Mamma's Famous Roman Lasagna, is not your typical lasagna with bechamel and ground meat ragu, but a delicious light layered ensemble of noodles with a blend of rich tomato ricotta sauce, Parmigiano, and mozzarella, plus minced mortadella, leaving its undeniable flavor.
Song of the day: "Santa Claus is coming to Town", by Michael Bublé.
Mamma's lasagna is really famous. At least among Nicoletta's family, since it's her mom's recipe. Now it has become a huge favorite in our family here in Edmonton, too, because we made it once, and everyone loved it. It is the only lasagna we eat nowadays, as it is lighter and so rich in flavor, plus there is a battle over the crispy edges of the baked pasta.
How it all started
Nicoletta said it all started with her mom's passion for ricotta and her prejudice against using butter. So, in order to replace the bechamel, but wanting to obtain that same creaminess, she thought of blending ricotta in the tomato sauce. And I have to tell you, it makes for the creamiest sauce ever! Moreover, Nicoletta is not fond of ragù and tomato sauces with ground meat. That is why none in her family ever made ragù for her, but they made sure to have a simple tomato sauce for her pasta.
For this reason, when it came to making lasagna, her grandma and mom came out with this delicious and inventive use of the mortadella, to try and please everybody in the family. Minced and added to the layers with mozzarella and Parmigiano, gives the lasagna an oh-so-tasty flavor, blending with the sauce.
A special dish for a special day
Let's get into this wonderful dish, Mamma's Famous Roman Lasagna, that Nicoletta's grandma and mom made, and I am truly grateful for. Christmas is always a special day and when that lasagna hits the table nothing but passion and gratefulness can be felt.
The first time I tasted it I was going back for seconds and thirds. We were in Italy at the time, my son Joel and I, visiting Nicoletta in our first years of courtship. It was a small town called Agosta, set in the side of a mountain, with multiple houses lingering on the cliffs of this majestic place. From Nicoletta's mom and dad's window you get a clear view of the lower town and rambling foothills. Absolutely beautiful. Lunch was being prepared and Nicoletta's mom, Tonina had made the lasagna sheets early that morning. Thin golden sheets of pure goodness made by hand with love and passion. My way of doing things. That is when I was brought into the family circle and the secret ingredient of mortadella, plus the ricotta in the sauce was revealed. Tonina said that when she does not have time to make the sfoglie (lasagna sheets), she uses the oven ready ones, like these from DeCecco.
Stages of Mamma's Famous Roman Lasagna
- Tomato/Ricotta Sauce
- Pre-boil lasagna sheets
- The layering of sheets, sauce, Parmigiano, mozzarella, and last but not least, minced mortadella
- Top layer same as above, but no mortadella, then oven
The sauce is simple: drizzle some olive oil in a pan, add a whole garlic pressed a bit to release the flavor, some great strained tomatoes, in our case Mutti brand, and some fresh basil to work its magic. Let cook for about 25-30 minutes on the stove till it begins to thicken, then turn off. After a bit, add the ricotta and blend well. The sauce will go from a red to a rosé and the look, pure creamy bliss. This will add such a level of luxuriousness and richness.
Let's build this lasagna
Mince the mortadella, grate the Parmigiano, chop the fresh mozzarella. Now we are ready to get started on the construction of this Roman-style lasagna.
Pre-boil the lasagna sheets?
Now, there is no need to boil these sheets, they are oven-ready and do soften up. Nonetheless, we boil them a bit because we like the lasagna moist in the layers and those top edges nice and golden and crisp. What we do is pop a few sheets at a time in the boiling water for a few minutes, then take them out and place them in a bowl of cold water. From there they go on a clean tea towel to dry off. This does take a bit of time, so if time is not on your side, just use the oven ready, but remember to put more sauce on the sheets as they will absorb quite a bit.
Okay, we are ready to assemble
- The first thing is to get some of that sauce on the bottom of a baking dish.
- Next, place a layer of the lasagna sheets covering the whole bottom of the dish.
- Another layer of sauce goes on, then a sprinkling of Parmigiano and mozzarella, then the secret ingredient, minced mortadella.
- The second layer of lasagna sheets will be put perpendicular to the first so remember which way you had the first layer. This will hold the lasagna together when you cut into it.
- Repeat with the sauce, Parmigiano, mozzarella, and mortadella steps. Our lasagna is usually only four layers. It keeps the dish light and easy, plus the flavors are all present and not lost. Also, if you know Italian meals, especially around Christmas, there are more dishes to come.
- The last layer I call it the topper, is just sauce, Parmigiano, and mozzarella. We like to keep the mortadella a secret hidden inside.
Bake it in a 375°F oven until everything is nice and golden on top, and you see those edges starting to crisp up. When it is done, take it out of the oven and let it sit a bit. This ensures the lasagna to firm up and not fall apart when you cut into it. That setting time usually has everyone hovering over the lasagna waiting impatiently for it to be ready for serving. The next part is to chop up some fresh basil and sprinkle it on top. Maybe, for the absolute cheese lovers, add some more Parmigiano. Then, enjoy!
A dish for special occasions
Christmas day and everyone is getting up a bit late, except for the excited kids begging their parents to wake up as Santa has made his visit and presents are under the tree. In our family, the smell of the sauce is in the air, and lasagna is being prepared. People starting to arrive and a meal will be shared. The dish most waited for, mamma's lasagna.
In the end, the flavors are incredible. The pasta al dente, tender, infused with that rich tomato ricotta sauce. The Parmigiano adding acidity and punch to the mix. The fresh mozzarella is oozing with its creaminess and crispness reserved for the top layer. The mortadella, peppery, sweet, running through each ingredient like a velvet glove, deliciously flavoring each bite, having people wonder what is that taste. Normally, a lot of vocal admiration coming from the taste buds. The top gives us gifts of crispy pasta edges and golden goodness, and has everyone wanting seconds and debating thirds. Be prepared, there may be a battle for the edge pieces.
From our family here at SugarLoveSpices to yours, wishing you a most joyous Christmas and New Year.
Septemeber 2021 update: Mamma's lasagna is still the only lasagna we make and eat on Sunday lunches and special occasions. Sometimes we use store bought lasagna sheets, other times we make homemade sheets. In the photo, our lasagna with homemade sheets, for a virtual cooking class.Print
We have a vegetarian white lasagna if that is more your thing:
Lasagna "Bianca" with asparagus, peas, and mushrooms
[This post is sponsored by The Italian Centre Shop, we’ve been compensated but all opinions are our own.]