I probably shouldn’t admit to this, but when I left home, I could only make two things well. One was condensed milk cookies and the other, lasagna. I practised them often, the first to appease my sweet tooth and see me through exam stresses, the latter, because who doesn’t love a good lasagna? Thirty years on, my mother’s recipe has detoured via Bologna picking up several additional passengers, evolving into my Best Lasagna recipe. It’s real home food, comfort food that nods at the convivial and tireless spirit of Italy, revelling in the company of pasta lovers.
Lasagna is all about the sauce, that meaty filling that’s at the centre of heated debates as to its authenticity. I know my version deviates from tradition but that’s the charm of food, interpreting flavours in new and creative ways that make delicious sense to you. Several years ago, my husband and I visited Bologna for the first time. This terracotta hued city is Italy’s unsung food gem, the nucleus of what makes Italian food great. Never have I eaten pasta so soft and silky with a Bolognese sauce filled with rich characterful, so good in fact, you throw caution to the wind, eating your way through the menu as if your life depended on it.
Making a good lasagna takes time. Not that it’s difficult, but there are several steps that need preparing before layering it all together. Usually, I make the sauce the day before, a double batch, freezing one for later. The béchamel can be made on the day. The recipe is easy and versatile, perfect for Mac and Cheese, Creamed Spinach or Baked Cauliflower cheese. Just a quick note – I’ve used red wine in the sauce which adds a robust depth. This can be replaced with white wine or extra stock if you prefer it alcohol-free. Or, if your drinks cabinet is in fact, bare? Adding the Parmesan crust is optional, but rather excellent, contributing a cheesy nuttiness that suits the dish perfectly.
My Best Lasagna Recipe
Serves 8 – 10
- 30ml (2 tablespoons) olive oil
- 1 large brown onion, finely diced
- 2 small leeks, cut length wise, then thinly sliced
- 2 carrots, peeled and finely diced
- 3 stems celery, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 500g grass-fed beef mince
- 1 stem fresh rosemary, finely chopped
- several sprigs thyme, leaves picked
- 1/4 teaspoon mixed spice
- 5ml (1 teaspoon) dried oregano
- 180ml (3/4 cup) red wine (replace with chicken stock, if you prefer)
- 45ml (3 tablespoons) tomato paste
- 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
- 250ml (1 cup) passata
- 125ml (1/2 cup) chicken stock
- 5ml (1 teaspoon) sugar
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 Parmesan crust
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
Basic Bechamel sauce
- 80g butter
- 70g all-purpose flour
- 1 litre (4 cups) full cream milk, warmed
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 cup mature cheddar, grated
- salt and white pepper
- lasagna sheets, uncooked
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra to serve
- Heat the olive oil in a deep saucepan and sauté the onion until softened and caramelised, about 8 minutes. Add the leeks, carrots and celery and cook for a further 5-6 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for just a minute or two. Add the mince cook over a high heat until well browned. Add all the herbs and season generously with salt and pepper. Deglaze with the wine and reduce by half.
- Add the tomato paste, tinned tomatoes, passata, stock, sugar, stock, bay leaves and Parmesan crust. Simmer for 1 1/2 hour until the sauce is thickened and reduced.
- For Béchamel, melt the butter in a deep saucepan. Add the flour and whisk to combined, cooking for about a minute to prevent a floury taste. Gradually add the milk, whisking all the while. Cook over a medium heat until thickened. Add the nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Add the cheese and whisk until the cheese is melted and the sauce, smooth.
- Preheat the oven to 180º C.
- Remove the Parmesan rind form the meat sauce and discard. To assemble the lasagna, spread about a 1/4 cup béchamel on the base of a 32 x 22cm baking dish. Place a single layer of lasagna sheet on top, then spread a third of the meat sauce over, followed by a third of the béchamel. Repeat the process to finish the layers. Scatter over the Parmesan. Bake for 40-45 minutes until golden and bubbling. Rest the lasagna for at least 15 -20 minutes before serving.
If pasta is a family favourite on the dinner table, you may like these crowd pleasers: