Where to find the best lasagna in Los Angeles

My colleague Jeff Amlotte makes excellent lasagna. It’s in the vein of the 9 x 13 pans my mother used to make, heavily sauced noodles with curly edges, a filling of ricotta cheese and plenty of melted mozzarella on top. It’s deeply satisfying, and it got me thinking about lasagna in Los Angeles.

There are plenty of places offering the Americanized, cheese-heavy lasagna that I like to call Garfield-style. Sunday Gravy in Inglewood serves one of the better versions. But there are a number of chefs making recipes from their Italian hometowns, made with fresh pasta and without any shredded mozzarella. I credit Gino Angelini and his lasagna verde for introducing many diners to the pasta-ragu-bechamel lasagna at Angelini Osteria more than 20 years ago. Named after his nonna Elvira, he layers sheets of green spinach pasta with bechamel and a beef, veal and truffle ragu.

People have strong feelings about their favorite lasagna. I’m going to recommend three that should satisfy, regardless of your preference. If not, I’m sure you’ll comment and let me know. When it comes to lasagna, I’m an enthusiast rather than a purist, and I appreciate them all.

Meat lasagna from Pasta Sisters

When Francesco Sinatra worked the register at Pasta Sisters, the Culver City Italian restaurant he runs with his mother and sister, he listened patiently while guests explained the many reasons they couldn’t order the lasagna.

“I can’t,” they would say with a shake of their heads.

“My wife makes the best lasagna.”

“My grandma makes the best lasagna.”

“I make the best lasagna.”

Sinatra would nod, then politely suggest the lasagna anyway. The lasagna, made using his grandmother’s recipe, is one of the best-selling dishes on the menu. And Sinatra, who grew up eating the lasagna every two to three weeks in Padua, a city just 20 minutes outside of Venice, was the perfect person to convince diners to give it a try.

It is the antithesis of the Garfield lasagna, a progression of bechamel, beef Bolognese, Parmesan cheese and fresh sheets of pasta. Most of the height of the five to seven layers is lost in the oven and the slice appears slack and slumped on the plate. It’s a deluge of sauce and filling, with creamy bechamel and Bolognese melding into a lush symbiosis with the delicate pasta. It spills out the sides in inviting globs you can swipe at before you dig into the middle.

The Bolognese starts at 5 a.m. every morning and cooks for 9 hours. It tastes of long-simmered carrots and tomato that simply melted into the meat. I could happily eat it on its own, like a soup. The top layer is bechamel that turned browned and bubbly in the oven, just as rich as (if not superior to) a blanket of melted cheese. It is better than my grandmother’s lasagna. It is better than my lasagna.

Pasta Sisters sells trays of the lasagna year-round, and for the holidays, there are seasonal flavors such as pumpkin and also mushroom. Just be sure to give them a two-day notice for orders.

Lasagna al pesto and lasagna al ragu from Ceci’s Gastronomia

Lasagna al pesto from Ceci’s Gastronomia.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

The four corners of a lasagna are the best part. It’s where the noodles crisp and curl up and the sauce caramelizes and thickens. If you love someone, you serve them the corner.

At Ceci’s Gastronomia in Silver Lake, the lasagna are assembled in individual foil containers so that every slice comes with crispy corners. Co-owners Francesco and Francesca Lucatorto were inspired by Massimo Bottura’s “the crunchy part of the lasagna,” a deconstructed lasagna fashioned with ragu, bechamel foam, tomato terrine and Parmigiano crackers, that he served for many years at his Modena restaurant Osteria Francescana.

“When you usually eat lasagna, you get four corners and then a bunch of middle pieces,” Francesco said recently. “This way you have the beauty of having four bites out of 10 that are crunchy.”

The couple said they were also inspired by the individual packaging at a restaurant called Roscioli in Rome.

“We call it the Roscioli method,” Francesca joked.

At Ceci’s, you can have four corners of either lasagna al ragu or lasagna al pesto, each style representing where the Lucatortos’ families are from in Italy. Both chefs were born and raised in the northwest region of Liguria, though the ragu is inspired by Francesco’s family in Emilia Romagna. Both sauces are layered with fresh pasta, bechamel, Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano.

The ragu has a distinct caramelized sweetness from the carrots and onion with a long-developed beef flavor. Francesco sears the meat until it’s crispy for the sauce, which cooks anywhere from 5 to 6 and a half hours.

The pesto lasagna is something Francesco says is exclusively found in Liguria. “It’s rarely served in any other region and the flavor profile is of the people who live there,” he said.

The sauce is a vibrant forest green and tastes of basil picked fresh from a garden, enriched with purple garlic, Parmigiano, Pecorino Romano and buttery pine nuts. The layers are painted with the paste rather than sauced, adding just enough to envelop the pasta without being overwhelming.

Both are implausibly light considering the many layers of noodles and bechamel. The edges puff up and have an almost crepe-like quality thanks to the 30 eggs per kilo of pasta Francesco uses in the dough. “It just gives you the right feeling,” Francesco said. “Like when you eat it, you are at Grandma’s house.”

If you want to feel like you’re eating at Grandma’s house for the holidays, Ceci’s Gastronomia is also selling trays of lasagna.

Where to eat this week

Pasta Sisters Culver City, 3280 Helms Ave., Culver City, (424) 603-4503 and Mid City, 3343 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 870-5271, www.pastasisters.com

Ceci’s Gastronomia, 2813 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 277-1690, www.cecisoven.com

Angelini Osteria, 7313 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 297-0070, www.angelinirestaurantgroup.com

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