Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Unbeatable lasagne

This is one of my family's favourite meals. I love the fact that plates are always scraped clean. But it is also something that can in part or as a whole be prepared in advance. I made this at the weekend when our neighbours came for lunch and the above dish easily served four hungry adults and four equally hungry kids! It is not difficult it just takes planning and time- if you rush the cooking times on things like the ragu it will just not taste as nice. Most of it is done for you by the hob but you just need to plan a little in advance when you want to have it.

To begin you need to make your ragu. First of all finely chop an onion.

Heat a tbsp olive oil in a large pan then gently fry the onion with 100g chopped pancetta (you can use bacon instead if you don't have this) and two chopped cloves of garlic for about five minutes. 

After this time the onion will have softened and the pancetta will have started to cook.

At this point add 500g lean minced beef. You can use normal mince but it is quite a rich dish anyway and this just reduces the fat that is in the final meal.

Keep stirring the mince to break it down and let it all brown.

Once it has browned add 2 heaped tablespoons tomato puree, 125ml red wine, 400g chopped tomatoes and some chopped fresh basil leaves. Mix everything together and season well. It will seem quite liquid but don't worry- this is the important part where everything is gently cooked together.

Put a lid on and then let it gently simmer for about 60 minutes. Then remove the lid and let it cook for another 20 minutes. By this point you will have a lovely thick ragu. If you try and cut this stage it really does affect how nice the lasagne will be. The key is having a very concentrated, rich sauce.

Now this is fantastic served over fresh pasta at this stage. If you have made it in advance (which I usually do so I don't need to worry about timings on the day and allowing for an extra 2 hours cooking time) it can either be allowed to cool and stored in the fridge overnight or if you are preparing in advance you can freeze it and then defrost it when needed.

To use this in a lasagne though you next need to make the white sauce- simply put 725ml full fat milk (you can use semi skimmed if you want to cut down on the fat) and 75g butter and 75g flour into a pan and simmer while whisking continuously until you get a smooth thickened sauce. At this point remove from the heat and grate over some nutmeg and season well.

Mix this all into the sauce until it is well blended and add 75ml double cream.

You can now start constructing your lasange. First butter a large roasting dish and put a layer of the ragu (about a third) across the bottom.

Then cover this with about a quarter of the white sauce.

Scatter over this a few torn pieces of mozzerella cheese and then cover with a layer of lasagne sheets- I prefer to use the ones you don't need to pre-cook. As you can see you also don't really need to be neat with how you break the sheets to make them all fit.

Continue doing this for another two layers and then end with a layer of the white sauce on top of the last layer of lasagne.

Scatter this with grated cheddar and parmesan cheese.

This is then ready to be baked at 180 degrees C for about 30 minutes until it is golden brown and bubbling. It can be frozen before you cook it (so long as you have not already frozen the ragu when that was first made) or it can be kept in the fridge overnight until ready to cook. It may sound a little faffy but it is just a case of allowing time for the various cooking stages and just being methodical. And the results are really worth it.

Til soon.....

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