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Playing Mamma Leone-Style Meat, Spinach and Sausage Lasagna


For the tomato-basil purée
  • 1 jar (4 cups) passata
  • About 2 tablespoons EVOO – Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • A few leaves torn basil
For the marinara
  • About 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, grated or finely chopped
  • 1 rib celery with leafy tops, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced or grated
  • 1 rounded teaspoon sugar
  • Salt and white pepper
  • About 1 1/2 teaspoons (half a palmful) dry oregano
  • About 1 teaspoons (1/3 palmful) red pepper flakes
  • About 2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 cups white wine
  • 1 can crushed or whole San Marzano tomatoes, hand-crushed or broken up with spoon
  • 1 jar (4 cups) passata
  • A few leaves basil, torn
For the meat sauce
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds 80-85% lean ground beef
  • 1 teaspoon (1/3 palmful) fennel seed
  • 1 teaspoon (1/3 palmful) crushed red pepper flakes
  • Salt
  • 1/2 cup (a generous handful) flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup homemade breadcrumbs, tossed with 1/4 cup garlic butter, toasted and combined with a handful chopped parsley
For the white sauce
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese
  • Salt and white pepper
  • 1 16-ounce package organic chopped frozen spinach, defrosted and wrung dry
  • 2 cups fresh ricotta, drained
  • 2 egg yolks
  • Salt and pepper
  • About 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 pound (4 links) mild Italian sausage
To assemble
  • Softened butter
  • 1 box no-boil lasagna sheets or curly lasagna noodles, half-cooked (5 minutes)
  • 1 ball (2 1/2 cups) mozzarella, shredded or thinly sliced
  • Grated Parm or Grana Padano cheese, a couple handfuls


Serves: 8 to 10 servings


For the purée, combine passata with EVOO, salt and basil.

For the marinara, heat a Dutch oven or saucepot over medium to medium-high heat. Add olive oil, 4 turns of the pan, along with the onions, carrot, celery, garlic, sugar, salt and white pepper, oregano, red pepper and thyme. Cook to soften, 10 minutes. Add tomato paste, stir 1 minute, then add wine and reduce by half. Add tomatoes, passata and basil, and simmer 20-30 minutes.

For the meat sauce, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add meat and crumble and brown. Add fennel, red chili flakes and salt. Combine the parsley with the garlic then stir into meat. Add about half of the marinara sauce to the beef. Add all of the toasted garlic breadcrumbs to the meat sauce.

For the white sauce, melt butter in small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour then add wine and reduce by half. Add milk, season with salt and white pepper, and thicken. Stir in grated cheese and remove from heat.

In a bowl, combine spinach, ricotta, egg yolks, salt, pepper and nutmeg. When white sauce has cooled, combine it with the spinach and ricotta.

In a medium-size, nonstick skillet, bring 1/8 inch of water to a boil. Add sausages and reduce to a simmer. Cook sausages through, letting the water evaporate. Add a drizzle of olive oil and brown casings. Remove, cool and slice very thin on a bias.

Preheat oven to 350°F with a rack in the center.

Butter a lasagna pan. To assemble lasagna, ladle some of the tomato-basil purée on the bottom of the pan then build layers of pasta, 1/2 of the meat sauce, pasta, all of spinach and white sauce mixture, pasta, sausage, plain marinara, pasta, remaining meat sauce, pasta and tomato-basil purée. Top with mozzarella and grated cheese.

Bake covered with foil for 45 minutes then remove foil and bake uncovered 15-20 minutes until golden and bubbly. Let sit 20 minutes before cutting.

Serve with extra marinara and warm Italian bread at the table.