I’m a big fan of home-made lasagne dishes; as many variations as there are families this side of the Alps. Alternately cheesy, beefy, saucy, chewy… it’s such a warming, filling dish full of flavour that unashamedly reeks of comfort, how could you not love it? I have my own version (of course) that I love to trot out, but my head was turned by this version apparently printed in The Times. I got it from Ocado’s recipe book given with their deliveries. It’s a touch lengthy, requiring a true béchamel and a gutsy tomato sauce but as it’s a Sunday I’ll let it go. None of it is real grind, more a case of letting things simmer.
The dish means “Lasagne in the hunter’s style”, I’m not quite sure where that part comes from. I’ve had cacciatore-style dishes before, which usually means a rich tomatoey base. Lasagne in the classic sense (and when I say classic I mean that in the English way that most of us recognise) is mostly this anyway, so hey-ho. The thing that I understand grates Italians most is the mountain of meat smothering the pasta, which after all is what the dish is named for. So I’ve made a deliberate attempt here to layer the golden sheets inbetween thin peeks of ruddy ragu and let it sing through. I use Waitrose’s fresh lasagne sheets (snob alert!) which have a wonderful chewiness and a light crispy texture when cooked unadorned. They are a wondeful fridge standby too: need papardelle / tagliatelle / faux linguini instead? Just slice as required.
Out of the oven it behaves as it should: patchy brown, angrily bubbling sauce. It was the high point however, it looked much better than it tasted. I felt here the braising steak was not given long enough to develop a tender consistency, despite me giving it longer than prescribed. Additionally the meat hasn’t had long enough to meld with the tomato sauce – the flavours are entirely separate in the mouth, and not in a fulfilling way. Beef mince would have sufficed perfectly. Done again I would brown the meat first, then let stew with the tomatoes for a lot longer – maybe two hours or so. I pushed it a little further in the simmering stage also as there was a heckuva lotta juice in there. Also adding parmesan to this béchamel is overdoing it, and becomes lost among the savoury notes.
On the positive, having chunks of meat is texturally pleasing and gives an interesting mouth-feel. The sage topping is inspired, leaving behind a camphorous perfume that sits atop the cheesiness in a pleasant way. That’s one I’ll be using elsewhere – I adore sage, particularly with oils and dairy, but struggle to find times when it’s appropriate.
In all, an interesting take on a ‘traditional’ lasagne al forno, but ultimately overwrought and trying too hard. I’ll do my usual at some point, and we’ll see how that measures up for time, effort, and taste.
PS. This does give me a chance to proffer one of my favourite lasagne-style meal tips: when taking a dish like this out of the oven, leave it to one side for five minutes or more; the cheeses and sauces will set and meld and make a topping much easier to cut through. This leaves a much tidier and cool-looking wodge of food on the plate.