carmela soprano’s lasagne
“Sweet sausage, in little pieces? And a layer of basil leaves right underneath the cheese? That’s Carmela’s lasagne.”
-Corrado “Uncle Junior” Soprano
I came to The Sopranos far too late. Early 2008 More4 ran every episode back-to-back and I devoured them all. I was utterly gripped by the boyish yet chilling Tony, the larger-than-life Paulie, sly yet affable Uncle June, the big mouth braggadocio Christopher, and the uneasy balance of family life with ‘mafia’ life. It’s easily one of the finest series every created, a masterpiece of character study and beautiful dialogue. If you haven’t tried it, I heartily recommend it.
And the food of the Sopranos is a thing unto itself. Whether’s it’s baked ziti, sfooyadell, cold cuts, Sunday gravy, moozadell, there’s barely a scene goes by without food being mentioned. I took the Sopranos bus tour while in New York, and ate onion rings at Holsten’s too 🙂
I also got given the Sopranos cookbooks for a birthday. It’s a little cheesy, part-written in character, but the heart and soul of Italian-American cookery is there, with it’s hearty and rib-sticking fare. As an existing fan of lasagne, I was keen to try the lasagne-with-layer-of-basil as mentioned in the show (it can be found in this volume).
In truth all the recipes are written by prolific author and cookbook writer Michele Scicolone. I can only imagine how much fun she must have had coming up with ‘authentic’ food as eaten by Tony Soprano. She has written over 20 books, won all sorts of awards for recipes and also lives in New York area so was an obvious choice to co-author this book. Even if the Sopranos stuff isn’t for you, they are solid recipes.
Like many Italian-American dishes, it requires a ‘gravy’ which is not the meat juice we might expect. I’ve simplified it down, veal is a pain to get hold of here and Italian sausage… sort of isn’t a thing here. Not in the way Americans mean. But sausages seasoned with fennel, and pork and beef mince hint in the right direction. Here it’s a meaty, tomatoey sauce that forms the base of lasagne. This gravy is the base for a lot of dishes, such as this lasagne and baked ziti.
“What, no f*!#ing ziti now?”
-Anthony “AJ” Soprano Jr
This takes a good couple of hours so it’s not a dish you can just bash out on a whim, because after that you’ve got lots of layers and another 45 minutes in the oven to finish it off. But it does have lots of hands-off time while it cooks so it’s a good one for a weekend.
The gravy is superb though, rich and flavoursome. I’ve kept some back for something else another day. And every time I use a ricotta instead of a white sauce I forget how good it is in a lasagne. And without the faff of a bechamel! The basil was nice though, a pleasing herbal aroma that carries through and it’s tender from cooking. Uncle June was right.
carmela soprano's lasagne
For the gravy:
- 3 sausages if you can get them, Waitrose have incredible 'Italian' style sausages
- 400 g mince beef and pork
- 1 onion diced
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 1 tablespoon tomato puree
- 700 ml litre passata
For the lasagne:
- Lasagne sheets
- A large bunch of basil
- 250 g ricotta
- 250 g mozzarella sliced
- 25 g parmesan grated
- To make the gravy, fry the onion and garlic until soft in a large pan with a little oil.
- Skin the sausages and squish each into 3-4 hazelnut size pieces. Add these to the pan and brown a little on all sides over.
- Add the mince and continue to cook until browned.
- Add the puree and passata and bring to a simmer. Cook partially covered for 1½ - 2 hours until rich and thickened. At this point check for seasoning - plenty of pepper is welcome here.
- Beat the ricotta with the parmesan, adding salt and pepper to taste (you may want to add a couple of tablespoons of milk to loosen it, as you're going to spread it in a minute). Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- In a 6cm deep oven dish put a thin layer of meat sauce on the bottom. Cover with lasagne sheets, then another layer of meat sauce.
- Top this with ricotta and some parmesan, then a layer of basil leaves. Top this with mozzrella, then lasagne. Start the layering all over again until you reach the top of the dish.
- Make the top layer meat sauce, ricotta and mozzarella. Bung in the oven until you can push a knife through with little resistance, about 45 minutes - 1 hour. Cover with foil if it's starting to darken too quickly.
- Leave the lasagna out for five minutes to allow it all to meld together - this makes it easier to cut up.