Monday, January 14, 2008

Lasagne: a dream remembered

Yeah, my first lasagne ever. All I could think about the whole day was Garfield, and the fact that I spent my entire life from ages six to thirteen reading Garfield comics and trying to match my personality to his. I would tuck the doona around my face just like he does, grumbling about how sucky it was to have to get up and actually go to school. Mum eventually gave in to my requests for lasagne and as I recall, it was a momentously exciting day. The careful stirring, the new concept of white sauce, the grating of the cheese, the whole circus. The laborious assembly, the tasting of the meat sauce (to check for poison, you understand), the baking, and then the beautiful ritual of placing the straight-from-the-oven lasagne, fragrant and cheesy, onto the table before a hungry family. I can't remember having it again at home.

Strange that I never made lasagne myself until this day, many years later.
And it was just as special as I remembered, and wanted it to be. The recipe was different, of course, but the lasagne was very good. I used The Silver Spoon and Jamie at Home as help for the bechamel sauce and the pasta sheets, respectively, and the meat sauce was invented by me.
Here we go. Let the carnage begin!
For the meat sauce:

  • 200g lean beef mince
  • 200g pork mince
  • 1 brown onion
  • 2 peeled carrots
  • half a bunch of celery, trimmed
  • 2 cans of diced peeled tomatoes (I like La Gina brand)
  • 2 tbsps tomato puree
  • chopped rosemary leaves
  • Red wine
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • unsalted butter
Chop the onion finely, or blitz it in the food processor. Do the same with the carrots and celery. Put in a large heavy saucepan with a knob of butter and a splash of olive oil. Cook until the onion is translucent and the vegetables have changed colour slightly. Add the meats and brown. Pour in about a cup of wine and cook off the alcohol for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes, the puree, the rosemary. I usually also add a tomato-canful of water, but you don't have to. Bring the lot to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for an hour or so, until quite reduced and thick. Taste and season as you will. Let it cool.

For the bechamel sauce:
  • Quarter cup plain flour
  • Quarter cup unsalted butter
  • 500ml of milk diluted half with water
  • salt and pepper

Put the flour and butter together in a small saucepan. Heat gently, stirring constantly, until the doughy lump becomes pale brown. Add the liquid slowly, stirring constantly. Stir on a low heat until the whole thing thickens to your desired consistency. Season to taste. Pour it our of the saucepan into a jug or dish and let it cool. (You could flavour this more with herbs / cheese / whatever, as you wish).

For the pasta sheets:

  • 2 big eggs, room temperature
  • 2 cups '00' Italian fine flour
  • olive oil, optional

Crack eggs into food processor. Add flour. Blitz. Looks like fine breadcrumbs? Good. Maybe add some oil if it looks too dry. Remove to a clean bench or board. Knead briefly to bring it together. Flatten it out and cut into fat strips. Run each strip through your pasta machine, finishing on a medium-thick setting. Drop the strips into fast boiling salted water for about ten seconds each. Lift out carefully (mine tore a bit while doing this, but it doesn't matter) and spread out carefully onto clean tea towels to dry. Note: if you don't have a processor and/or pasta machine, you can do it like this. Or just buy those dried lasagne sheets from the supermarket and half-cook them.

The assembly:

  • A few handfuls of grated mozzarella
  • Same again of a grated tasty cheese, like maybe parmesan, pecorino, or just cheddar

Preheat oven to about 190C. Take a big ceramic baking dish, or a metal one lined with baking paper, and put one layer of pasta on the bottom. Follow with a layer of meat, white sauce and cheese. More pasta. Meat, white sauce and cheese. Continue until all gone. I ended up with a layer of pasta on the top, which I sprinkled with the last of the cheese. Bake for about 45 minutes to an hour.

Let it sit for a few minutes before you dive into it with a spatula... or gobble it straight from the pan! Great the next day, cold from the fridge.

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