Michael Symon Shares His Mom's Tips for Making Perfect Lasagna
Every Italian dutifully swears his mom's cooking is the best, but in Michael Symon's case, it may actually be true. The Iron Chef recently opened Angeline in Atlantic City's Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa as an homage to his mom, Angel. The menu, inspired by family recipes, is a roundup of the classic, red-sauce-style Italian dishes Symon grew up eating: handmade linguini with clams, arancini, eggplant parm and a daily "Sunday Supper" that includes a feast of prosciutto, ricotta and red peppers, cavatelli, garlic bread, meatballs and more. But one dish evokes a particularly strong sense of nostalgia for Symon: lasagna.
"Every Wednesday at my parents' house was lasagna night—the night all my friends begged to eat over," he says. "You could smell the lasagna baking houses away, and Wednesday was the only night of the week I was more than happy to be early for dinner. I've eaten lasagna from every corner of the earth, and I have yet to find one as good as Mom's."
Symon recreates Angel's recipe in the thirty-layered dish he named "Mom's Lasagna." In a glossy dining room designed with little touches to recall his mom's home (floral wallpaper, lace curtains and a built-in hutch displaying cake plates and other nonna-approved knick-knacks) servers present towering rectangles of pasta and cheese that sit atop pools of meaty red sauce. If you aren't getting an invite to Mrs. Symon's house on lasagna night, this is the next best thing.
To start your own Wednesday night tradition, use the chef's best tips for building an architecturally-impressive, nostalgia-inducing lasagna.
According to Symon, cutting corners sacrifices taste. "Don't bother with those no-boil noodles—they compromise the texture," he says. "Go the extra mile and use the real thing." He also quotes his co-host on The Chew: "When boiling the noodles, salt your water until, in the words of Mario Batali, it's 'as salty as the sea.' This is your chance to season your pasta."
To help keep layers smooth and mess-free, use Angel's trick. "One of the things my mom always did is put the ricotta mixture in a plastic zip bag or piping bag," he shares. "That way it goes right where you want it to go, and you don't have to fight with it. It spreads quickly and evenly."
The chef says a 9 x 13-inch pan is the optimal size and shape for baking lasagna. "It keeps the ingredients condensed so the final product is nice and thick, versus each layer being spread thinly in a larger pan," he says.
There's really no such thing as too much cheese, so Symon likes to grate fresh mozzarella and fresh parmesan on top to make it extra cheesy. "Another tip from my mom: always cover it with foil at the beginning of the cooking process, then remove it for the last 10 minutes to let the cheese on top get brown and crispy."