Julia Turshen’s “A Nice Lasagna”
This lasagna comes from Julia Turshen’s lovely cookbook, Small Victories: Recipes, Advice + Hundreds of Ideas for Home Cooking Triumphs (Chronicle Books, 2016). Not only is it the simplest lasagna I’ve ever made, it’s also the lightest and most elegant. Julia writes that there are three “small victories” with the recipe. The first is using a food processor to make an easy homemade pasta dough (although I would argue that an even bigger victory is that you can replace the homemade pasta with store-bought no-boil lasagna noodles, which I did 😉). The second small victory is skipping both the American tradition of using ricotta and the Italian tradition of adding béchamel. Instead, Julia adds crème fraîche directly to the tomato sauce, which lends the requisite creaminess that all great lasagnas have, but with zero effort. (I LOVED this cheat. The sauce was so delicious, I had to stop myself from sneaking spoonfuls while assembling the lasagna, lest I run short.) Finally, the third small victory is a high sauce-to-pasta ratio, which eliminates the step of having to cook the noodles before assembling the lasagna — and also allows the noodles to absorb the flavor of the sauce as they cook in the pan.
Begin with the sauce. In a large bowl, crush the tomatoes with your hands.
Julia suggests this as a good job for kids — I agree, although it’s messy so you might want to put the bowl in the sink.
In a large saucepan, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook until it begins to sizzle, about 1 minute.
Add the tomatoes and salt and bring to a boil.
Lower the heat and let the sauce simmer, stirring every so often, until it’s slightly reduced, about 30 minutes.
Mix in the crème fraîche.
Season to taste with salt and set aside.
Next, assemble the lasagna. Ladle a thin layer of sauce onto the bottom of a baking dish. Spread the sauce to cover the surface of the dish, then add a layer of pasta over top.
Spoon over just enough tomato sauce to cover the pasta and then scatter over some of the Parmesan, mozzarella, and basil.
Repeat the layering process until you’ve used up all of your components, ending with sauce and cheese (not naked pasta or basil, both of which would burn if exposed).
Bake the lasagna, uncovered, until it’s nicely browned and the edges are bubbling, 35 to 40 minutes.
Let it rest at room temperature for 15 minutes to allow the pasta fully absorb all of the bubbling sauce, so you don’t end up with soupy slices.
Julia Turshen's Lasagna
For the Sauce
- Two 28-oz cans whole peeled tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- Kosher salt
- 1 cup crème fraîche
For the Pasta Dough (see note)
- 2¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
- 3 eggs
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup finely grated Parmesan Cheese
- 1 cup coarsely grated whole-milk mozzarella cheese
- 2 large handfuls fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces if large
For the Sauce
- In a large bowl, crush the tomatoes with your hands (this is a messy but fun job—it’s a very good one for children) until they are in bite-size pieces.
- In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil, add the garlic, and cook, stirring, until it begins to sizzle, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and 1 tsp salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and let the sauce simmer, stirring every so often, until it is slightly reduced, about 30 minutes.
- Whisk the crème fraîche into the sauce and season to taste with salt. Set the sauce aside to cool to room temperature while you conquer the pasta.
For the Pasta (See note about using store-bought noodles)
- In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, eggs and salt and run the machine until a firm ball of dough forms around the blade, cleans the side of the processor bowl, and doesn’t stick to your fingers when you touch it. If the dough is too dry, add a little water, 1 tsp at a time, until the dough comes together. If, on the other hand, it’s sticky when you touch it, add a little flour, 1 tsp at a time, until the dough comes together. (The exact amount of moisture in the dough depends on how you measured your flour, how large your eggs are, even the humidity in the air.) Once your dough is good to go, dust it lightly with flour and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. Let it rest at room temperature for 1 hour.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and have more parchment paper at hand.
- Cut the rested dough into six pieces. Working with one piece at a time (keep the rest covered with plastic), lightly dust the dough with flour and press it down with the heel of your hand. Run the dough through your pasta machine, starting on the widest setting and working your way through the narrower settings, rolling it through each setting twice, until it is very thin but not too thin. I usually stop at 6, but your machine might be different from mine, so I’ll just say that the final pasta should be the thickness of an envelope—which is to say thin, but not at all transparent. You don’t want it to disappear into the finished lasagna. If the dough sticks during the rolling, simply dust it with a little flour. Lay the rolled-out pasta on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat the process with the rest of the dough, keeping the rolled pieces separated with parchment paper.
For the Lasagna
- Preheat your oven to 400°F.
- Ladle a thin layer of room-temperature sauce onto the bottom of a 9-by-13-in baking dish. Spread the sauce with a spoon to cover the surface of the dish. Add a layer of pasta (brush off any excess flour), cutting the pasta and arranging it as needed to form an even single layer. Spoon over just enough tomato sauce to cover the pasta and then scatter over some of the Parmesan, mozzarella, and basil. Repeat the layering process until you’ve used up all of your components, ending with sauce and cheese (not naked pasta or basil, both of which would burn if exposed).
- Bake the lasagna, uncovered, until it’s gorgeously browned and the edges are bubbling, 35 to 40 minutes. Let it rest at room temperature for 15 minutes, just like you would a steak, before slicing and serving. This lets the pasta fully absorb all of the bubbling sauce, so you don’t end up with soupy slices.
- Note: Feel free to skip the homemade pasta and use 12 store-bought no-boil lasagna noodles (that's what I did and it worked beautifully). The time given for this recipe was calculated using the store-bought noodles.
- Note: My only changes to the recipe, other than using no-boil lasagna noodles, were to increase the mozzarella to 1-1/2 cups and to sprinkle fresh basil over top before serving.
- Per serving (8 servings)
- Calories: 390
- Fat: 20g
- Saturated fat: 9g
- Carbohydrates: 37g
- Sugar: 7g
- Fiber: 5g
- Protein: 17g
- Sodium: 711mg
- Cholesterol: 41mg
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