Lasagne is ideal for feeling the family en masse, because you can make enough for eight as easily as you can make a dish for four.
After the holidays, when we’ve had enough turkey and ham and leftovers, it’s time to bring out this old favourite. So why not plan on serving it at a big family gathering and if some of the ingrates don’t turn up, you’ll have more for tomorrow.
There’s a lot of confusion amongst us anglos about whether the correct spelling is lasagna or lasagne. The answer is simple. One sheet of lasagna pasta is singular and two sheets of lasagne are plural. How many sheets of pasta does your casserole have? Many? It’s lasagne.
Then there’s the discussion around the sauce. Typically, a ragù is a sauce of braised or stewed meat that may be flavoured with tomato, to distinguish it from a tomato sauce that is flavoured with the addition of meat. So in this version of our pasta casserole, the flavour of the meat is allowed to come through and is not drowned by the tomatoes.
Traditionally lasagne is thought to have originated in Naples, where the first modern recipe was created in the Middle Ages and published in a contemporary book of cookery (Liber de Coquina). Authentic lasagne is made by interleaving layers of pasta with layers of sauce, made with ragù, bechamel, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. In other regions of Italy lasagne may have ricotta or mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce, and various meats and vegetables added. Over time my recipe has taken on some additions, so I hope you enjoy it.
LASAGNE WITH RAGÙ ALLA BOLOGNAISE
by Nigel Napier-Andrews
Prep time 3 hrs
Cooking time 50 mins
Three basic ingredients come together in this delicious Italian pasta casserole: ragù alla bolognese (Bolognese sauce), béchamel sauce and sheet pasta. The trick is to make the ragù well ahead of assembly to allow all the flavours to mingle. Then it’s a simple job to put it all together at the last moment for a wonderful feast for friends or family.
For the ragù alla bolognese
- 4 celery sticks
- 5 large onions
- 5 garlic cloves
- 1 40g pkt fresh oregano leaves
- 250 g (9 oz) lean ground beef
- 250 g (9 oz) ground pork
- 1 cans of unsalted peeled diced tomatoes (790ml ) (or ripe fresh equivalent in season)
- 1 can (156ml/5.5 fl oz) can tomato paste
- 250 ml (I cup) red wine
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
For the béchamel sauce
- 500 ml (2 cups) whole milk
- 1 thick slice of onion
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp grated nutmeg
- 40 g (3 TBSP) unsalted butter
- 40 g (6 TBSP) fine white flour
- 1 1 /4 lb (575 g) fresh or dried lasagne (try whole wheat pasta for a healthy change)
- 70 g grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup ricotta (optional)
- Make the bolognaise sauce a day ahead if you have time, and reserve in the fridge. It takes 2 hours to cook at a low simmer, so there’s no point in rushing. Slow down and drink some of the red wine! Add a gentleman’s portion of olive oil to a large heavy pan. Chop up the celery sticks, onions and garlic and fry over medium heat until they soften. Wash, dry and tear up the fresh oregano roughly and stir in.
- In a separate pan, brown the ground meat on all sides until it is granular, about 10 mins. Spoon into the sauce, leaving the fat and juices behind. Then add the chopped tomatoes, wine and pepper.
- Reduce the heat and simmer for 2 hours, adding a splash of water if the sauce gets too thick, and stir occasionally to ensure it doesn’t stick on the bottom or burn. After the first hour, taste the sauce and add plenty of salt and pepper to season. This sauce doesn’t want to be bland. When its is done, set aside to cool and then, if you have time, refrigerate overnight.
- When the time comes to assemble, make the béchamel sauce while a big pot of salted water comes to the boil for the pasta. Heat 2 cups of creamy milk in a pan and add a bay leaf, a thick slice of onion and a tsp of nutmeg. Just before it comes to the boil, remove from the heat and set aside for 30 mins to infuse.
- Drop the sheets of pasta into the pot of boiling water one at a time to ensure none stick to the others. If they stick together, one of the sheets may not cook all the way through. If you are using fresh pasta, blanch them for no more than 3 to 4 mins, cooking the sheets in batches if necessary. If using dried sheets, follow the instructions. Try using whole wheat pasta for a healthy alternative. When cooked lay the sheets out on a kitchen towel to drain and cool to the touch.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Now make a roux by melting the butter in a heavy pot. When its foamy, add the flour and stir well until it is the consistency of sand but not browned. Strain the infused milk in slowly, whisking thoroughly to avoid lumps until the sauce is creamy. Add about 2/3 rds of the grated Parmesan and mix in until it melts.
- Now assemble the dish. Spoon 1/3 rd of the Bolognese sauce over the bottom of a large square casserole dish (about 28 cm x 33 cm/11 in x 13 in), follow with a layer of lasagne sheets and 1/3 rd of the béchamel sauce, repeat twice more and end up with a layer of béchamel. OPTION: For an extra cheesy taste, add a layer of ricotta instead of the middle béchamel sauce layer. Sprinkle the rest of the Parmesan cheese on top and cook in the oven for 50 minutes, or until bubbling and golden brown at the edges.
- Leave the dish to set for about 10 mins before slicing up and serving. Offer with a crispy green or Caesar salad and crusty garlic bread.
NEWS UPDATE: My fully illustrated e-book, Market to Table: The Cookbook started as a project for novice cooks, but after I was picked to host a cooking show featuring food bought at farmers’ markets, developed into a more complete collection of the recipes from the series, including some from guest chefs on the show, as well as those from my well-read foodie blog. It is easy to read, divided into chapters that cover the main mealtimes of the day, and into recipes that are concise and guaranteed to work. Most recipes are accompanied by an entertaining story. Brilliant young Chef Dan Frenette, who now hosts the TV series, has written the Foreword and contributes to the book.
Categories: Market to Table