friend! (PS I have been trying out your photo tips - has anyone told you that you ROCK - slowly getting better - still aways to go) Best of luck to Madeleine - whatever happens, its happening for a reason
    T x

  2. As your daughter tackles her anxiety waiting for college acceptance letters (and congratulations to her!), you tackle the challenge of crafting lasagna from scratch; I love it. Your family shares so many special bonds, and at the heart of them are you and your husband, nourishing everyone (and yourselves) along the way.

    Love and joy to you all -- and more lasagna, too, while you're at it! :)

  3. I grew up in Italy and I use this recipe for lasagne as well. I've never made my own pasta, but this is the only recipe I've found that reminds me of authentic Italian lasagne. Yours is clearly a labor of love.

    I'm so excited for your daughter - I loved college & know so many new experiences & challenges await her.

  4. I don't think anyone tells a story with images better than you Sarah. Your images are worth a 1000 words my dear :) The lasagna is wonderful! And hearing about you speak on your kids gives me a glimpse of what is in store with mine.

    chow! Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

  5. Gorgeous lasagna! I remember the days when my son was waiting for those letters too. Very exciting!

  6. This looks absolutely gorgeous! I don't have kids, but its good to see in writing what probably my mom would have gone through during my college acceptance years. Many congratulations to your daughter and hope she has a great time in whatever college she finally chooses!

  7. thanks for sharing your thoughts, you have such a nice way of expressing yourself! I remember this so well....then we went thru it all again as one applied for Pharmacy school and the other Vet school. One got in quickly, the other applied 3 times and then got in (Vet school). Then one applied for a residency....I said to my husband, "when does the pressure end?" He calmly said, "never, you're a parent!". He was right, now one has finished and is job hunting and I'm praying again....

  8. Oh how wonderful...yes, the joys of being a mother are the very, very best, aren't they?

    That lasagna looks amazing. I can only imagine how rich and tender each bite is! YUM!

  9. Wow! Your photos are as beautiful as your life. Been there. Done that. I have twins graduating from college in May. Those life moments never seem to end.And as mothers we have to keep redefining our lives. Congratulations!

  10. You expressed my thoughts exactly with college ... I have a senior in the house and a sophomore following ... such a difficult time filled with all types of emotions ... I went to her college acceptance day and I cried ... graduation is not looking good for me ... :)

    There is nothing like homemade lasagna ... at our household we never add ricotta ... and always do it with homemade besciamella ... love ... wish I had time to do it today ... I guess I will just enjoy it through your pictures.

    1. I forgot to tell you I have the same moka ... which we bought in Italy a million years ago ... it was so interesting to see it here in your blog ... exactly like mine in a different country ... and your words reflect my sentiments exactly ... connecting across states ... just perfect!

  11. I understand how you feel about children and college. My daughter is taking nursing and my son chose consular and diplomatic affairs. And he LOVES lasagna! :)

    Great entry as always, Sarah. And your photos are simply beautiful.

  12. I can still feel the joy of my beautiful daughter when she received the acceptance letter from her college of choice! It is something that will stay with me forever. So glad you are experiencing these joys! Joys that will live in your heart forever!
    Your lasagna looks scrumptious!!

  13. Congratulations to her! I am sure it is hard to see their hearts breaking or experiencing a rejection. You want all those bad things happen to you, not to your daughter so you can protect them. At least that is what my mom used to say. "If only I could prevent you getting hurt, because it hurts me more to see you going through"...but we all have to do our own growing I guess.
    I am sure she has a great life waiting for her, with all ups and down and she will make you prouder each time.
    We are cutting carbs now, so I am not sure if I can handle lasagna now but it looks delicious and would be one of the prizes once we get back in shape :)

  14. I know the anxiety over college applications too well. Thankfully we had good results as well and everyone got educated. Even when they're grown and gone, they're still yours to worry about.

    Your lasagna is wonderful! I love making pasta and often do it as a party and everyone straps on an apron.

  15. oh such lovely write up Sarah. I like to read your blog as a introspective into what my mom has gone through for us 4 siblings growing up. Its just reassuring in a way.

  16. What an exciting time! I'm so glad for your daughter and her good news. The pasta is gorgeous and the lasagna looks delicious. I was in a lasagna mood this weekend, and the hearty dish hit the spot.

  17. I've just eaten but your lasagna is making me hungry again. So happy for your daughter and that the news is good.

  18. I have this recipe on my menu list for this week. Yum! Can't wait. :D

  19. I have to say, I really, really want to eat dinner at your house. YUM!! I am delighted along with you for your daughter's news, and blown away by your images. You have mad skills, girlfriend. You even caught the steam on the pancakes. YES!

  20. I remember these 'college acceptance/rejection' weeks as if they were just yesterday. Such an emotional roller-coaster..and so hard to stay centered while your child's measures his/her self-worthiness on a letter.
    Great to hear that you (or your daughter) is being well-received. It's an exciting time of life - for everyone.

    Gorgeous..and inspiring images - as always!

  21. Thanks for your visit and for sharing your travels :) That lead photo is just beautiful. There aren't many things more comforting than lasagna, especially on a weekend. I remember the days of checking the mail furiously for those letters! Everything works out in the end. What's meant to be will be, right?

  22. Sarah...So so so glad to hear that your daughter is hearing positive news. What a journey it is for all of us! It really ends up being a family affair. Can't wait to hear where she ends up...far from home? This dish that you so beautifully prepared for us looks just delicious..I just love how your blog is developing...fantastic!
    Very best wishes...hang in their Mom!
    Jeanne xx

  23. so happy for you and your daughter, i can only imagine what that time will be like. you have described so beautifully what emotions having your own child evokes.
    this lasagne looks lovely, we love our pasta maker.

  24. I can't get over how much from scratch this was made, with all that love and attention! I wish I had more time (and energy!) after all my other hobbies , to give something like this a go. Perhaps some day, but in the meantime I can live through your stories and photos. Thank you for this.

  25. Congratulations to your daughter, I remember how nerve wracking that time in my life was.

  26. Sarah, Congrats to you and your daughter! What an exciting time. I read on Twitter the other day that she'd gotten in to Smith and Mount Holyoke - awesome! I'm sure more acceptance letters are rolling in. It's nice to hear you are savoring the moment.
    PS you changed your name... what happened to "snippets of?"

  27. Your recipe reads as follows:
    "In a medium sized bowl, thoroughly mix the ricotta and eggs. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
    Arrange the final layer of pasta sheets and top with remaining bechamel, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Cut the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter into 1/4-inch cubes and top lasagna.
    Into the bottom of a 13 by 9-inch baking dish, spread 1/3 of the bechamel sauce. Arrange the pasta sheets side by side, covering the bottom of the baking dish."

    How do you put the first layer on top of the final layer?
    Did you paste a paragraph of the recipe in incorrectly?

    1. Anonymous! Thank you for pointing out that something in the recipe doesn't flow correctly. I'm going to give you the link to the recipe that I used. Here it is:

      Then, I'm going to compare the two and see where I can catch that part that doesn't make sense. I'm so sorry if you are in the middle of making this lasagna and you are confused!! Check back here after I read the recipe and I'll tell what I see...

    2. Dear Anonymous: Yep. That's exactly what I did. I cut and pasted the very last step to the lasagna in the wrong place. I've fixed it in the recipe now. Thank you so much for catching this. I hope I haven't messed things up for you too badly!! Good luck!

  28. Oh how tasteful was this entire blog. What a treat! I was in pinterest looking for homemade italian sauces and stumbled across this page. I'm a Mom with a teenage daughter so I know exactly what you're expressing. However, there's nothing more comforting than loving and understanding parents!!!!! Indeed, I can tell that you are! I look forward to making my lasagna and best wishes to you and yours. Proverbs 22:6


How wonderful to hear from new friends...