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Lasagna Night - A Holiday Tradition

One night many years ago, flustered and exhausted by the holiday prep frenzy, I paused for a few minutes to see if I could reconnect with the spirit of celebrating. What did I really love about this time of year, and how could I experience a little bit more of it? At the time, my eldest daughter was in her first year of college, and I was eagerly awaiting her return for the holiday break. I was also looking forward to seeing all her friends, each back from their newly-launched, away-from-home lives. I had known all of these kids, and their parents, for years, and I missed their familiar faces.

The holiday itself was already filled with traditions which included lots of family, and to be honest, lots of obligation. I wondered when I might have an evening to see all of those people who were back home for a short few days. That's when it hit me- a dinner party, a big open house, with easy food, free-flowing drinks, and a bring-your-friends attitude. That's how Lasagna Night was born.

Lasagna Night has now been a treasured holiday tradition for us for many years. Initially, the idea was to get some takeout, set up a buffet of lasagna trays, garlic bread, a salad and cookies, and let folks come and go as they please. Little did I think it would turn into the neighborhood destination for Christmas eve. Recent holidays have seen huge gatherings of scores of old friends not seen in a while, and all of their visiting family and friends.

Of course the idea of takeout, easy on those of us who are cooking the holiday meal the next day, was a good one but it didn't last. People wanted to bring something, and everyone had a favorite recipe. Soon, it was a smorgasbord of every imaginable type of lasagna- from lemon & chard, to tofu & tahini (for the gluten-free vegans), mushroom and kale, to more standard cheese and meat offerings.

Here's our favorite meat version, made with a Bolognese sauce taught to me long ago by a wonderful woman and her husband in the hills of Tuscany. There's another blog post for this sauce here, so please check that out, make a big batch, and then dive into this heavenly, easy-to-serve version of this comforting, crowd-friendly meal.

Make the meat sauce a day or two early, and you can make the Bechamel sauce earlier as well. That way you'll only have to assemble the whole thing the day of, pop it in the oven, toss the salad, pour a glass of wine and enjoy the evening.

Lasagna Night Bolognese

Ingredients

  • 4 c. Bolognese sauce at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 c. Bechamel sauce at room temperature 
  • 3 c. tomato sauce, homemade or store-bought (we like Rao's Marinara for this) at room temperature
  • 16 sheets of fresh lasagna noodles (we like Giovanni Rana brand), or use standard dried noodles, plunged into boiling water for :30 seconds or until they're pliable, then into an ice bath to stop the cooking, then dried with a paper towel and stacked with parchment paper between them to avoid sticking.
  • 6 oz. Taleggio cheese, or Fontina (a good melting cheese)
  • 1 1/2 c. Parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • 3 c. Mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1 t. red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • Kosher salt and pepper (to taste)- remember the Parmesan is salty!

Preparation

  • Preheat the oven to 375°F, assemble the ingredients, and lightly flour a clean, smooth work surface. 
  • Spread 1 c. of tomato sauce over the bottom of a 9"x13" baking pan.
  • Lay one sheet of lasagna on the floured surface with the short end at the bottom edge. Spread the Bechamel sauce thinly across the entire surface of the noodle and lay another noodle directly on top of it.
  • Spread the meat sauce across the bottom of this second noodle, leaving 1" at the top edge. Spread Bechamel across this top edge.
  • Sprinkle a large tablespoon of Parmesan over the meat sauce.
  • Beginning at the bottom of the noodles closest to you, gently roll the noodles up until you meet the Bechamel sauce, then use this strip of sauce to seal the roll. Place on a flat surface, seam side down. 
  • Continue to roll the noodles up until you have eight rolls.
  • Chill the rolls, if possible, for 1 hour. This helps make them easier to cut.
  • Using a sharp knife, carefully slice through the rolls, cutting them into thirds (or quarters if your pan is shallow).
  • Place the cut rounds into the baking pan cut side up, and nestle them together tightly on the tomato sauce.
  • Continue until the pan is full, then add remaining tomato sauce around the noodles, spreading it throughout the pan and the rolls as best as possible. You don't need to cover the whole tops of the rounds with sauce.
  • Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan cheese across the tops of the rounds, then add the Mozzarella to the top of the dish.
  • Place in the preheated oven on the middle rack, and bake for 20 minutes. 
  • Cut the Taleggio in 1" pieces (best done cold). 
  • Remove the pan from the oven and tuck the Taleggio pieces in and around the rolls, then put the pan back in the oven and continue baking for another 15 minutes.
  • Serve warm or at room temperature.

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