This recipe comes straight from Julia Turshen, who paid us a visit back in 2018 to celebrate her wonderful cookbook Small Victories. It was such a fun night! We enjoyed food from the book, Julia shared her kitchen wisdom and lots of greats stories, and she signed books for us all. It's one of my favorite memories from the early days of Flowers & Bread.
As she explains in her book, there are two small victories to this lasagna. First, you can use a food processor to make the pasta dough. (Although store-bought noodles work just fine, so don't hesitate to make the switch, but only use 12 noodles if you do— otherwise your lasagne will get to too dry).
Second, and this is honestly genius, you can skip ricotta (which can get tough) and the béchamel (time consuming), and simply stir creme fraîche into your tomato sauce. Again, genius. The creme fraîche makes the most delicious, creamy sauce. It turns your lasagna into something elegant and light—two adjectives that come from an entirely different country than the land of lasagna!
And you can actually make a homemade lasagna on a school night.
It's the only lasagna I make.
Julia's visit to F&B
A Very Nice Lasagna
from Small Victories: Recipes, Advice + Hundreds of Ideas for Home Cooking Triumphs by Julia Turshen, Chronicle Books 2016
FOR THE SAUCE
- Two 28-oz cans whole peeled tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- Kosher salt
- 1 cup crème fraîche
FOR THE PASTA DOUGH (SEE NOTE)
- 2¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
- 3 eggs
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup finely grated Parmesan Cheese
- 1-1/2 cups coarsely grated whole-milk mozzarella cheese
- 2 large handfuls fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces if large
FOR 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.
FOR THE PASTA
- 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 tsp at 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 at a 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.
FOR THE LASAGNA
- Preheat your oven to 400°F.
- Ladle a thin layer of room-temperature sauce onto the bottom of a 9-by-13-in baking dish. Spread the sauce with a spoon to cover the surface of the dish. Add a 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.