Lasagne recipes are like admitting you’re Spartacus. “I’m the definitive lasagne recipe!” “I’m the definitive lasagne recipe!” To that end, I’m not even sure I’ve cooked it exactly the same way twice. It’s one of those things I’ve been cooking forever and therefore patch the method from time to time. Today was no different.
I went bechamel rather than cheese sauce, and used beef stock over a stock cube (a standard step-skipper in my mince recipes). I also tried to overcome my carnivorous lust of piling everything into one layer, and instead went down the traditional route of many layers of pasta.
A word on the bechamel here: I find it’s always unfairly pasted as a difficult thing to do, but it really isn’t. Melt butter, add flour and allow to cook out a little, until it’s the dullest beige. Add milk slowly, allowing it to absorb each time (much like risotto). Keep going until it reaches the desired consistency. If things look awful, turn up the heat and whisk like mad. At this point it’s ready to take on all the flavours that you want. In this case, grated nutmeg, a smear of English mustard, black pepper and smoked sea salt. I also had some mascarpone left over in the fridge so I doled that out into it to lend a slightly tart, creamy edge.
There’s so mush to adore about lasagne (I suppose this is technially lasagne al forno, but this is the dish all English people picture when you say ‘lasagne’): tender yet chewy pasta, engorged with flavours from above and below, sweet and savoury meaty sauce, creamy and slick white sauce, and crunchy and tangy cheese crust.
Below I’ve detailed what I did this time, though it will be different next time… and the time after that… and the time after that… I’ve yet to try Carmela Soprano’s one, with an additional layer of basil leaves… yum.
For the beef ragu:
450g beef mince
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic
2 tins/cartons chopped tomatoes
500ml beef stock
250ml red wine (pinot noir in this case)
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
For the bechamel:
2 tablespoons mascarpone
Smoked sea salt
1/2 teaspoon English mustard
For the final dish:
12 dried lasagne sheets
- In a large casserole pan, fry the onion and garlic on a low heat until soft and translucent, about ten minutes.
- Turn the heat up, add the mince and fry until browned.
- Add the stock and bring to the boil, then add the tomatoes.
- Lower the heat, add the other ingredients and leave to simmer while you prepare the bechamel. Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
- In another pan, melt the butter. Add enough flour until you get a chalky, plasticiney consistency. Continue pushing this round the pan until you get a pale nut colour. (this calms the floury taste down)
- Gradually add milk until it is absorbed. Add the bay at this point too.
- Keep adding milk until it reaches a custardy texture.
- Add the other bechamel ingredients and continue to stir.
- Now take a large ceramic oven dish and start to layer the ingredients. I went for: pasta, mince, white sauce, pasta, mince, pasta, white sauce.
- Top with cheese, and decorate with tomato slices and basil leaves. Put in the oven.
- Cook until bubbling on top.
- For best results, allow to sit for a couple of minutes before serving. The white sauce and cheese will set slightly, and making cutting through it much easier.
- Devour with glee.