Crazy Lasagna

There is no need to make lasagna in tidy little layers and rows. It doesn't even need to be served in squares. It looks different than the traditional, but tastes as good. And it is much, much faster!

- Nathalie Dupree

For the meat sauce:

3 tablespoons peanut oil, divided use

1 onion, finely chopped

1 rib celery, finely chopped

1 small carrot, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 pound country sausage, crumbled

1/4 pound fresh mushrooms, chopped

1/3 cup dry red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley

5 tablespoons chopped herbs: oregano, basil and thyme, preferably fresh

1 tablespoon rosemary, fresh or dried

Pinch nutmeg

2 (16-ounce) cans tomatoes, preferably Italian, peeled, seeded and chopped, juice reserved

1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste

Sugar to taste

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the white sauce:

6 tablespoons butter

5 tablespoons flour

3 cups milk (see cook's note)

Salt

White pepper

3/4 pound dried lasagna

2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided use

4 tablespoons butter, melted

Directions

Cook's note: If time allows, flavor the milk by bringing milk to a simmer with 6 peppercorns, parsley stalk, bay leaf, small slice of celery, small slice of carrot, small onion cut in half; remove from heat and let sit 30 minutes, then strain.

To make the meat sauce, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large pot and add onion, celery, carrot and garlic. Cook gently for 15 minutes, until the vegetables are soft.

In a skillet, brown the sausage in the remaining tablespoon of oil. When it is well browned, drain off excess fat, add mushrooms, and saute. Add the vinegar and cook 5 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze. Add the herbs, nutmeg, salt and pepper and cook until the liquid has completely evaporated. Remove from the heat, and add to the vegetables. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, and enough reserved tomato juice to thoroughly moisten. Bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered for 1 hour, adding more tomato juice if necessary and stirring from time to time. Taste. Season with sugar, salt and pepper.

To make the white sauce, melt the butter and stir in the flour. Add the milk and bring to a boil, stirring constantly until thickened. Taste and season with salt and white pepper. Remove from the heat and cover with wax paper to prevent a skin from forming.

Cook lasagna 6 to 8 at a time in a large pot of boiling salted water. As each batch is done, remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl of cold water and repeat cooking the remaining pasta. Drain and dry the pasta.

Rather than layering, put all the pasta in a buttered 9x13-inch flameproof baking dish, then add the meat sauce, white sauce, 11/2 cups of the grated cheese, and the melted butter. Swirl all together and top with the remaining grated cheese. May be made ahead to this point and refrigerated.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake until very hot, 10 minutes if freshly made, longer if made ahead and refrigerated. Freezes and reheats well.

Nathalie Dupree is the author of 13 cookbooks, most recently the James Beard award-winning "Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking." She lives in Charleston and may be reached through Nathaliedupree.com

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