I love lasagne. No seriously! I LOVE LASAGNE! I love its cheesiness, the meatiness, I love the way it bubbles, the way it smells, I love the way it tastes amazing a day later straight out the microwave, I love the way left over lasagne becomes refried pasta with eggs for breakfast. In fact I love lasagne so much that I am going to give you a different recipe for lasagne every Monday until the end of winter. A challenge I look forward to attempting!
This week is the classic Beef version. Lasagna actually refers to a single dry sheet of the pasta, though lasagne which is the plural also refers to the dish we know and love of interleaved pasta, sauce and white sauce. Technically speaking a lasagna is a really simple dish to make, since it only has 3 ingredients, dry pasta, bechamel and meat sauce. Which is why when you prepare those three ingredients you need to do it perfectly
Makes 1,5 cups
– 1/2 onion
– 2 bay leaf
– 1 clove
– 80gms butter
– 120gms flour
– 1litre full cream milk
Start by heating the milk in a heavy based saucepan. Whilst the milk is coming up to the boil, take the half onion and attach the 2 bay leafs to it with the clove. Add this to the milk. Once the milk has come to the boil, switch it off and finish making the bèchamel. This is one of the key steps because now the milk will infuse with the aromatic and woody flavours of the onion and bay leaf.
In a second heavy based pan add the butter and allow it to start melting. Using a balloon whisk (you must use a whisk, wooden spoons work but the whisk ensures a perfect silky bechamel) Add the flour to the melted butter and whisk vigorously till all the flour has been absorbed by the butter. Now start by adding a ladle full of the hot milk. Whisk this is, keep adding milk and whisking between each addition until you have a light creamy sauce. Reserve about 100ml of milk and at the very end you can decide if you want your sauce thinner and if you do add the milk. Your sauce should have no lumps. Check the seasoning and keeping whisking cook it for a further 10 or so minutes. Keep the heat low so that it does not burn or catch. Once the bechamel is ready add a grating of fresh nutmeg to the sauce. Press a sheet of cling wrap to the sauce whilst it stands to prevent a skin from forming on the top.
– 125gms streaky bacon
– 1 medium onion (finely chopped)
– 1 stalk celery (finely chopped)
– 1 large carrot (finely chopped)
– 3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
– 4 tablespoons butter
– 3 tablespoons olive oil
– 700gms lean ground beef
– 300mls beef stock
– 200mls dry white wine
– 1 can Italian plum tomatoes
– salt and black pepper
– 1/2 tsp finely chopped rosemary
– 3 bay leaves
– 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes (optional)
– 200ml milk
In a heavy based pot, start by frying your bacon with the finely chopped rosemary, allow the bacon to lose its fat and ti impart its flavour through the whole dish. Now add the butter and olive oil and drop to a medium heat. Add the aromatics – carrots, celery, garlic and onion – and cook until the onion is translucent. Add the minced beef and cook until meat loses red, raw color, but only starting to brown, now add the beef stock and wine, and cook until liquid has mostly reduced, coating the meat with flavour. Drop the heat to a low simmer and add the bay leaves and salt & pepper, and then let it cook for about 20 minutes. Now add the tomatoes and bring heat back up to bring the sauce to the boil.
Now this is where the magic happens. Lower the heat and cook the sauce on a low heat for at least 2-3 hours, this is where all the sauces subtle flavours will develop. Check your seasoning as you go. About 5-10 minutes before the sauce is done add the milk and let it cook in. The sauce freezes very well.
HINT: Since the sauce wants to cook so long make a really big pot on a Sunday morning, the largest size pot that will fit in your oven. Then when you have prepared your sauce and want to allow it to simmer you can pop the whole pot into the oven and allow it to cook slowly over 5-6 hours. If your oven is around 110°C it will keep the sauce simmering without you needing to stir it very often. Make sure you keep the lid on the pot and check it every 30-40 minutes.
ASSEMBLING THE LASAGNE
When you assemble your lasagne, start with a thin layer of white sauce at the very bottom of the dish. Top this with a sheet of pasta and then meat and bechamel followed by pasta again. By doing this you will give your lasagne a bottom layer to scoop it up with. I add grated parmesan on top of the bechamel as I make the layers this is the traditional Bolognese way. On the very top layer I usually add parmesan, topped with some mozarella and then a thin layer of cheddar or gruyere. This is crazy richness and overkill, but it is how I grew up with lasagne – and honestly the crispy bubbly cheesy top bit is really almost the best part. Bake it in a hot oven, 180°C, for about 25-30 minutes or until bubbling and golden.
DO NOT FORGET: you must let your lasagne stand for at least 10 minutes after it comes out of the oven. This will allow the white sauce to hold its shape a bit better and will make for easier cutting of the sheets.
NEXT WEEK MONDAY: Wild Mushroom & Ricotta Lasagne