This recipe is adapted from Marcella Hazan (via Tamasin Day-Lewis). It is simple, even if not exactly quick to make (I allow a couple of hours from start to finish) - but absolutely delicious and worth the time. I make the ragu fairly liquid, using a large can of tomatoes, so that I can use dried lasagne sheets (not the quick-cook sort) without boiling them first. They cook fine in the juicy sauce.
2 T olive oil
2 large onions
3 sticks celery
4 large cloves garlic
2 lb ground beef (15% fat, like our Pym Farm ground)
2 bay leaves
1 cup milk
1 cup white wine
1 large can (28 oz) Italian whole plum tomatoes OR in summer, about 2lb fresh tomatoes
1 box dried lasagne
Plenty of freshly grated Parmesan
For the bechamel sauce:
4 cups milk
6 T butter
6 T flour
1. Make the beef ragu: finely chop the vegetables. Saute the onion in oil in a large pan until translucent. Add celery, carrots and garlic and cook another 5 minutes. Add beef, a large pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Saute until the beef is nicely browned. Add bay leaves and 1 cup milk and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Add wine and simmer until it's evaporated. Chop the tomatoes and add them with their juice. Bring to a gentle simmer (ie the occasional bubble) and cook, covered, for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 hours. Check seasoning.
2. While the ragu is cooking, make the bechamel: melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and stir over low/medium heat for 5 minutes or so to cook the flour. Add the milk gradually, stirring or whisking to keep the sauce smooth, another 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg.
3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
4. Assemble the lasagne, starting with a layer of bechamel, then pasta, then ragu and repeating until your sauces are used up. Finish with bechamel and cover with freshly grated Parmesan.
5. Bake for about 40-50 minutes until the dish is bubbling and a knife slips through easily. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving with a green salad.