2020 is full of big things:
– Kaykay & I travel to Nigeria (my first time going)
– Kaykay starts residency
– My brother is getting married
– My sister & her husband move back to Houston from New Jersey
I’m so excited for all the big things happening, and of course, everything else in between!!
I’m also excited because Kaykay got me a new laptop [Surface 3 Laptop] for my birthday & Christmas. It’s beautiful & I love it! I was mostly blogging from my iPad pro, but the attachment keyboard stopped working, so it was almost painful to blog. I love my iPhone, but after owning an iPad for 3+ years, I think they are completely unnecessary and would not recommend anyone to get one (just get a Macbook Air or Surface tablet). Now that I have an actual computer, I feel more inspired to write & post. I even scheduled and planned out the next 3 posts I want to share.
Today’s recipe is the last dish I cooked in 2019 – Lasagna with Béchamel Sauce. I wanted to share this recipe when I made it on New Year’s Eve but I kept debating whether or not people will actually want this recipe since the sauce is homemade and lasagna (in general) requires SO. MANY. STEPS. to make. Lo & behold, my wonderful best friend told me to share it because she wants to make it, so here it is. If just ONE person will make it, then it’s worth typing out.
This lasagna recipe is a mix of classic Italian recipe with a HINT of a Filipino twist. Let me explain.
I’ve always known lasagna in the Philippines to be a great balance between meat, tomato, creaminess, and cheese. When I moved to America, I hated lasagna because it was always so…. tomato-y? sour? acidic? Are those the right words? I mean, even to this day, I don’t prefer marinara sauce. But when I tried a classic Filipino lasagna as an adult, I didn’t like it – it was TOO meaty and sweet (it’s typical for Filipinos to use banana ketchup as an ingredient in cooking).
When I was first looking up recipes for a classic lasagna, there was a million different recipes. Ones with mushrooms, ricotta cheese, some with béchamel sauce, some without, some with eggs, mozzarella, some with meat, etc. Most of them sounded great, but I wanted to come up with something that combined the best of both worlds.
The puréed spinach/onion/bell pepper mixture make it more classic, but the addition of Nathan’s hot dogs, brown sugar, and béchamel sauce adds that Filipino flair, and in my opinion, perfect.
When you are reading the instructions, I hope you don’t get overwhelmed. It does take a couple hours to tackle, but it’s worth it. It helps when someone is helping you wash dishes as you’re cooking so that you don’t end up with a big pile in the end. Also, I recommend (unless you are a pro cook), to cook one thing at a time e.g. make the meat sauce, then boil the noodles, then make the béchamel sauce to make sure that you don’t burn anything. The meat sauce can also be made the day before to lessen the load on a single day.
Lastly, I have a bunch of important notes at the very bottom of the recipe that may help you along the way!
- 9 regular lasagna noodles (or no-boil noodles)*
- 8 ounces shredded Cheddar/Monterrey Jack Cheese mix
- 1/2 pound grass-fed or grass-finished ground beef
- 1/2 pound Nathan’s all-beef hot dogs, about 4 hot dogs*
- 1 tablespoon oil (vegetable, olive, or sunflower seed)
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 1 small bell pepper (red or green), seeded & cored, chopped
- 1 1/2 cups fresh spinach leaves
- 1 can (~15 ounces) tomato sauce
- 1 can (~6 ounces) tomato paste
- 1 can (~15 ounces) diced tomatoes
- 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning*
- 2 teaspoons (heaping) brown sugar, light or dark
- salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 1/2 cups milk
- salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Make the Red Sauce: (Can be made in advance).
- Heat oil in a large pot with a lid. Brown the ground beef over medium heat, breaking the meat apart into pieces. When most of it starts to brown, add the hotdogs. Cook for another 4-5 minutes.
- Transfer meat to a food processor (leave the grease & juices in the pot) and pulse just 3-4 times until it’s broken up into very small pieces. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Don’t clean your food processor yet.
- In the same pot over medium-high heat, add more oil if necessary. Add the garlic, stirring constantly for 30 seconds.
- Add the onion, spinach and bell pepper. Continue cooking on medium heat until the vegetables are softened –about 2-3 minutes.
- Remove from heat and transfer them to the same food processor. Pulse several times until they’re nearly pureed. Return mixture to the pot.
- Add diced tomatoes to food processor and add to the pot.
- Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, Italian seasoning, brown sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. I like to stir all this up with a large whisk (make sure it’s a heat proof whisk!).
- Cover and allow the sauce to simmer for about 20 minutes on low heat, stirring occasionally.
- Still on low heat, stir in the cooked ground beef & hot dog mixture and let it all marinate together for 10 more minutes.
- While the red sauce simmers boil the lasagna noodles in SALTED WATER for about 3 minutes LESS the time suggested on the box. Drain the water and sprinkle them with a tiny bit of olive oil to keep them from sticking together. (You can skip this step if you are using no-boil noodles).
For the Béchamel Sauce:
- Add the butter to a medium size saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, add the flour, whisking constantly to combine 2 minutes.
- Gradually (very slowly) add in the milk, whisking until smooth*. Season with salt and pepper.
- Make sure you are whisking often so it doesn’t burn on the bottom. Cook for about 6-7 minutes until it thickens. It should be able to slightly coat the back of a spoon*.
Assembling the Lasagna:
- Preheat the oven to 350 F degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray (the deeper the pan, the better)
- Keep in mind that there will be 3 layers of lasagna, so mentally split the sauces into thirds as you layer them to make sure you have enough at the end).
- Add a little bit of red sauce at the bottom of the pan.
- Start by layering the bottom of your greased pan with 3 lasagna noodles.
- Spread the red sauce over the noodles, followed by the white sauce, and a little bit of the shredded cheese mixture.
- Top with another layer of noodles, then red sauce, white sauce, cheeses.
- Add the final layer of noodles, then red sauce, white sauce and cheeses.
- Bake for 30 minutes. Allow the lasagna to sit for 15-20 minutes before serving (DON’T SKIP THIS STEP).
- I like to cook 2-3 more pieces of lasagna noodles than necessary because some noodles can break when boiling – I like to play it safe.
- If Nathan’s Hotdogs seems too weird for you to add to a recipe – 1) wow, your world is small and 2) you can substitute Italian sausage.
- Italian seasoning can mean different things – sometimes it’s just an herb mix, but sometimes it’s a mix of herbs and spices. I use a mix of both totaling 2 teaspoons but use whatever you have in the kitchen.
- If you add in the milk very fast to the butter/flour mixture, you will end up with a clumpy mess. I like to add in about 2-3 ounces at a time, whisk until smooth, add more milk, and whisk again until smooth.
- Try not to over-thicken (is that a word?) the béchamel sauce – it won’t taste bad, but it’s a little harder to spread over the lasagna when building. Note that the sauce will continue to thicken even when removed from the heat. If you over-thicken the sauce, just add more milk and whisk it good.
- If your baking pan is on the shallow side and you find that it’s overflowing after assembling the lasagna, add a cookie/baking sheet on the bottom rack of the oven below the lasagna pan to catch any spill overs when your sauce/cheese is bubbling.
- If you happen to have leftover meat sauce, save it and turn it into regular spaghetti sauce!