When I was in college, I studied abroad in Florence, Italy. There I lived with an Italian woman named Carla and her son Massimo. As part of the room and board agreement, Carla would cook amazing Italian fare each night for dinner. Fresh tomato sauce atop perfectly al dente pasta, ultra thin chicken Milanese with a perfectly crispy battered coating, and espresso… lots and lots of espresso.
Today’s recipe is my favorite of all of Carla’s dishes: Pesto Lasagna. Vegetarian and fresh, it’s the quintessential summer dish, best made with basil at the peak of summer.
And the best part is that the pesto recipe below can be tossed with pasta, if assembling a whole lasagna is too daunting!
PESTO (made in the traditional Italian style with no official measurements):
2 large handfuls fresh basil… or, 1 cup packed
1 large handful grated Parmesan cheese… or, 1/2 cup
1 small handful pine nuts… or, 1/4 cup
Approximately 1 espresso cup of extra virgin olive oil… or, 4 tbsp
Salt, to taste… 1/4-1/2 tsp works well
Take all ingredients and pulse in a small food processor or blender until finely chopped.
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium high heat. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste cooks and bubbles a bit, but don’t let it brown — about 2 minutes.
Add the hot milk, continuing to stir as the sauce thickens. Bring it to a boil. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste, lower the heat, and cook, stirring for 2 to 3 minutes more. Remove from the heat.
1 lb. lasagna noodles, cooked until al dente and trimmed to fit an 8×8 casserole dish.
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesean cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a greased 8×8 casserole dish, begin to layer the lasagna. First, lay out a layer of noodles, cut to the size of your dish. Then, spread a few spoonfuls of pesto on top of the pasta. Remember: a little pesto goes a long way. It’s naturally very flavorful!
Then, add enough bechemel sauce to lightly cover the noodles and pesto. The pesto and bechemel sauce will mix together a bit. Toss a little handful of grated parmesean over the layer.
Continue this pattern of noodles, pesto, bechemel and parmesean (alternating the direction of the noodles to help bind the lasagna) until the last layer of noodles. On the top layer, after laying out pesto and bechemel sauce, coat everything with the grated mozzarella cheese.
Wrap the dish tightly with foil. and bake for one hour. Remove the foil and bake for 10 minutes more at 450 degrees, until top is golden. Remove from oven and allow to sit for 15 minutes before slicing.
Serve and enjoy!