Tag Archives: lasagne

Authentic Italian lasagne; a simple family favourite

food 003

I remember the days when my mother cooked us ‘exotic’ dinners. It was the 1970’s and early 80’s and she was experimental for the time. She didn’t entirely leave behind the post-war and rationing traditions of her parents generation; everything laced with a generous amount of butter, cheese and cream, but because she’d travelled widely and liked to cook she took inspiration from the food encountered on her trips around Europe. Later, when she married my step-father more cross cultural traditions entered the house. He grew up in Trinidad to a white family who held on to their British heritage, although he much preferred Caribbean food and company. Rum punch entered our lives, as did cauliflower ‘Roman’.

We lived on the local council estate where our decidedly ‘middle class’ diet and eccentric ways were something of a novelty in the street. From the books that lined our walls to the high brow discussions that took place over the dinner table our upbringing was not financially rich, but was eclectic and intellectual often leaving friends somewhat bemused when they came to visit.

One of my favourite dinners was a simple plate of home-made beef lasagne. This dish, along with moussaka, crepes stuffed with mediterranean vegetables and parmesan, and her famous ‘Saturday chicken’  are meals inextricably linked to my teenage years. They remind me of a time of food discovery, experimentation and a bustling house.

Mum’s lasagne would have given any Italian cook a run for their money. It consisted of dryish layers of deliciously thick and tomatoey bolognaise sauce, alternated with layers of bechamel, dried pasta blanched in  plenty of hot water and finished with plenty of parmesan cheese. Mum’s was not the lasagne of the traditional British cook or supermarket. It wasn’t falling apart and the sauce didn’t run off the plate (although as a teenager I rather liked it like this, not caring a jot for authenticity and happily mopping up sauce with crisp lettuce and cucumber slices). Mum made a good lasagne which improved after it had stood a while, or the next day.

Much to the horror of my waistline my love for rich, sauce laden dinners has stayed with me (although these days I try not to cook them so much as I’m less able to burn off the pounds in the way I did as a teen). The simple lasagne however holds special memories of those loud communal dinners, evoking warm, safe feelings that only comfort food from childhood can. Its one of those dishes I crave when I need a carb hit, or if I’m a bit under the weather.

Over the years I have made different versions of lasagne. In my vegetarian days I regularly made vegetable lasagne with eggplant, courgette, peppers and tomatoes or even a mushroom, tomato and ricotta concoction. My favourite layered spinach with tomato sauce, mozzarella and ricotta. I didn’t mind the these variations and much prefered them to the version my daughter got me to make with chicken or turkey mince (for the teen who won’t eat beef). In he end though there is always a bit missing from the jigsaw. The pieces just don’t fit together in the way a simple, traditional beef bolognaise and bechamel do.

Here is my tried and tested version.

Serves 4 to 6

Two tablespoons of olive or rapeseed oil

1 large onion finely chopped

1 carrot, peeled and grated

1 stick of celery finely chopped

1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped

750g good quality beef mince

100ml of red or white wine (red gives a richer, deeper flavour)

1 tin of chopped tomatoes or the same amount of passata

100ml good beef stock

1 teaspoon or dessertspoonful tomato puree (optional, but it produces an even more intensely rich tomato sauce)

salt and pepper

50g butter

50g plain flour

1 pint (500ml) milk

enough pasta to make 3 layers. I used bigger sheets of fresh pasta which needed no pre-cooking so it only took 5 sheets

about 100g parmesan cheese to finish the dish

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6, 200 degrees C

Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Gently fry the onion until almost soft hen add the carrot and cook for another 5 minutes. Add celery and garlic and continue to cook. Add the mince and turn the heat up a bit to brown it (5 to 10 mins). Add the wine and allow to bubble until it reduces a bit then add the tomatoes and stock. Season with salt, pepper and simmer gently for about an hour. It should be almost dry by the time it’s cooked.

To make the bechamel sauce melt the butter in a medium pan, then stir in the flour cooking for a minute or two. Remove from the heat and gradually add the milk stirring into the butter/flour paste well. When it’s all mixed return the pan to the heat and cook gently until it comes to the boil and begins to thicken. Stir continually so it doesn’t turn lumpy. Season well with salt and pepper.

To assemble the lasagne, take a deep, wide dish and coat the bottom with about a third of the meat sauce. Add a layer of pasta then a layer of bechamel, then another layer of sauce, pasta, bechamel and finish with a layer of pasta. Pour over the rest of the bechamel and sprinkle over the cheese. Cook in the oven for 40 minutes, until golden brown and bubbling.

If you have time leave the lasagne to rest for about 15 minutes before serving.

NB. If you but dried lasagne that needs precooking, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and add a couple of drops of olive oil. Add a few sheets of pasta at a time blanching for one minute or so. Remove with tongs and leave to dry on a tea towel or plate before using in your dish.

food 004

I didn’t wait to let my lasagne rest. I was too hungry. But it holds together even better if you are patient.

3 Comments

Filed under family budget cooking, home cooking, Italian food, photography, Recipes

Recipe: Easy, home-made lasagne (no added horse)

DSC02421

If you can bear with my quick tirade about supermarkets and processed food, you will come to my really straightforward lasagne recipe. Stick with it, its worth it!

And I must have a rant because all I’ve heard this week are exclamations of horror about the discovery of horse DNA in pre-packaged and ready-made beef products (lasagne being one with the highest profile) and pig DNA where it really shouldn’t be. Who knows what’s next…actually I don’t even want to consider, but nothing would surprise me.

Don’t you think it’s about time we took a long hard look at ourselves and the crap we buy?….and I ask when exactly did we stop cooking real food at home?

As I child there wasn’t the vast array of  ‘convenience’ foods on the market. We didn’t have huge supermarket monopolies undercutting shops on the high street, telling us to trust them with their ready-made dishes and we didn’t have it forced in our face that we were too busy to cook. I look at the shelves of any supermarket and I’m ashamed at the gluttony and waste of this country.

In my butchers view there is plenty of good meat on the market…but not enough cheap meat to satisfy the demands of the meat industry. Supermarket own brands and other cheaper brands don’t use good meat. They go for the cheapest possible option. Why would anyone want to settle for that? People eat this rubbish because they live in ignorance about what goes into their food…they arev told its OK and believe unquestioningly. I think its time to open our eyes and ask questions….do we really need supersized Tesco’s with its racks of prepacked food and are we really happier now that we have supermarket ‘convenience’ and no longer have to nip into town to the butcher and greengrocer to shop?

Actually no. I’d rather travel to four different shops, where the sales staff are friendly, knowledgeable and interested, know the provenance of the food they sell, know you by name and what you like and have a chat about the family,  than have to face a half asleep teenager that can’t look you in the eye and that doesn’t know an Avocado from an artichoke.

So why don’t people cook? I could offer many reasons but then my rant would go on forever. I learned to cook in domestic science (and then Home Economics) lessons at school, but even then was already familiar with fresh food made at home. My mother cooked lasagne back in the early 80’s. Revolutionary almost for the time, but it was probably one of the first dishes I learned to make without a recipe. So simple that at eighteen I was making it at home and I reckon my ten-year old would have a fair stab at it today!

So, lets leave the packet food alone. Cooking is not hard…no really, it isn’t. Even if you don’t think you can cook I’m sure everyone can master six or seven dishes that can feed the family…..and here is a really easy lasagne to get you started.

DSC02420

Fry onion, carrot and best quality beef to make a ragut

Lasagne:

1 pack of fresh or precooked lasagne sheets

500g beef mince (I used Welsh black beef from Beef Direct who sell at my local farmers market….it cost me £3.50 and tasted superb)

1 large onion chopped

2 small carrots grated or chopped small

2 cloves garlic crushed or chopped

1 bay leaf

1 tin chopped tomatoes

half a pint beef stock

a sprinkle of dried oregano

salt and pepper

50g butter

2 tablespoons plain flour

generous half a pint of milk

salt, pepper and grated nutmeg

Grated parmesan to cover the top

Preheat the oven to gas mark 5, 190 degrees C

Finely chop the onion and either grate or finely chop the carrot. Put about a tablespoon olive oil in a pan and heat gently. Add onions and carrot and fry gently (without browning) for about 10 minutes. Turn the heat up to medium and add the mince. Continue to fry, breaking up the mince with a wooden spoon, until nicely browned. Add garlic, a teaspoon of dried oregano (everyone seems to have a small selection of dried herbs in their house) and one bay leaf. Give everything a good stir then the tin of tomatoes, fresh beef stock (or made with a couple of good quality stock cubes…Kallo is a good make) and a sprinkle of seas salt (Halen Mon for me!!) and pepper.

Simmer until the sauce has reduced to a lovely rich thick consistency. At this stage you can use the sauce just as a bolognaise sauce with spaghetti.

To make the white sauce (bechamel) melt the butter in a small saucepan then stir in the flour. Cook for a minute then remove from the heat and slowly stir or whisk in the milk. Once you have a smooth sauce return to a low heat and stir continuously until it thickens. Season with salt and pepper and a grate in some nutmeg.

To assemble: Spoon a third of the meat sauce over the bottom of a large shallow oven dish (about 30cm square), cover with a layer of the lasagne sheets and a couple of spoons of the bechamel sauce.  Repeat the layers with a third of the sauce, a layer of lasagne and two more spoonfuls of bechamel. Finish with the rest of the meat sauce, a layer of lasagne and top with the bechamel. Cover the top with grated parmesan and bake in the oven for about 40 minutes or until golden brown and bubbling and a knife penetrates easily.

2 Comments

Filed under baking, family budget cooking, home cooking, Italian food, local produce, Organic meat, Recipes, Uncategorized