The Antithesis to Storebought Lasagna

Beloved lasagna.  The easy dinner for all.  Unless you start to get stupid about it like we did.  We turned an easy dish into something more convoluted by making almost everything from scratch.  However, the results merit the time involved.  Sublime.

The idea to make most elements from scratch started last year.  Rob couldn't find lasagna noodles at the store and like any reasonable professional cook said "F%$^ this" and made pasta noodles.  He even rolled out the noodles by hand.  Dedication to a cause that's for sure.  Early in our Hanoi days he also couldn't find good ground meat, but really why bother with mince when you can braise a chunk of meat?  Along the way we've also learned how to make ricotta so out went store bought.  Outside of the Parmesan cheese we make all the elements in our kitchen.  Making lasagna like this only happens a couple times each year as it is an all day kind of thing.  Great rain / snow day activity.  Added bonus of keeping cold Hanoi apartment warm in winter.

Here's our most current version:

1. Start with the noodles.  

Making the dough can be done early in the day or better yet use the remains from a double batch recipe pre made and froze a couple weeks ago.  We use Thomas Keller's 7 Yolk Pasta Dough recipe.  Save rolling out the noodles for the assembly stage much later in the day.  Thankfully we bought back our Kitchen Aid and pasta attachment from Canada in our luggage the in fall (gone are the days of Rob rolling it out by hand).

2. Move on to the Ricotta.

This is so easy to do I basically guarantee that you won't buy ricotta anymore.

1L Whole Milk
15g 8% White Vinegar (2.5 tsp)
7.5g Salt (1.5 tsp)

Combine all ingredients in a saucepot.  Simmer until curdles form (don't stir it!).  Let sit and cool for 10-15 min.  Gently ladle out the curds into cheese cloth.  Let drain until desired consistency.  Spoon into jars and refrigerate.

This yields enough ricotta for one 6 serving lasagna dish, with one cheese layer and some on top.  If you are using a larger lasagna dish (family sized) you'll probably want to double.  Having leftovers of this is never a problem.

Curds forming

Ladle curds gently in cheesecloth over strainer

In jars!

3. Braise the Meat

I strongly feel that this component is what really makes this lasagna stand out.  We don't use ground meat like most versions.  What we do use is an all day slow braised pork shoulder.  So good.  You could use beef if you prefer.

250 g tomato
4 garlic cloves fine dice
1 carrot diced
1 stick celery diced (optional)
1/2 onion dice
1/2 tsp whole peppercorns
2 juniper berries (optional)
1 star anise
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup white wine (red if using beef)
1 kg pork shoulder, fat cap and rind on (scored)
Rock salt - rubbed into scores and meat
Pepper - rubbed into scores and meat

Ready to go into the oven

Braise at a low temperature (300F) for a long time (4-6 hours), uncovered is ok.  When the pork is done keep all the liquid and veggies (extract whole spices) and add to tomato sauce.  Remove the excess fat from the pork and shred the meat.  Snack on crispy pork rind.  I did.

4. Make your sauce base

In the step you basically want to create a standard rustic tomato sauce.  Every cook has their own variation.  Ours starts with beautiful tomatoes we picked up at Chợ Yên Phụ.

1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 big onion diced
2 garlic cloves fine dice
1/4 cup red or white wine
500g tomatoes rough chop
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 chili
1/4 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp pepper
1 bay leaves
Salt TT

This is the version we used today.  Keep in mind this always changes depending on the day or the cook.  You may need to add sugar to balance the acidity of the tomatoes. 

Follow normal process for making tomato sauce.  Saute onions and garlic, deglaze with wine.  Add tomatoes and spices.  Simmer.  When pork is complete add pork braise liquid to this.  Taste and adjust seasoning.

You can leave this rustic or blitz the make smoother. Add shredded meat to sauce.

5. Assemble  (finally!)

Roll out your noodles, we did them to thickness "5" on the Kitchen Aid but agreed we should have gone thinner.   We start with a little sauce on the bottom (just enough to get it wet, no big chunks), noodles, full sauce layer, cheese layer, full sauce layer, then cheese topping with a few spoons of sauce on top.

Our cheese layer and topping is the following mixture:

Parmesan Cheese
Whipping Cream

We combine these to make a loose easy to spread mixture.  I don't miss using mozzarella with this combination but feel free to put some on top if you have it on hand. 

Bake this badass lasagna in the oven (375 F - 400 F) until golden brown and bubbly.

Amaze your friends and family with your culinary prowess.  In all likelihood probably family only as I don't think we've ever shared this with friends.  Sorry friends.

This picture does not do the results justice.  Apologies for wacky white balance.


  1. So, uh, when are you bringing some in for lunch? Because that sounds ah-may-zing! If nothing else, I'm going to get into the ricotta cheese business!

    1. This lasagna never leaves our house. Did you see how many steps are involved? Sweat equity dude!

  2. OK that looks awesome. I might have some spare time to work on that! ;)

    1. It's a labour of love... but maybe once your leg is somewhat better it'll be a good project for you! I was going to recommend what to do to make the process easier, but all elements are crucial However, the most labour intensive is the pasta. Could substitute in store bought I suppose :)