I am constantly on the search for perfect recipes. Formulas that allow a dish to be the very best version of itself. For many iconic dishes I am still on the search. But I’m happy to say there are a handful of those that I’ve been able to raise my hands and proclaim “This is it.” Thousand Layer Lasagna from 101 Cookbooks is one of these recipes. It’s such a simple dish. Whisper thin layers of fresh pasta, the simplest & brightest tomato sauce imaginable, and the fresh taste of basil – all melded together with gooey mozzarella cheese. I’m usually a purveyor of the idea that less is more, and I’ve never been a fan chunky lasagna or ricotta cheese. So for me, there is no other lasagna worth making.
I like to make this dish on Sundays. There’s just something about the day that makes me want to drag out my pasta roller and go to town. I guess it’s because once you’ve found the perfect pasta dough recipe, which I have, it can really be very relaxing and therapeutic to roll out sheet after sheet of noodles while sipping some red wine. I use a fresh egg pasta recipe that is made in the food processor and thus extremely easy to throw together. The dish takes me about 3 hours start to finish – but you’re only active about half of that time. It goes even faster if you have some extra hands to help you out.
The noodles are unbelievably tender and they get ever so crispy along the edges. I’ve had great success doubling the recipe too. There’s nothing finer than thousand layer lasagna except for a double batch. And the best part about the whole ordeal are the leftovers the next day. All of the deliciousness, none of the fuss. A little lasagna for one anybody?
Well, one and a half…
Fresh Egg Pasta
Pulse the flour in the workbowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade to evenly distribute. Add the eggs; process until the dough forms a rough ball, about 30 seconds. (If the dough resembles small pebbles, add water, 1/2 teaspoon at a time; if the dough sticks to the side of the workbowl, add flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, and process until the dough forms a rough ball. See figures 1 through 3 below for tips on judging moisture level in dough.)
Turn the dough ball and small bits out onto a dry work surface; knead until the dough is smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for at least 15 minutes and up to 2 hours to relax.
Using a manual pasta machine, cut about one-sixth of the dough from the ball and flatten it into a disk. (Re-cover remaining dough with plastic.) Run the disk through the rollers set to the widest position.
Bring the ends of the dough toward the middle and press down to seal. Feed the open side of the pasta through the rollers. Repeat once more.
Without folding again, run the pasta through the widest setting twice or until the dough is smooth. If the dough is at all sticky, lightly dust it with flour.
Roll the pasta thinner by putting it through the machine repeatedly, narrowing the setting each time. Roll until the dough is thin and satiny. You should be able to see the outline of your hand through the pasta. Lay the sheet of pasta on a clean kitchen towel and cover it with a damp cloth to keep it from drying out. Repeat with the other pieces of dough.
Makes 1 pound of pasta.
Thousand Layer Lasagna
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, baking dish. (The oval one I use is 11×8 and 3 inches deep).
After running your sheets through the pasta machine (they should be almost 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.