A long-simmered beef ragu lets the brightness of the tomatoes shine through while developing a meaty richness. Our ricotta is mixed with nutty Parmesan that tempers the sharp garlic and adds flavor. We worked hard to get the right balance of the ricotta and tomato sauce in the layers since each element has their own voice. Our lasagna also uses less mozzarella than many other recipes – we prefer the creaminess of ricotta over the stringiness of melted mozzarella. Look for the shorter noodles – you won't need to cut them when assembling the lasagna.
Place the beef in a large bowl and "pull" it apart with two forks as if you were shredding pulled pork, breaking up the clumps and loosening the meat without compacting it.
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat has rendered and the meat is golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the pancetta to a large bowl with a slotted spoon, leaving the fat in the pot.
Spread the beef in an even layer in the same pot and cook undisturbed until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Toss and continue to cook, breaking up any clumps and scraping up any browned bits from the pot, until the meat is browned and completely cooked, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer the browned meat with a slotted spoon to the bowl with the pancetta, leaving the fat in the pot.
Reduce the heat to medium. Add the carrots, celery, onions, half the garlic, the bay leaf, oregano, red pepper flakes, nutmeg, 2 teaspoons salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender but not browned, 6 to 8 minutes.
Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until it's very fragrant and brick red colored, about 2 minutes. Stir in the wine, bring to a boil and reduce until the liquid is very thick and no smell of alcohol remains, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes and the reserved pancetta and beef, bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to low. Add the basil and Parmesan rind and simmer, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the sauce resembles sloppy joes, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. There shouldn't be any rapid bubbles while cooking. Instead, the ragu should release occasional small bubbles. If the ragu reduces too quickly, add 1/2 cup of water and continue cooking. Repeat if necessary. The ragu needs the full 2 to 2 1/2 hour cook time to develop the flavors.
Discard the bay leaf, basil and Parmesan rind. Break up any remaining clumps of meat with the back of a spoon, making an even textured sauce. Season with salt and set aside until ready to assemble.
Arrange a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook the noodles, stirring occasionally and separating them to prevent sticking, until softened and bendable but are still hard and chalky in the center, about 5 minutes. Transfer the noodles to a large bowl of cold water and set aside until ready to assemble.
Stir together the ricotta, 1 cup of the Parmesan, the remaining grated garlic and 2 teaspoons salt in a medium bowl until thoroughly combined. Set aside until ready to assemble.
Lightly oil a 13-by-9-inch glass or ceramic baking pan. Spread 1 cup of the ragu evenly in the bottom of the pan. Lay a single layer of noodles over the ragu (if you're using long noodles, you will need to cut some noodles to fill the gaps). Spread 1 1/2 cups of the ragu over the noodles. Dollop 3/4 cup of the ricotta mixture over the ragu and spread lightly with a small offset spatula. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the mozzarella, followed by another layer of noodles. Repeat with the remaining pasta, ragu, ricotta mixture and mozzarella, creating 4 layers of pasta and ending with the remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella. (The lasagna should come just above the top of the pan but it will sink down slightly as it cooks.) Top with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan.
Lightly oil a piece of foil and cover the pan. Put the pan on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any drips. Bake the lasagna until bubbling gently around the edges, about 1 hour.
Remove the lasagna from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees F. Remove the foil and then continue to bake the lasagna until the top is browned and crisp around the edges, 15 to 20 minutes.
Let sit 10 minutes before serving.
Look for wide and short dried lasagna noodles – then you won't need to cut longer noodles to fit a 13-by-9-inch baking pan. Do not use no-boil noodles.
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