I make a lot of fresh pasta. While purchased dried pasta is fantastic, fresh made pasta feels richer, softer, and more delicate to me. That being said, whenever I do make fresh pasta, I typically kill it with a heavy handed overwrought sauce. I can't help myself. I'm a saucy guy. I love sauces. The last time I rolled out gorgeous feathery strands of fresh angel hair pasta, I smothered them with a thick tomato sauce weighed down with dense meatballs. Although I didn't mind, I watched Michael push the meatballs to the side while trying to tug a few fragile strands from the apparent gravy graveyard. "I want to taste your pasta", he said. Point taken. A point I've never forgotten.
It should always be about the pasta.
Clinging to that mantra, I battled my inner sauce demons and gave it a shot with a relatively simple and unconventional multi-layered lasagna. Lasagna can be a quirky beast. It can be extremely easy or incredibly ridiculous to throw together. Or somewhere in between. I happily wallowed in between.
I sifted 2 1/2 cups of Weisenberger Mill unbleached white flour (made from soft red winter wheat) into a food processor with a pinch of salt, 2 whole eggs, and 3 egg yolks. I pulsed the mix until it formed a ball, adding a few drops of cold water to help bring it together. After flouring a large wooden cutting board, I kneaded the sticky dough ball 10 to 15 times before covering it with a bowl for an hour to relax the glutens.
After an hour, I cut the pasta dough into fourths. Working with each section at a time, I floured the dough, folded it in half, and passed it through the lowest setting of a pasta roller several times. When the dough felt pliable, I started passing it through each consecutive smaller setting until I reached the next to last setting. I didn't want to risk tears or splits, so I stopped when the pasta sheets were paper thin, cut them in half, and placed them on floured waxed paper sheets strewn across every square inch of the kitchen. After rolling out every crumb of pasta dough, I cut the sheets into 7 inch lengths and let them air dry. The amount of pasta was staggering. Ridiculous, even. Michael came into the kitchen for a snack, laughed, and fled. Smart move.
Or the un-sauce. Because I wanted something simple, pure, and deliciously transparent, Marcella Hazan's iconic and sexy 3 ingredient "Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter" felt like the perfect fit. I hand crushed a 28 ounce can of whole San Marzano tomatoes into a heavy sauce pan before adding 5 tablespoons of butter , a sliced onion, and a pinch of kosher salt. After simmering the sauce for 45 minutes, I discarded the onion, swirled the butter fat throughout the sauce, and pulled it from the heat. Luscious. Sweet. Buttery. Simple.
I brought a huge pot of water to a rolling boil, showered it with a generous handful of kosher salt, and cooked the lasagna sheets in batches for 3 minutes (just shy of al denta) before plunging them into salted ice cold water to stop the cooking process and resting them on dish towels to absorb the excess moisture.
I buttered a loaf pan, shredded my homemade fresh mozzarella cheese, and grated a block of parmigiano reggiano.
After brushing the bottom of a loaf pan with a layer of the tomato sauce, I nestled a lasagna sheet over the sauce before building thin haphazard alternating layers of pasta, parmigiano cheese, mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce, and minced fresh parsley. I layered and layered and layered until I simply ran out of stuff. I topped the final layer with tomato sauce and a scattering of mozzarella before sliding the monstrous 22 layer lasagna into a 350 degree oven to bake (covered) for an hour, removing the cover during the final 15 minutes to brown the top. 22 layers. Think about it.
While it baked, the lasagna buckled and plumped from the heat. It seemed to beg release from its corseted snare. Nope. I let it rip for the full hour before pulling it from the oven to rest for 20 minutes.
After slicing the lasagna into wedges, I carefully wobbled them onto pools of tomato sauce before tumbling bright bitter baby arugula salads to the side.
Mangled and twisted, it wasn't pretty or perfect. While the lasagna appeared dense, it wasn't. The undulating layers had just enough separation to suspend the paper thin pasta sheets between the cheeses and the sauce.
Peppered with restrained whispers of soft fresh mozzarella, nutty parmigiano, and buttery sweet sauce, the lasagna was uncannily delicate, light, airy, and utterly decadent.
Finally, it was all about the pasta.