The Ingredient That Will Change Your Lasagna Forever

When it comes to cooking Italian food, misconceptions run the gamut. For example, authentic carbonara is never made with cream, and despite the fact that it exists in many Italian-American restaurants, you'd never find Alfredo sauce in Italy. At least that's what Food Network says. As for lasagna, you may assume that aside from the pasta, ricotta is the main ingredient, but the truth is that the inclusion is yet another Americanization of an Italian dish.

According to The Washington Post, what Americans know as lasagna is what Italians refer to as "lasagne imbottite," or stuffed lasagna. Traditional lasagna from both northern and southern Italy instead is thin and delicate rather than thick and hearty. That's in part due to the fact that the traditional kind is made with béchamel sauce rather than ricotta. Italian-born restaurateur Salvatore Esposito explained to The Post that lasagna was adapted to better suit American taste buds, ultimately simplifying the recipe. Using ricotta, or even cottage cheese, puréed in the food processor was a lot more "American" than carefully laboring over a béchamel sauce. But if you want your lasagna to taste better (and more authentic), making a béchamel is worth the effort.

How to add béchamel sauce to your lasagna

Though often associated with French cuisine, The Los Angeles Times reports béchamel sauce originated in the Tuscan region of Italy during the Renaissance period. After, it was introduced to France by the chefs of Catherine de Medici. Whether you use it in French or Italian cooking, however, the components and cooking process remain the same.

According to Giallo Zafferano, béchamel consists of butter, flour, and milk, as well as a pinch of nutmeg and salt. To make the sauce, you'll start by gently heating milk in a saucepan. In another saucepan, melt butter and double the amount of flour, mixing until the two are combined. The butter and flour should be cooked until they turn golden-brown and form a roux. At this point, you'll gradually incorporate the heated milk, followed by salt and nutmeg. Whisk the ingredients until they come together as a creamy sauce. When you're ready to assemble your lasagna, spread a thin layer of the béchamel sauce over the sheet of pasta topped off with tomato sauce and grated cheese. Repeat the process as needed, then transfer it to the oven. The result is a lasagna so tasty you won't even miss the ricotta.