Lasagne, one of the most popular Italian dishes, has a long and interesting history. A popular tradition traces its origin to the ancient Greeks. In fact, the name “lasagna” is actually not Italian at all! It comes from the ancient Greek language, “laganon”, but over time, the term lasagne has come to refer to layers of thin pasta that are cooked with and separated by different ingredients such as meat, fish, vegetables or cheese, as well as besciamella, or béchamel, sauce, of course. You have may tried the traditional Lasagne with Bolognese sauce, but maybe not the Lasagne al pesto that I am going to present today. The pesto sauce makes lasagna even more special and delicate, a tasty delight for your palate, and is an excellent vegetarian dish (remember, however, that it does contain eggs and dairy products). You can enjoy this dish as a first course (like we Italians do) or as a main dish.
LASAGNE AL PESTO
1 l (approx. 4 cups) besciamella sauce
180 g (¾ cup) pesto
6 sheets of Lasagne pasta (20 x 10 cm; 8 x 4 in)
3 medium sized garlic cloves
70 g (2.5 oz) fresh sweet basil
50 g (1/4 cup) pine nuts
80 ml (⅓ cup) olive oil (Extra Virgin)
50 g (½ cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Sea salt to taste (optional)
1 l milk (approx. 4 cups)
100 g (⅔ cup ) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon of salt
30 g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
Freshly ground pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F)
Pesto (makes about 1 cup)
1.Toast the pine nuts for about 5 to 6 minutes on a baking sheet in a preheated oven at 170°C (350°F) or stirring constantly in a non-stick skillet on the stove. Set aside
2.Wash the basil and dry it. Drop the garlic in a running food processor. Add the basil and pine nuts until it becomes a grainy mixture
3. Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on to reach the desired consistency
4. Add the Parmesan cheese and pulse until blended. Add a pinch of salt to taste and set aside.
Besciamella Sauce (makes about 4 cups)
1. In a medium saucepan mix the milk and the flour well with a whisk until smooth. This will prevent any lumps from forming
2. Add the salt
3. Cook 3-4 minutes (medium-high heat) stirring constantly
4. Lower the heat as soon as the mixture reaches a slow boil and then continue to cook for about 10-12 minutes, stirring constantly to the right thickness (smooth and creamy). Add the butter. Stir constantly to ensure that it doesn’t stick or burn
5. Remove from the heat. Mix well the besciamella sauce with pesto.
In an 11-cup baking pan (23 cm x 18 cm; approx. 9 in x 7 in), spread a paper-thin layer of besciamella mix. Arrange the pasta sheets side by side, covering the besciamella in the bottom of the baking pan (about 2 lasagna sheets). Break the pasta, if necessary, to make a complete layer from side to side. Spread some of the besciamella (about ⅓) evenly on top of the pasta, followed by another layer of pasta. Repeat this process until you have a total of three layers of pasta and finish with the remaining besciamella. Bake for about 30 minutes, until top is brown and bubbly (follow the suggested baking time on the lasagne package). Let it rest at room temperature for about 8-10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle some toasted pine nuts on top and serve.
Note: Pesto is not too difficult to make, but tasty and fresh basil is not easy to find all year round. Pesto is a pasta sauce which originates from Genova, in the Liguria region of northern Italy, and is made with fresh Sweet basil (Mediterranean basil) and pine nuts. If you don’t want to make fresh pesto, then look for a good Italian brand in the grocery cooler or with the canned sauces. One final word of caution! Make certain that the ingredient list on the package specifies “olive oil”! –Paola