We reveal the best-kept secrets for making the perfect lasagna from Italian biggies and an Indian chef too, who’ve mastered the art of preparing this homemade comfort food.
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If all it took was this headline to get your heart set on forking through those gooey, cheesy, saucy layers of this Italian favourite, then you’re going to want to read through this. We’re about to give you the skinny (or should we use a less deceptive word?) on rustling up your own delish pan of lasagna in all its rustic goodness for a family dinner, a potluck or practically any time you feel like throwing on that apron. Take a look at some of the best-kept secrets for making the perfect lasagna from Italian biggies and an Indian chef too, who’ve mastered the art of preparing this homemade comfort food. Yes, it requires some finesse but a few tricks couldn’t hurt, right?

The pasta

While this might seem like the most ordinary part of the lasagna-making process, it is the most crucial. Getting the texture and consistency of the pasta right is the first step in making great lasagna. If you are buying the pasta sheets from the store, splurge on a high quality brand and never let them overcook. If your lasagna sheets are soft and have lost their texture, it’s a recipe for disaster!

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“Cook the pasta to just a little less than al dente, as the sheets will further cook while baking.”

- Chef Luigi Ferraro, Sorrento, Shangri-La’s – Eros Hotel, New Delhi

“No-boil noodles are an easy way to get the right consistency. They absorb extra liquid, won’t get soggy and taste great too.”

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- Chef Roberto Zorzoli, Head Chef – Romano’s, JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar

The meat sauce

Ragu, which is a slow-cooked meat sauce, is where all the flavour lies. Don’t be in a haste while cooking it; experiment with different flavours such as onion, celery, carrot, bay leaf, good tomato paste, and good quality wine and herbs. You can also use pork belly or bacon in the sauce for additional flavour. Slow-cook the sauce for at least 45 minutes, and add the herbs last for better results. Finish off, with a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

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Another important thing to remember is that the meat should have a diced rather than minced texture.

“Use rosemary, sage and a full-bodied red wine for a meat sauce (Bolognese) that is rich and aromatic.”

- Chef Roberto Zorzoli, Head Chef – Romano’s, JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar

“Traditionally, lasagna has to be a mixture of pork and beef, but you can do an all-beef lasagna as well. Just make sure that pork is not your key component.”

- Chef Alessandro Bechini, Maritime by San Lorenzo, Taj Lands End

The veggies

Many lasagna recipes include ingredients like mushrooms, peppers and zucchini for a flavourful twist. However, if you have too many of these water-rich vegetables in your lasagna, they may become soggy while baking and turn your dish into a sloppy mess. That’s why it’s always best to pre-cook them and remove all the excess water before adding them to the sauce.

“Fry your veggies for a few minutes before adding them in to lock-in the moisture and keep them crunchy.”

- Chef Abhishek Gurav of Café Prato, Four Seasons Hotel

The cheese

There’s no cutting down on calories in the perfect lasagna, so don’t be stingy with the cheese. While ricotta cheese is widely used in lasagna, because of its drier texture, most chefs recommend parmesan instead. A word of advice: do not try to substitute parmesan cheese with mozzarella, as this obstructs the kind of texture a lasagne is supposed to exhibit.

“I prefer the softer, moister, chewier provolone cheese to parmesan because of its richer flavour.”

- Chef Roberto Zorzoli, Head Chef – Romano’s, JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar

“It’s always a good idea to use semi-hard cheese when layering and gratinating.”

- Chef Cristian Cabrera, Italian Master Chef, Fratelli Fresh

The layers

First off, give your pan a good greasing with butter. In the classic ‘Emiliana’ lasagna, you must have at least five layers of pasta. Ideally, start assembling the dish with a layer of meat sauce rather than a pasta sheet, as the latter is likely to get dry and hard while baking. After the meat sauce, sprinkle on some cheese and then lay out the first pasta sheet. Top the pasta sheet with the savoury bechamel (white) sauce, then the meat sauce, and lastly a liberal sprinkling of cheese. Repeat this process to get consistent delicious layers.

“Make sure your pan is a minimum of 2.5 to 3 inches deep. This will help give you those multiple layers of cheesy, saucy flavour.”

- Chef Abhishek Gurav of Café Prato, Four Seasons Hotel

“Remember to use generous amounts of meat sauce, but do not spread it over the bechamel sauce, rather place it on in patches.”

- Chef Alessandro Bechini, Maritime by San Lorenzo, Taj Lands End

The baking

When you finally put your dish into the oven, remember temperature is everything. Always keep a check on the temperature, as too much heat will dry out the lasagna, while a cooler temperature might cause it to not cook evenly, or even become watery. It’s always a good idea to use a foil sheet to cover the lasagna while baking so that it doesn’t dry out.

“Towards the end, don’t forget to leave the lasagna uncovered in order to get it nice and browned on top.”

- Chef Roberto Zorzoli, Head Chef – Romano’s, JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar

“Lasagna should always be served in the same dish in which it was baked.”

- Chef Cristian Cabrera, Italian Master Chef, Fratelli Fresh

I don’t know about you, but all that food talk has seriously got my appetite going. Take a look at this recipe if you plan to whip up your own lasagna today.

Images courtesy: Shutterstock

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