The definition of a make-ahead dish, this lasagna is my absolute favorite thing to serve to a big group of friends. Itis also one of my best friend Ivan’s favorite foods, and I liketo gift it to him on his birthday (I assemble it in a disposable aluminum pan, wrap it up, and include instructions for baking it on the card). There are three small victories here. The first is using a food processor to make the pasta dough, which takes a lot of the fear out of homemade pasta(there’s no precarious mound of flour to navigate or work surface to scrub). The second victory is skipping both the American tradition of using ricotta (which can get watery and even tough when baked) and the Italian tradition of adding béchamel (who wants to dirty another pot and worry about lumps?) and go straight for crème fraîche. It gives you the requisite creaminess that all great lasagnas need to have, but without any effort. I mix it right into the tomato sauce rather than layering it on separately, because thew hole point is for them to combine anyway. The third small victory is a high sauce-to-pasta ratio, the ticket to baking lasagna without boiling the noodles first. This way, the pasta absorbs the sauce and gets full of flavor and you get to skip a whole lot of labor. You can skip making homemade pasta(but try it sometime—it’s fun!) and use store-bought pasta sheets or a box of no-cook lasagna noodles.
SERVES 6 TO 8
Two 28-oz [794-g] cans whole peeled tomatoes
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 cup [230 g] crème fraîche
2 1/4 cups [270 g] all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup [100 g] finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup [100 g] coarsely grated whole-milk mozzarella cheese
2 large handfuls fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces if large
TO MAKE 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.
TO MAKE THE PASTA DOUGH: 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 t spat 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 a ta 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.
Preheat your oven to 400°F [200°C].
Ladle a thin layer of room-temperature sauce onto the bottom of a 9-by-13-in [23-by-33-cm] baking dish. Spread the sauce with a spoon to cover the surface of the dish. Adda 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.
FOR A MEAT LASAGNA, brown 8 oz [230 g] each ground beef and sweet Italian sausage meat in the oil with the garlic and then add the tomatoes. Continue as directed.This simple meat sauce is also great on its own on pasta,especially rigatoni. Serve dotted with ricotta and with plenty of grated Parmesan. Yum.
FOR A MORE SUBSTANTIAL VEGETARIAN LASAGNA,add cooked spinach, broccoli rabe, mushrooms, or cubes of butternut squash (or a combination of vegetables) to each layer.
CUT THE HOMEMADE PASTA INTO ROUGH SQUARES,boil it, and toss it with browned butter and minced sage.Serve with lots of grated Parmesan. Simple and good.
USE THE HOMEMADE PASTA FOR RAVIOLI by filling with a mixture of mashed peas and ricotta scented with minced fresh mint and black pepper. Serve with butte rand cream and Parmesan (if you’ve gone to the trouble of making fresh pasta, it’s not the time to be concerned about calories).