The Original Lasagna alla Bolognese Recipe
The classic "Lasagna alla Bolognese" used to be quite different! This historical recipe for the original version was brought to our attention by Italian food historian Luca Cesari. Check out his new book about the history of pasta here!
This lasagna was invented before the now-ubiquitous meat ragù was even conceived of. In this vegetarian version, layers of fresh pasta are paired with a spinach and onion filling. It's a lighter dish than a modern lasagna, but still delicious!
Please note that in the video below, because we were making a historical recipe with no ingredient measurements, we had to guess at the amounts and in this case got it wrong. The recipe given here will double the amount of spinach we used so that the end result will fill a 1.5-quart loaf dish (ours came out a little short).
Watch the Pasta Grammar video where we make this recipe here:
For this recipe, you will need:
2 cups (~300g) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
3 large eggs
2 lbs. (900g) baby spinach
1 large onion, minced
3-4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
2 tbsp. chopped parsley
Using the flour and eggs, make a fresh pasta dough. Check out our detailed instructions on how to do so here! Wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest at room temperature while you prepare the filling.
Bring a large pot of water to boil and salt it generously. Add the spinach and boil it for 2-3 minutes. Drain the spinach and let it cool to the touch before squeezing all the excess water out and finely chopping it.
Bring the olive oil up to medium heat in a large skillet and add the minced onion. Sauté until the onion is tender and slightly transparent, then stir in the spinach and parsley.
While the spinach cooks, it may have a tendency to quickly soak up all the oil in the pan. Add more oil as needed to keep the spinach moist. Season the filling with some fresh thyme, grated nutmeg and cinnamon to taste. Once the spinach has been sautéed for about 5 minutes, turn off the heat and set it aside for later.
Time to prepare the pasta! If possible, using a pasta machine will help to speed up the process and make even, uniform sheets of dough. You can certainly use a rolling pin, though. Cut the dough ball into smaller portions and work in batches (roll about 1/3 of the dough at a time). Keep any unused portion of dough wrapped in plastic while you work so that it doesn't dry out.
On a floured surface, roll the pasta dough out into thin sheets (a #6 setting on a standard Marcato Atlas machine, or about 1.5mm thin). The shape and size of the sheets doesn't matter too much, as you can always cut and layer them to fit your dish later on. If using a machine, just cut the long sheets that come out into shorter lengths as necessary. If rolling with a pin, roll the dough into one large sheet and cut smaller rectangles out from that. Dust the sheets liberally with flour, and lay them flat and separate on a clean towel. Repeat with another portion of dough until all of the pasta is rolled.
Bring a large pot of water to boil and salt it generously. Drop 1-3 sheets of dough in at a time and boil them for about 45 seconds. Remove with tongs and lay them flat again on the towel, taking care not to let the sheets touch each other and stick together.
Preheat an oven to 390 degrees F (200 C).
Place a few thin pats of butter along the bottom of a loaf dish. Cover the butter with a single layer of cooked pasta. Cut and trim the pasta sheets as necessary to make one complete layer that fits the dish perfectly. Spread a thin layer of spinach filling over the pasta and place a few more butter pats on top.
Repeat these steps, layering pasta/spinach/butter, until the dish is full or you run out of filling and/or pasta. Finish the lasagna with a final layer of pasta. Brush the top with a generous drizzle of olive oil.
Bake the lasagna until the top becomes crispy and begins to turn golden. It should take about 20-25 minutes but check it frequently as the pasta can burn quickly if left in too long. Let the lasagna cool for 10-15 minutes before serving.