Lasagna: The 1967 Time-Life Recipe

Still riding! Got a new dog, so my exercise time has been tilted more toward hiking and running. She’s very high energy.

This is the magic lasagna recipe from the 1967 edition of “The Cooking of Italy.” I read over and over on cooking sites that this was the best lasagna ever, but as far as I know, this is the first time it is appearing online, as I’ve been unable to find it anywhere else.

So I went to Abe Books and bought the book from ’67, scanned it, text recognized it, and here it is. The book is long out of print, so I hope the lasagna copyright nazis don’t come after me for this.

It is the most amazing thing you will ever eat. I mean come on, chicken liver, smoked ham, ground round, and ground pork?

You’re welcome in advance. If you have modifications or additional guidance, please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.

UPDATE:

  1. I suggest going much lighter on the chicken liver; as the recipe is written below, you’ll end up with what basically amounts to liver lasagna. Cut it by half or even to one quarter.
  2. This isn’t enough for a conventional 2017 lasagna pan. Double the recipe if you want to use a regular-sized Pyrex.

12/30/2019–I added some headings to make the original recipe, which was poorly written, less confusing. Also, you may want to read the comments first before diving in, there’s some good guidance from much better cooks than me.

Ragu Bolognese
To make about 2 1/2 cups
1/4 pound smoked ham, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 cup coarsely chopped onions
1/4 cup coarsely chopped carrots
1/2 cup coarsely chopped celery
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 pound round steak, ground twice
1/4 pound lean pork, ground twice
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups beef stock, fresh or canned
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 pound chicken livers
1 cup heavy cream
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Combine the chopped ham, onions, carrots and celery on a cutting board, and chop them together into very small pieces. (This mixture is called a battuto, which when cooked becomes a soffritto.)

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over moderate heat in a heavy, 10- to 12-inch skillet. When the foam subsides, add the battuto and cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, or until it is lightly browned. With a rubber spatula, transfer the soffritto to a heavy 3- to 4-quart saucepan. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the same skillet, and in it lightly brown the ground round steak and pork over moderate heat, stirring the meat constantly to break up any lumps. Then pour in the wine, increase the heat, and boil briskly, still stirring constantly, until almost all of the liquid in the skillet has cooked away. Add the meat to the soffritto in the saucepan, and stir in the stock and tomato paste. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, over high heat melt 2 more tablespoons of butter in the original skillet, and when the foam subsides, add the chicken livers. Cook them for 3 or 4 minutes, or until they are firm and lightly browned. Chop the chicken livers into small dice, set them aside, and add them to the sauce 10 minutes before it is done. A few minutes before serving, stir in the cream and let it heat through. Taste the ragu and season it with nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Serve the ragu on pasta or, without the cream, use it in lasagna pasticciate.

Lasagne Pasticciate
To serve 6 to 8

LASAGNE
6 to 8 quarts water
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 pound lasagne

Preheat the oven to 350°. Generously butter the bottom and sides of a 9-by-12-by-3-inch serving casserole or baking dish. In a large soup pot or kettle, bring the water and salt to a bubbling boil over high heat. Add the lasagne, stirring gently for a few moments with a wooden fork to be sure the strips do not stick to one another. Boil over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the lasagne is tender, but still al dente-the time may vary between 10 and 25 minutes, depending on whether you use homemade or commercial lasagne. Set the pot under cold running water for a few moments to cool the pasta. Then lift out the strips and spread them side by side on paper towels to drain.

BESCIAMELLA FOR LASAGNE
3 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt

In a heavy 2-to-3-quart saucepan, melt the butter over moderate heat and stir in the flour. Remove the pan from the heat and pour in the milk and cream all at once, beating with a wire whisk until the flour is partially dissolved. Return the pan to high heat and cook, stirring constantly with the whisk. When the sauce comes to a boil and
thickens into a smooth cream, reduce the heat and simmer, still stirring, for 2 or 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and season with nutmeg and salt.

LASAGNE ASSEMBLY
Besciamella
The 2 1/2 cups ragu bolognese you made earlier
1/2 cup freshly grated imported Parmesan cheese
Lasagne noodles

Spread a layer of ragu bolognese about 1/4 inch deep evenly over the bottom of the buttered casserole. Spread over it about 1 cup of besciamella. Lay one third of the lasagne on the besciamella, overlapping the strips slightly. Repeat the layers of ragu, besciamella and lasagne two more times, then top with the rest of the ragu and a masking of besciamella. Sprinkle with grated cheese. Bake 30 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling hot.

50 thoughts on “Lasagna: The 1967 Time-Life Recipe

    1. Chris Bruns

      The reason you are getting so many hits is that today’s New York Times Cooking e-newsletter from Sam Sifton features what he claims is the BEST lasagna. But a commenter said it was too involved (indeed it’s called an all-day lasagna because it takes that long to make) and countered that the best recipe can be found in Time-Life’s Cooking of Italy. Your site came up first when the Goggling commenced.

      Reply
  1. Ed Falis

    This is the best. I don’t know how many Italian Grandma’s they held hostage to get it, but you should be the beneficiary!

    Reply
  2. Rob

    Something is up with the proportions. Recipe makes 2 1/2 cups ragu which would get consumed in the besciamella leaving no ragu for the lasagna. Ok the inventor here is not a math major.

    Reply
    1. Kathleen M Mulcahy

      Does that mean that you need to double the Ragu recipe so that there are 5 cups, half of which will be used for the besciamella?

      Reply
      1. John Ferguson Post author

        No ragu is used in the besciamella. The recipe needs another heading–“assemble the lasagna” (which, as of 12/30/2019 I added to reduce confusion).

    1. Caro W. Land

      Italians use pancetta, lightly smoked pork belly. Usually I use smoked speck, taking care that it is not too salty. Alternatively you could take Parisian Ham, mildy smoked and cooked ham. I wouldn’t advise to use any strongly smoked and salted raw ham.

      Reply
  3. Cooking in Mexico

    I know this gives away my age, but I first made this recipe 50 years ago, as a young adult, enjoying the freedom of my own kitchen. The Time Life book and I parted company somewhere along the decades, and I never saw this recipe again. But I never forgot serving this at a dinner party, and how wonderful it was. Thank you so much for reproducing the recipe here. I can’t wait to make it again!

    Reply
  4. ExTxn

    I have made this particular recipe since 1968 and it always draws swoons from the happy eaters. But be warned; it’s rich! I have always used a regular Pyrex 9X13 casserole for this as the deep lasagna pans yield pieces that are overwhelming for such a luxurious dish.
    I have always used the full complement of chicken livers ( but after you clean them you’ll have closer to 1/3 lb. meat) and no one has ever complained of it being overly liverish.
    Lastly: don’t cheat and use pre-ground nutmeg. It makes a huge difference in the depth of flavor . And if you are going to change everything to make it “healthy “and low fat, don’t! The balance of flavors in this a so fabulous!

    Reply
    1. ExTxn

      Nope….and you won’t miss it. This is much creamier and richer than “standard”lasagne. Be sure to let it sit on the counter for about 10 minutes to let it “set”. Hope you’ll enjoy it.

      Reply
      1. John Ferguson Post author

        I’m far from a professional chef or even a skilled amateur, but from what I’ve read “authentic” lasagna does not include mozzarella. Of course I love cheesy lasagna too, regardless of its authenticity.

  5. montagcat

    Hi Jim,

    Thank you so much for making this post. I need this tonight and everyone loved it. I did as you suggested and only used for chicken livers, which were essential to adding a richness to the meat mixture. I found your blog after Google searching for this recipe following reading the comments section of the New York Times Cooking lasagna recipe.

    Reply
      1. Bob Rustad

        Hi, John. I was reading a lasagne recipe from Sam Sifton in the Times recently in which one of the readers said, “forget this and all of the comments from those who made it. The world’s best recipe is in the 1967 Time Life Italy cookbook.” As a sidebar, I started buying the Time Life cookbooks when I was in college in the sixties in Minnesota. I had the complete collection which was lost in a house fire in 1990. In fact we lost all of our cookbooks in the fire, the biggest loss by far. My confession is that I never used the lasagne recipe. Now that I have it I am going to prepare it for a family get together in a couple of weeks. I will send you a report. Bob Rustad, Naples FL.

  6. Gregg

    I’m going to make this in the next few days. I will double the ragu as suggested but wondering if I should also double the besciamella? I guess I will just to be safe. Are others actually finding it necessary to double the ragu in order to make a 9×12 inch pan of lasagna? Curious. Will double both sauces and let you know if it was needed.

    Reply
    1. Gregg

      This isn’t really a reply. It’s Gregg wanting to amend above post and not knowing how…… So should you also double the lasagna noodles in order to make a modern sized pan of lasagna? I’ve read this recipe so many times and even with the amendments, it’s still confusing. I will buy extra noodles as well just to be safe and post if it was also needed. Sounds delicious even if hard to follow. Gregg

      Reply
    2. ExTxn

      I’ve been making this for 50 years and never had a problem with the proportion. I think it would be pretty soupy ( but good soup) if all the sauces were doubled. It kind of needs to soak up some sauce to make a cohesive square piece. Most Americans tend to use a lot of sauce on pasta, where Italians are more oriented to pasta, with some sauce. The ragu is worth making extra just to use as a red “gravy”, but I haven’t ever doubled it. This really is such a good recipe. If you do use the ragu to just dress some pasta don’t forget to stir a little cream into it to enrich the sauce. Hope it was wonderful!

      Reply
  7. Bart

    Sam Sifton’s New York TImes cooking newsletter today suggested Regina Schrambling’s recipe for lasagna. One of the “most helpful” comments on the recipe says that Schrambling’s recipe is too much work for not enough payoff and suggested this Lasagna pasticciate recipe instead. highlight > right click > search google for “Lasagna pasticciate” and your blog is the top result. That’s how i got here and i imagine the same is true for thousands of others. Thanks for the recipe!

    Reply
  8. jeremiahfrog

    Hi John, Thank you so much for going to all the trouble of scanning, correcting, editing and posting this wonderful vintage recipe that is now out of print! I found this blog via the NYT lasagna recipe as well, as others have mentioned above. This version the dish is very close to the lasagna bolognese they make in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy (where it originated) – although, to be sure, every Italian grandma has her own “personal” version! I look forward to trying this out where I live, in the Normandy region of France. When I cannot get pancetta, I do as you suggest as well: speck works fine. Bon appétit!

    Reply
  9. Rose

    It was referred to in a New York Times lasagne recipe by a Steve Martin. 500+ ppl liked the comment and I imagine, like me, they googled this and here we are.

    Reply
    1. Laurie Lynn Drummond

      Sam Sifton suggested a Lasagne recipe in the NY Times What To Cook newsletter today, calling it the Best Lasagne Recipe on the Planet. In the comments section of that recipe is a comment made by a Steve Martin referencing this specific recipe as being way way better. And here we all are!

      Reply
  10. Ewa Rosander

    NY times had a lasagna recipes online today
    and this comment was on it…..hence all the views 😃

    Steve Martin2 years ago
    We had this for Sunday dinner and it is way too much work for the mediocre result. How did we get SO FAR from classic, authentic Lasagna pasticciate, consisting of nothing more than layers of freshly made bechemal and exquisite ragú bolognese made from beef,pork, and chicken livers? Find the recipe in the superb 1968 Time-Life The Cooking of Italy and be prepared to be blown away.

    Reply
  11. W Moon

    I have found that using beef and pork shank meat works better in most lasagna recipes instead of ground meats. Looking forward to trying this recipe.

    Reply
  12. caroll l

    Beautiful…cooking is the love we want to share with others…thanks to all of the great cooks and those who love a delightful meal….will be trying this and following all of your results as well

    Reply
  13. Cindy Norcross Moschitta

    I just made this… is sitting on the counter waiting to go into the oven. I could have used about 1/2 cup more of the ragu… didn’t have enough for the top, but had plenty of the besciamella.will let you know how it was later!

    Reply
  14. Ellen

    Hi: I had a problem with that the first couple of times….I was accidentally reducing the tomato sauce a little too much…maybe add a touch of red wine to loosen it. Hope it’s wonderful!

    Reply
  15. Cindy Norcross Moschitta

    Well, that was outstanding… I put about 1\2 the chicken livers otherwise followed it exactly. Next time will double the ragu and pop the extra in the freezer for pasta another night. Wow….I can see why people swoon.

    Reply
    1. ExTxn

      I have never been in a position to freeze it as I can’t tolerate the wait, the house smells so good!…..but, if you’re freezing it, I bet you are right: the pasta will absorb more liquid and accommodate the extra sauce. Maybe under cook the pasta a bit to compensate so it doesn’t get flabby and pasty?
      I think the chicken liver may be a generational thing; they were more often used back some years ago and just aren’t as common today. Makes a big difference to scrupulously clean any fat threads or green bile tracts ( gee, this sounds yummy!) from the livers , as well as any macerated or crushed parts as they will make the livers bitter and strong.

      Reply
  16. sheila Robbins

    Yes another NY Times reader who has referred to the google site to find this recipe. I don’t eat lasagna often because of the gluten. Does anyone have a prize winning eggplant parmigiana recipe?

    Reply
  17. Leslie Stevens

    NYT too. Can’t wait to try this! My husband thinks he doesn’t like Italian food in general because he associates it with cheese, which he doesn’t like. I went to an Italian wedding where lasagna unlike any I’ve ever eaten was served. It was thinner, not cheesy, but absolutely the best I’ve ever eaten. There were trays and trays of it. I’m hoping this will be similar!

    Reply

Leave a Reply to Leslie Stevens Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s