Every July for many years, my late wife Paula and I held an Italian evening under the stars around our pool in Sewickley, Pennsylvania I would do the cooking for 64 people—8 tables with 8 people each—while a roving violinist and accordionist serenaded everyone with Italian music. This lasagna was always the main course because, though I wanted to experiment with other Italian dishes, my guests would not let me. My favorite secret to make the cooking a little easier, learned from Cook’s Illustrated, was using store-bought “no boil” lasagna noodles, which can taste just like homemade.
2 sticks unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
¾ cup all-purpose flour
5 cups whole milk
2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 (9-ounce) box Barilla “No Boil” lasagna noodles
6 cups David’s Hearty Italian Ragu (page 84)
Fresh basil leaves, chopped, for garnish
Grease a 3-quart Pyrex baking dish or roasting pan with butter. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
In a large stockpot, melt the butter over low heat. Sprinkle in the flour, raise the heat to medium-low, and whisk for 3 minutes. Raise the heat to medium whisk in the milk, stirring continuously until thickened, 6 to 10 minutes. Whisk in 1½ cups of the Parmesan, add salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.
Fill a roasting pan with hot tap water. Add the noodles and soak until slightly softened, 7 to 8 minutes.
Spread half of the ragu on the bottom of the Pyrex dish. Cover with a layer of lasagna noodles, trimming pieces as needed to fill the space evenly. Evenly spread with half of the Parmesan sauce, smoothing with a rubber spatula. Add another layer of noodles. Top with the remaining ragu and more noodles. Spread with the remaining Parmesan sauce and sprinkle with the remaining grated Parmesan. Cover the dish with aluminum foil.
Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 40 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and continue baking until the top begins to brown, 20 to 25 minutes longer.
Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes. Use 2 spatulas to cut and serve, garnishing with basil.