Category Archives: lasagne

lasagne al forno

lasagne al forno

Lasagne has to be one of my favourite dinners. If I’m stuck for what to cook, it always pleases a crowd and satisfies. I like a lasagne with gutsy tomato sauce, plenty of layers of pasta and a bubbling, cheesy topping. I’ve tried all sorts, with Marmite in, with marmalade in, with soy sauce in… this version is about as traditional as I make mine.

I used some CIRIO tomatoes in this one, a mix of thick passata, tomato puree and the amazing Pizzassimo sauce.

On a whim, I picked up a jar of pre-made white sauce. Before I knew how to make bechamel I would use Ragu white sauce. I don’t know why I went for this; I haven’t tried it in maybe 12 years. But I was really pleased with the taste of it, slightly peppery and perfectly creamy. I didn’t dare look at the ingredients list but if I was running short on time I’d definitely use it again.

Looking for other lasagne recipes? Try Summer veg lasagne or this more full-on lasagne recipe.

Lasagne al forno (serves 6 with a green salad):

1 onion, finely chopped

500g beef mince

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon tomato puree

1 jar tomato passata

½ tin Pizzassimo sauce

500ml beef stock

1 jar Ragu white sauce

About 10 lasagne pasta sheets

Big handful of grated cheese. Yes, cheddar will do

  1. Get a large saucepan on a low heat, add a splash of oil and fry the onion gently for about 10 minutes. When softened, crank up the heat and add the mince, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. Add the garlic, tomatoes and stock and simmer for 20 minutes. Check for seasoning and take off the heat to cool slightly.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Get an ovenproof dish and start with a layer of pasta. Add a thin layer of mince mixture, half the white sauce and top with pasta. Add more mince, more pasta and top with white sauce. Grate cheese over the top and bake for about 30 minutes until bubbling and golden. Leave out of the oven to set for a couple of minutes, it’ll be easier to cut.
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summer veg lasagne

summer veg lasagne

I always mean to try interesting lasagna recipes – ones that aren’t classic lasagne al forno that is – but when I come to cook it I can’t resist meaty, tomatoey rich ragu topped with creamy bechamel. It takes Jamie Oliver to convince me to try it another way.

This Summer veg lasagne is inspired by one from his 30 Minute Meals book. It’s perfect for the Summer months and ideal for clearing out the fridge! I grabbed a bunch of things that needed using up for here and it came out lovely.

Summer veg lasagne (serves 4):

A bunch of spring onions

3 cloves of garlic

300g asparagus

Large handful frozen peas

Large handful spring greens

Large bunch of basil

150ml single cream

150ml veg stock

250g cottage cheese

250g fresh lasagne sheets

Parmesan

  1. Get the kettle on to boil, get a large frying pan on a high heat and add a splash of oil. Put the oven on 180°C.
  2. Slice up the spring onions and add to the pan. Crush in the garlic and toss well to prevent sticking. Snap off the woody bits of the asparagus then slice up the stems, but leave the tips intact and keep to one side for now. Add the chopped stems to the pan with a splash of boiled water.
  3. Add the peas and greens and keep stirring. Chop the basil and add to the pan with the cream and add plenty of seasoning. Cover with stock and bring to the boil.
  4. Get a roasting tray and start to layer up lasagne sheets and veg mix until you have used everything up. Finish with pasta. Add a splash of boiled water to the cottage cheese to slacken and then spread over your pasta. Scatter the asparagus on top of the cottage cheese and grate over plenty of parmesan. Transfer to the oven and bake until golden and crunchy. Serve with panzanella.

carmela soprano’s basil lasagne

carmela soprano's basil lasagne

“Can’t Carmela make her lasagne with the layer of basil leaves in?”
-Corrado “Uncle Junior” Soprano

I came to The Sopranosfar too late. Early 2008 More4 ran every episode back-to-back and I devoured them all. I was utterly gripped by the boyish yet chilling Tony, the larger-than-life Paulie, sly yet affable Uncle June, the big mouth braggadocio Christopher, and the delicate balance of family life with ‘mafia’ life. It’s easily one of the finest series every created, a masterpiece of character study and beautiful dialogue. If you haven’t tried it, I heartily recommend it.

I also got given the Sopranos cookbooksfor a birthday. It’s a little cheesy, part-written in character, but the heart and soul of Italian-American cookery is there, with it’s hearty and rib-sticking fare. As an existing fan of lasagne, I was keen to try the lasagne-with-layer-of-basil as mentioned in the show (it can be found in this volume).

Like many Italian-American dishes, it requires a ‘gravy’ which is not the meat juice we might expect. Here it’s a meaty, tomatoey sauce that forms the base of lasagne. This takes a good couple of hours so it’s not a dish you can just bash out on a whim, because after that you’ve got lots of layers and another 45 minutes in the oven to finish it off. The gravy is superb though, rich and flavoursome. I’ve kept some back for something else another day.

It was very nice, though for me the ricotta was overpowering, allowing a bitterness into it that wasn’t completely welcome. The basil was nice though, a cleansing aroma that carries through the mouth. But I can’t help missing a bechamel while I was eating it… next time.

Carmela Soprano’s Basil Lasagne:

For the gravy:

6 sausages (if you can get them, Waitrose have incredible ‘Italian’ style sausages)

500g mince

1 onion, diced

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon tomato puree

1 litre passata

For the lasagne:

Lasagne sheets

A large bunch of basil

500g ricotta

500g mozzarella, sliced

50g parmesan, grated

  1. To make the gravy, fry the onion and garlic until soft in a large pan with a little oil.
  2. Skin the sausages and squish into hazelnut size pieces. Add these to the pan and brown all over.
  3. Add the mince and continue to cook until browned all over.
  4. Add the puree and passata and bring to a simmer. Cook partially covered for 1½ – 2 hours until rich and thickened. At this point check for seasoning – plenty of pepper is welcome here.
  5. Beat the ricotta with salt and pepper to taste (you may want to add a splash of milk or cream to help loosen it, as you’re going to spread it in a minute). Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  6. In a 6cm deep oven dish put a thin layer of meat sauce on the bottom. Cover with lasagne sheets, then another layer of meat sauce.
  7. Top this with ricotta and some parmesan, then a layer of basil leaves. Top this with mozzrella, then lasagne. Start the layering all over again until you reach the top of the dish.
  8. Make the top layer meat sauce and a sprinkle of parmesan. Bung in the oven until you can push a knife through with little resistance.
  9. Leave the lasagna out for five minutes to allow it all to meld together – this makes it easier to cut up.

lasagne

lasagne

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.

lasagneThere’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.

Lasagne:

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:

75g butter

Plain flour

Milk

2 tablespoons mascarpone

Nutmeg

Smoked sea salt

Black pepper

1/2 teaspoon English mustard

For the final dish:

12 dried lasagne sheets

Grated parmesan

Grated cheddar

  1. In a large casserole pan, fry the onion and garlic on a low heat until soft and translucent, about ten minutes.
  2. Turn the heat up, add the mince and fry until browned.
  3. Add the stock and bring to the boil, then add the tomatoes.
  4. Lower the heat, add the other ingredients and leave to simmer while you prepare the bechamel. Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  5. 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)
  6. Gradually add milk until it is absorbed. Add the bay at this point too.
  7. Keep adding milk until it reaches a custardy texture.
  8. Add the other bechamel ingredients and continue to stir.
  9. 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.
  10. Top with cheese, and decorate with tomato slices and basil leaves. Put in the oven.
  11. Cook until bubbling on top.
  12. 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.
  13. Devour with glee.

lasagne alla cacciatore

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.