I always love the idea of entertaining, but when it comes down to it, there never seems to be enough time -especially when your friends tell you that a Friday night after you’ve been working all week suits them best. Not to worry. There are different types of recipes and different ways of cooking for a reason. And it’s exactly why the Italians invented lasagne. It’s hearty, it’s filing, it’s great for sharing. It can be delicious if made well. Everyone has their own recipe. And, best of all, you can make it ahead and reheat it. Or even make the components ahead and make it up and bake it fresh. Add some garlic bread and a bowl of salad and you have the perfect supper for friends. You don’t even need any other courses because it’s so filling. (I had the ingredients to whip up some cheaty strawberry tarts, but no one wanted them!)
This was a pretty massive recipe which would feed 8 easily.
1 brown onion
1 red pepper
2 small carrots
2 cloves garlic
1 small knob ginger
2 tsp tomato purée
2 rashers smoked bacon
750g steak or beef mince
1 regular carton of mushrooms
Lasagne sheets, dried or fresh, 1 needed about 10 dried sheets
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 jar passata
Chicken or beef stock
Glue red wine
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp mild chilli powder
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dried oregano
5 or 6 leaves of fresh basil (or 1 tsp of dried)
A couple of pints of milk
A good knob of butter
2 bay leaves
A grating of nutmeg
Cheddar cheese, as much as you like
2 tbsp plain flour
(It’s a lot when you write it all down!)
1. Slice the onion and add to a large pot with a drizzle of heated olive or rapeseed oil. Allow to hear through, then add the chopped carrot and pepper. Continue cooking on a low to medium heat until the veg has started to soften.
3. In a separate pan, add a little oil and turn up high. Fry off the bacon, chop into small pieces and add to the pot. Brown the mince in small batches, to avoid crowding the pan and resulting in it boiling. Then add to the pot.
4. Add the cinnamon and stir through. Add the chopped tomatoes, passata, oregano, chilli powder, balsamic, sugar and lemon juice and stir. Add the stock. Loner beef stock pots are great for this as they stir in and melt away. If you don’t have one of those, regular beef or chicken stock can be poured it, or a cube dissolved in hot water in the tomato can. Just be careful not to add too much liquid at this stage. You can always add more once it has cooked down.
5. Put the lid on and allow to simmer for half an hour or so at a medium to low heat.
6. Finely slice the mushrooms and stir them in. Allow to cook out for another half hour or so. Add the chopped basil just before you take it off the heat.
7. Meanwhile, if you’re putting this together straight away, you’ll want to make the bechamel sauce. Put a medium saucepan on a low heat and melt the butter in it. Put the flour in a mug or jug and add just enough cold water to cover it. Stir until evenly mixed and add to the butter. Be careful here as you want to stir it through without hearing it too quickly. Too much heat, too quickly and not enough stirring will give you a lumpy mess!
8. Once combined, gradually add the milk, a glug at a time, and stir stir stir into the floury butter mixture. Allow to slowly come to the boil to thicken, stirring all the while. Add more milk gradually and repeat until the sauce is the desired consistency. If you go too thin or if you don’t have enough at the right consistency, mix more flour with water, stir in and repeat the milk process. When you’re happy with the consistency, turn down the heat, season, add nutmeg and bay leaves and allow the flour to cook out. Stir fairly regularly. Set aside.
9. Now you’re ready to layer. Grab a big rectangular or square casserole dish. Wet the lasagne sheets a little (3 at a time) and lay in the bottom. Add a thin layer of mince, then repeat (meat, pasta, meat, pasta) until you have either run out of mince or got to very near the top of the dish.