About a year or so after my father sold his restaurant and retired, I decided to get back in the restaurant business part-time, mostly to earn some extra money. I got a job waiting tables at a restaurant called Biscotti in Ridgefield, CT where the chef, Silvia Bianco was doing some amazing things in the kitchen. One dish I remember fondly was her individual hand-rolled lasagnas, I always thought they were a great idea. Each night she would have a special one with different fillings. Biscotti is no longer around, but I was able to contact Chef Silvia and she graciously agreed to contribute a hand-rolled lasagna recipe.Chef Silvia began conducting cooking classes in her restaurant kitchen in 1995. Today, she offers them in her home-based demonstration kitchen to private groups and some of America’s top corporations, including: GE, Unilever, MetLife, Nestle, Pepperidge Farm, The Gap, and many, many more. She is the author of Simply Sauté, the first in-depth book on sauté in the US; has cooked on stage at the Ridgefield Playhouse and at the James Beard House as well as the Today Show; and is among the panel of top culinary experts selected by The Atlantic Monthly to contribute critical evaluations and reviews.
Chef Silvia continues to grow a strong on-line presence through her web site: www.chefsilvia.com; her monthly essays on food and life, “Notes From the Chef” which can be found on her site and includes recipes and tips. She can also be found on the critically acclaimed on-line food resource: www.food411.com where she is resident chef and answers visitor questions though their “Ask Chef Silvia” feature.
Note: For a light meal use one piece of the lasagna per serving and combine with a fresh salad.
Hand rolling each lasagna noodle is a wonderful way to not only make this classic comfort food look fancy, but it allows you to customize each piece–if you want to–without having to make a full tray of the flat, layered type. So, if someone doesn’t care for peppers, for example, you can easily leave them out. It’s also a perfect solution if you want to make lasagna for just a few. The ricotta-béchamel filling, gives each piece a creaminess that is more interesting and lighter than using ricotta alone. I especially like completing the filling with fresh mozzarella, asparagus and roasted red peppers–but any combination of your favorites are fine. Top it with sautéed grape tomatoes and this lasagna is elevated to that of the sublime. I made a variation of this dish when I cooked at the James Beard House. It was a big hit!
For The Ricotta/Béchamel Filling
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons unbleached white flour
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
- 1 teaspoon parmesan cheese (optional)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
For The Lasagna
- 4 lasagna noodles
- 1 cup filling (see below)
- 4 1/4 inch slices fresh mozzarella
- 12 pieces fresh asparagus–blanched, ends cut
- 1/2 cup roasted red pepper filets (buy prepared or better yet, roast your own)
- 2 cups marinara sauce
- 3 large fresh basil leaves–slivered
- 2 sprigs of whole basil leaves–for garnish
Make The Ricotta/Béchamel Filling
- Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the flour and stir with a wire whisk until it forms a paste. Slowly add the milk, stirring until the mixture forms a paste and all the milk is absorbed. Continue cooking for about 10 minutes–stirring occasionally–until the sauce is smooth and thick. Remove from heat and refrigerate for 15 to 20 minutes. Add the ricotta, the parmesan, stir and season.
Assemble the Lasagna
- Cook the lasagna noodles in a large pot of boiling, salted water for about 10 minutes, and drain while the noodles are still firm. Rinse the noodles under cold water to stop further cooking (remember, they will cook more in the oven.) Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
- Lay each noodle flat. Divide the filling evenly in the center of each noodle. Top each with a slice of the mozzarella, 3 pieces of asparagus, and a few filets of the peppers.
- Fold one end of the noodle over the filling and then roll. Place each piece in a greased baking dish. Cover with foil and bake for approximately 15 to 20 minutes or until the center is warm. While the lasagna is baking, make the sauce.
- Remove the lasagna from the oven and place two pieces on each plate, as in the photo. Top with the sauce. Garnish with slivered basil and serve.