Thousand Layer Lasagna

Thousand Layer Lasagna Recipe


If I told you this was the only lasagna worth making, would you believe me? Well, let me give it a shot. Imagine dozens and dozens of whisper-thin sheets of fresh pasta brushed with the most vibrant red tomato sauce imaginable all intersecting layer after layer of warm, oozy, fresh mozzarella. Where the sauce and cheese and pasta touch the pan, particularly in the corners, everything gets crunchy and caramelized.

I'll fight you for a corner piece. Seriously.

Pasta sheets rolled out whisper thin

This isn't a lasagna path for the faint-hearted. Making a dish of this magnitude takes commitment and patience - and time. Plenty of it. Although, not as much time as if you asked me about it last week. It dawned on me over the weekend, standing in front of the the fresh pasta vendor at the market, that I could shave a few hours off the production of it. That's right. Hours. This thing is a weekend project if there ever was one. The good news is that it makes a lot, and there's no chance you'll go hungry throughout the week.

Fresh pasta straight from the Pasta Shop, a bit thicker

A while back some of you were asking me about this recipe. I posted a picture of a pesto/ricotta version of it here (although, now that I'm looking at it - definitely not deep-dish enough)...I promised a proper write-up. So here it is. I do a bunch of variations it. Today I'll show you the tomato-based starter version, but feel free to experiment through the seasons. I've done roasted butternut squash + brown butter, or pesto and ricotta - play around, but keep the sauces + fillings simple and not too chunky. Part of the magic comes from the baklava-like layering of the pasta one on top of the next - just enough going on between each layer to keep it all moist, flavorful, and feathery-light. Well, as feathery-light as lasagne gets.

Wayne has been obsessed with HDR photographs over the past week. Here's his HDR shot of the pasta sheets on the counter.

Here's how it works...

 
 
 
 

Thousand Layer Lasagne

Headnotes: I used to make this from scratch. The pasta all the way through...This time around I got a jump start by paying $3 for a pound of fresh egg pasta sheets at the farmers' market. Fantastic return on $3. You still need to run those sheets through a pasta machine a few times to achieve the most thin and delicate sheets of pasta possible - but starting from pre-bought was a bit of a revelation for me, and a big timesaver. If you don't have a pasta machine (they are actually quite affordable!), try a rolling pin - not quite the same, but will help thin out the sheets....It also dawned on me that I might be able to get away with skipping the pre-boil step in this recipe altogether and dial up the amount of sauce a bit (though I've never tried it this way) - I suspect you might be sacrificing some of the tenderness of the noodles to save the time it takes to boil and drain...just a thought. Make sure the pasta sheets you buy are fresh and moist. Proper seasoning is important throughout this recipe, if you undersalt it is going to taste flat and the flavors won't pop - the right amount of salt brings the pasta forward and focuses the tomato and lemon flavors in the sauce.

1 pound fresh egg pasta sheets (or make some from scratch)
butter to prep baking dish

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 28-ounce can crushed organic tomatoes
zest of one lemon

3 4-ounce balls of fresh mozzarella, torn up into little pieces
a handful of slivered basil (optional)
freshly grated Parmesan (optional)

Preheat your oven to 375. Start by clearing off every flat space in your kitchen, you are going to need and use all of it.

Make your sauce: Place the olive oil, salt, pepper flakes, and garlic in a pan. Dial the heat up and saute for a minute or two. Add the tomatoes and slowly bring to a simmer as well. Remove from heat, stir in the lemon zest and taste for seasoning. Add more salt if needed. Set aside.

Fill your biggest pot full of water and bring to a boil.
Lavishly butter a deep, square baking dish. The one I use is 9x9 and 2 1/2-inches deep.

Thin out your pasta using a pasta machine. Start by cutting the big sheets into 2-inch(ish) wide ribbons. This means making 2 cuts along the sheets. This should yield you about 12 2-foot strips. Run them through the pasta machine. I go to the 8 setting, one shy of the very thinnest setting. The sheets should almost be translucent. Cut the strips into manageable rectangles roughly 4-inches in length.

Pre-cook the pasta: Fill a large bowl with cold water and a few glugs of olive oil. Place a large flour sack or cotton dish towel across one of your counters. Salt your pot of boiling water generously. Ok, now you are ready to boil off your pasta. Believe it or not, you are on the home stretch. Place a handful of the pasta rectangles into the boiling water to cook (I've found I can get away with about 20 at a time), fish them out (I use a pasta claw) after just 15-20 seconds, don't over cook. Transfer them immediately to the cold olive-oil water for a quick swim and cool-off. Remove from the cold water bath and place flat and neat on the cotton towel. It is ok for them to overlap, I don't have a problem with the sheets sticking typically. Repeat until all your pasta is boiled.

Pull it all together. Ladle a bit of the sauce into the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Cover the bottom with a layer of pasta sheets. Now a thin layer of sauce, and a bit of cheese. Go for another layer of pasta, then sauce, then pasta again, then sauce and cheese. Keep going until you've used up all the sauce and pasta. You want to finish with a layer of pasta. Top with the last of the sauce and the very last of the cheese so you have a nice cheesy top.

Bake until everything is melted and fragrant, 35 minutes or so. Let it sit for 10 minutes before serving, so everything has a chance to set up a bit. Dust with parmesan and a bit of slivered basil.

Serves many.

Print Recipe

For new recipes & inspirations

Your Comments


Funny coincidence to see a pasta post on your blog tonight as mine tonight was about homemade beetroot ravioli.
Pasta is such a rewarding dish to make, when well done, and your shots speak for the pasta. Beautiful!

 

Curzon Tussaud
April 6, 2006

If you use a hand-cranked pasta machine, see if you can locate a small electric motor for it. I bought mine in Italy; it is called Pasta Facile, is made by Imperia, and powers the pasta machine via a rod which engages in the hole where you would put the handle. This gives you the use of both hands to control the pasta, which is brilliant!

 

Betty
April 6, 2006

no ricotta?

 

Joyce
April 6, 2006

I'm with you, Betty...where's the ricotta?
A whisper thin layer seems called for.

 

Donna A.
April 6, 2006

Sound really yummy. Sadly I don't have a pasta maker.
Donna A.

 

kalyn
April 6, 2006

I ate something very similar to this in Italy about 5 years ago and realized that American lasagna is not even in the same league as this dish. Looks wonderful.

 

Mikele
April 6, 2006

I do not say your "lasagne" will not taste good, but it is far from the traditional recipe which requires meat, sauce béchamel and more.

 

rose
April 6, 2006

you have convinced this italian american daughter of the best lasagna maker ever to try a new lasagna. it looks amazing, sounds amazing.

 

s'kat
April 6, 2006

That's one heck of an enticing paragraph to discover in my in-box this morning!

 

Paula Wolfert
April 6, 2006

Brilliant idea, Heidi.

Your method is brilliant. unique and well worth the effort. I can't wait to try it with my recipe for sou bourek, a Turkish version of lasagna stuffed with cheese or meat. I never 'nailed' this 'best of breed' version because I couldn't get the pasta thin enough.
Thank you so much, You are a champion of the home cook!

 

Courtney
April 6, 2006

FINALLY--this is what my hubby has been missing from Italy. Me, queen of boxed pasta, will have to give it a try.

 

Roy Lamont
April 6, 2006

Hello,
I'm new to your site. It looks as if it will be very interesting.
May I suggest that the text could be better read if the font size were a little larger and also of a sharper contrast. As it is it is most difficult to read. More difinitive contrast between colors would help. Many may find it too difficult an eye strain to return to your site. I hope the suggestion helps as I , and others as well. would really enjoy your website.
Sincerely,
Roy

 

Wayne
April 6, 2006

Roy, all browers have a command that allows you to bump up the font size for any web page. The current font size is 11px, which is not unreasonably small, for a page with so much text. The font color for the main article is one of the darkest gray colors on white, so there is not much more contrast possible. For the recipe, it is a lighter color on a grey background. Please click the "print recipe" for black on white text for the recipe.

 

domicile
April 6, 2006

Yummers. Living in an Italian neighbourhood, making dishes like this is always a delight. I so enjoy chatting with the ladies who run the delis, getting fresh pasta, cheeses and all the rest of the bits and bobs to put something like this together.

I make a similar recipe, but not quite as subtle as this. I think this one will truly wonderful. I can't wait!

 

Nicte
April 6, 2006

I'm not really sure what yor settings are Wayne - In regular IE the text is dark grey on light grey, not white and the chagne font size command doesn't change the article, merely the advertisements around it.

I also felt the text was too small and tried the obivous solution immediately. Despite the excellent recipe, more thought into web design rests with a site creator, not the end user.

 

Heidi
April 6, 2006

Would it be possible for you to send a screenshot of what you are seeing. I'm just not seeing it on this end. Testing on both platforms, multiple current browsers.

hswanson at gmail.com

Thanks. -h

 

cookiecrumb
April 6, 2006

Oh, wow. Paula Wolfert dropped by.
That's like when John Kerry or Howard Dean pays a visit to dailykos.com.
Cool.
Heidi, it's great to see your savory recipes. You'd been on such a dessert roll for so long. Mm.

 

shuna fish lydon
April 6, 2006

No ricotta? I have to say it is my most favorite ingredient of lasagna but of course I love that you, once again, did all that work. Those projects can be so relaxing.

And Paual Wolfert here! Ooh! So So So exciting!!

As for the design debate I will say that your site is Much easier to read on a Mac in Firefox than it ever was in any browser on a PC. Even with all the things a viewer can do on their end.

 

lee
April 7, 2006

I, too, am viewing your site on a Mac with Firefox and it looks just fine.
As I gear up for a busy summer, I am exploring "convenience" foods like pre-made pizza crusts that I would have shunned in the past. I figure if taking some minor shortcuts keeps me from eating out so often then it is worth it. Thanks for the pasta sheet idea. I'd prefer to make my own but why not support a small local business when I'm too busy to start from scratch.

 

Emely
April 7, 2006

sounds wonderful, but I miss what makes a good lasagna worth it's name: bechamél sauce.. what is a lasagna withouth thick layers of this beautiful white godess sauce?

 

Roman, Coastal V.
April 7, 2006

Even when I look at the pictures, Im hungry... It must be amazing enjoy the taste, smell...

 

GastroChick
April 7, 2006

Time consuming but soo rewarding.

 

bcinfrance
April 7, 2006

I just found your blog and I really like the cookbook focus. It's one of my many cooking interests, so I'll definitely come back.

As for lasagne, I consistently wow guests (in France) with the vegetarian lasagne from the Moosewood cookbook. Lasagne served in France is generally the basic meat and bechamel variety, so they seem to think it is really original.

 

miruna
April 7, 2006

I think I get pasta sheets from the same pasta seller at the Ferry Plaza market! Brilliant idea to thin them out with a rolling pin (I don't have a pasta machine).I have had good luck with making butternut ravioli with their spinach pasta sheets, which they have in addition to plain egg pasta. You get a ton of pasta for 3 dollars and it keeps a few days wrapped tightly in plastic in the fridge (enough to experiment with different shapes, recipes). Thanks for your inspiring posts.

 

michael
April 8, 2006

thats nice....i have tried them using wanton skin...believe it or not i use them as appetizer by making the lasagna using ramekin of about 3 inches in diameter. Not that heavy just max of 3 mouthful, i guess. Kinda nice and easy but messy as the skin tends to stick.....

 

Hank Hammer
April 8, 2006

WHISPER THIN......end of story

 

Nico
April 8, 2006

This is the same idea as the Latin American thousand layer cake. In that version, you make waffer-thin crunchy crepes, and layer a caramel spread in between.

 

julie
April 8, 2006

This must be the most wonderful Lasagne ever baked!!!

 

Naomi
April 9, 2006

I NEVER precook the pasta when making lasagna. It not only saves a lot of work, but I think the texture is even better! (more toothsome) But I do make sure the sauce has a bit more liquid in it to for the pasta to absorb.

 

kishko
April 9, 2006

i have to admit that living in italy i can be a real pasta snob! but this looks great! with that whisper thin pasta it's definitely a true lasagna. but i have never made lasagna without bechamel sauce. i am not sure i am ready to make that step yet.....your photos are gorgeous as usual!

 

Three Layer Cake
April 10, 2006

When using fresh pasta you shouldn't 'pre-boil' the lasagne anyway. Also, in the pasta classes here (Rome), you learn to use a rolling pin to make all the pasta shapes, not the machine. Admittedly, I am no good at it (machine or pin) so I buy it. But your intuitions about not prebaking and using a rolling pin are right on the money, and you've recreated a traditional dish (also known as "pasticcio" ) that's when it's good...it's out of this world!!

3LC

 

Kailash Agnihoitri
April 10, 2006

For the seeing only and for the admiring only, all your works that are reaching me have won some form of admiration and wonder as to what kind of art it may be, that makes half the world live by it? My country is full of cooks and I get tired explaining what they serve, obviously meaning the same thing! So, thanks for all this, sometime I might succeed in innovating upon the most staid and unchanged diet going for vegans in this country.

 

Brenna
April 13, 2006

I rarely make lasagne because ricotta is my least favorite ingredient with pasta dishes (pie, cookies, ok. Stuffed shells - no.) So I will invest the time to make this dish, delish!

Site looks well and good here on le Mac running Firefox.

 

Brenna
April 13, 2006

One note, I'd love to see an image of the complete pan after baking. Sure, the entire tray is probably devoured by now, but a girl can dream.

 

Sherry Frewerd
April 15, 2006

I'm sure glad you posted the bit about buying the fresh egg pasta sheets b/c I would have done it the hard way...Thanks!

 

UsernameTX
May 2, 2006

I agree w/ Michael, for whisper-thin pasta layers, especially in single-serve ramekins, won ton wrappers work beautifully. Once I started using them for lasagne my family asks for it much more often, they love how tender the lasagne becomes with many layers of very thin pasta. Also, it seems to simplify assembly -- just a single layer of uncooked won ton squares over whatever type of filling I'm using. I'm new to this site, it is beautiful!

 

Eddie
October 17, 2006

That was a pretty spectacular dish.