Baked Spinach Lasagne with Meat Sauce in the style of Bologna
Italy’s most famous baked pasta is lasagne! Historians have traced the dish back to at least Roman times, believing its name derives from the Latin lasania [cooking pot], and possibly to ancient Greece.
Lasagne has been widely adopted throughout Italy, with each region placing its own imprimatur on the dish. In Bologna, lasagne is made with fresh spinach pasta and layered with classic ragù alla Bolognese. In Liguria, lasagne is made with pesto (although sometimes the boiled pasta sheets are simply tossed with pesto [Genoa's mandilli de sæa al pesto]). Neapolitans layer tomato sauce and mozzarella between the pasta sheets, and Calabrians prefer ricotta salata. In Piedmont, I’ve had lasagne with mushrooms and ham; and lasagne with artichokes is, well, sublime.
This dish takes quite a bit of time to prepare, but in our view it’s worth the effort. You can make the ragù alla Bolognese ahead of time. Also, once fully assembled, you can hold lasagne verdi al forno in the refrigerator for two full days if tightly sealed with plastic wrap. Just allow it to return to room temperature before baking.
Lasagne Verdi al Forno is the culmination of several recipes used in Emilia-Romagna that we have previously featured on this site. You will need them in order to prepare this dish. Refer to the recipes by clicking on the associated links below (each has a “Print Friendly” button at the bottom if you wish to print in an easier-to-read format):
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or cooking spray
- Sea salt
- 1 recipe of 2-egg spinach pasta. Roll the pasta as thin as you can and keep the pasta sheets as wide as they come from the pasta machine rollers. Cut into 10” lengths. If rolling by hand, cut into sheets 4 ½” by 10” (see Pasta Verde: Making Your Own Spinach Pasta and Pasta all’Uova Fatta in Casa: The Joy and Satisfaction of Making Homemade Egg Pasta)
- 1 recipe ragù alla Bolognese (see Ricette Classiche: Ragù alla Bolognese)
- 1 recipe salsa balsamella, made to the consistency of sour cream (see You say Béchamel, I say Balsamella)
- 1 cup freshly-grated parmigiano-reggiano (or more to taste)
Making Lasagne Verdi al Forno:
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly oil or spray a 9” x 12” glass or ceramic baking dish and set aside.
- Set a large bowl of salted ice water near the stove, and lay some clean dry towels on the counter. Bring 4 quarts of water to a rapid boil, add 1 tablespoon of salt.
- When the water returns to a boil, slip in two pasta sheets at a time until they float to the surface, about 10 seconds. Immediately remove the pasta sheets with a slotted spoon and plunge into the bowl of ice water in order to stop further cooking. When cooled, remove the pasta sheets from the ice water and rinse under cold running water, rubbing them delicately. Squeeze each pasta sheet gently, and then spread it flat on the towel.
- Assemble the lasagne
- Line the bottom of the glass baking pan with a single layer of pasta sheets, trimming any excess with a paring knife. Patch where necessary, but do not overlap more than ¼ of an inch.
- Spread evenly 1 cup of the ragù over the pasta
- Sprinkle lightly with grated parmigiano-reggiano
- Add another layer of pasta
- Spread evenly 1 cup of the salsa balsamella, then sprinkle lightly with grated parmigiano-reggiano
- Repeat these layers so that you end up with 3 layers of ragù and 2 of salsa balsamella, topping with the ragù
- Sprinkle remaining parmigiano-reggiano on top
- Cover dish with oiled or sprayed foil and place on the upper middle rack of the oven and bake for 20 – 25 minutes.
- Adjust the oven temperature to 500°F, remove the foil, and bake for another 5 – 7 minutes, or until the lasagne is bubbling around the edges and browned on top. Do not overcook.
- Allow the lasagne to rest for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.
Tips for success:
- The layers, if taking a side-view of the dish, should be as follows:
- Salsa balsamella
- Salsa balsamella
- The washing, wringing, and drying of the pasta sheets is a bit of trouble, but is necessary.
- You only slightly pre-cook the pasta before assembling. If the pasta is over-boiled (or not plunged into ice water to prevent further cooking), it will become mushy when baked.
- Rinsing the pasta after the cold plunge washes away any excess starch that otherwise will act as glue when you lay the sheets on the towels, preventing their clean removal when ready to assemble the dish.
- This recipe calls for baking at two different temperatures. The lower-temperature with a foil cover ensures the entire dish warms thoroughly. The higher-temperature uncovered baking period promotes a crispy topping.
- Pasta Verde: Making Your Own Spinach Pasta
- Pasta all’Uova Fatta in Casa: The Joy and Satisfaction of Making Homemade Egg Pasta
- Ricette Classiche: Ragù alla Bolognese
- You say Béchamel, I say Balsamella