My Secret Ingredient Lasagna

My Secret Ingredient Lasagna

Lasagna is one of my favourite Italian dishes. All that meaty, tomatoey goodness sandwiched in between sheets of al dente pasta and topped with gooey mozzarella and béchamel sauce. Its just so satisfying to eat. Home made lasagna takes time but its well worth the effort. If you are looking for a bit of a relaxed cooking challenge one day then Lasagna is it. Its the perfect recipe for this cold November weather.

The thing I love about Lasagna (other than how absolutely delicious it is) is that there is no rush. I start cooking it at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon and it’s all about the slow. Its kinda ready when its ready and I take my time with it. I usually find its anytime between 7-8pm that evening. I’m so ready to eat by that time! All those delicious cooking smells throughout the day really make me hungry in anticipation!

Everyone has their own recipe for lasagna and their own secret combination of ingredients for that extra punch of flavour. There are a million different ways to make the meat sauce, different additions to the béchamel – some recipes call for shallots or onions and the cheese topping can be adjusted to all kinds of cheesey tastes. My personal favourite is always a three cheese combination – buffalo mozzarella, fresh parmesan and crunchy mature cheddar. And I like my meat sauce to be on the naturally sweet side. I find it to be great taste combination with the tanginess of the cheese.

Ingredients for lasagna arranged on a kitchen worktop.

An overhead shot of two stoneware dishes.

 

I make two lasagnas with this recipe using one medium and one small le creuset dish.

The medium size is enough for 4-6 in people and the smaller one is midweek dinner for two. Doing an extra little one is great as I can just chuck it in the oven when I am home from work during the week and I have dinner 40mins later – no prep involved! I think I may treat myself to a deeper dish during the Christmas sales because mine really just aren’t deep enough.

Time: roughly 4hrs – 20mins of prep, 1-2hours to cook the sauce, 50minutes in the oven (40 covered, 10 uncovered). Leave to stand for 10minutes before serving.

 

 

 

 

Ingredients for Lasagna:

The main ingredients are meat sauce, pasta sheets (I find a 500g box to be more than enough), béchamel sauce and cheese. 

For the meat sauce:

500 lamb or beef mince (I prefer lamb)
3 x strips of smoked streaky bacon sliced into chunks
2 x sausages, meat removed from skins
2 x carrots, finely grated
1 large white onion, finely chopped
4 x garlic cloves, chopped or minced in press
4 teaspoons of dried oregano
2-3 teaspoons of fresh thyme
3 bay leaves
1 litre of stock cube stock or 500ml of fresh stock – see my recipe for homemade stock here.
1 carton of passata sauce
1-2tb of tomato puree
Salt and pepper to taste
1 x shot of port – my now not-so-secret ingredient!

 

Ingredients for a béchamel sauce - self raising flour, nutmeg, butter and milk.

 

 

For the Béchamel:

When I am making béchamel I kind of just wing it, and I don’t really recommend you doing that because a few of mine have taken a bit of a wrong turn and they can be a little tricky to rescue! Gennaro’s recipe uses the same ingredients as I do with the same method and its so easy you can’t go wrong.

 

 

 

 

 

 

An overhead shot of grated cheddar, a lump of buffalo mozzarella and finely grated parmesan.

 

 

 

For the Cheese topping:

1 x buffalo mozzarella torn into chunks
a handful of grated cheddar
a handful of grated parmesan

 

Ingredients for lasagna measured out and placed in containers ready to be made into a meat sauce.

Method:

Do the prep first so you have that out of the way. Finely chop your onions, finely grate the carrot and set aside the herbs you need. Taking the thyme leaves off the stalks to make enough for 1-3 teaspoons takes a few minutes so “Take the time to make thyme” as they say. Prep your meat – slice the bacon rashers, squeeze the sausage meat out of the skins and get your mince ready to chuck in. If your using a stock cube, boil your kettle and add the stock cube and the water to a 1litre capacity pyrex jug.

On a medium high heat, add the bacon and sausage meat to a large saucepan. You can add a tbsp of olive oil if you wish but the sausages will render quite a bit of fat too. Using a wooden spoon gently cut the sausage meat into smaller chunks – your looking for a mince like texture. Keep cooking until cooked through and golden on the outside. The caramelising around the edges is important. Don’t worry about bits getting stuck to the pan – gently scrape these off. Drain any extra fat and then add the lamb mince. You want the same for this, nicely browned and slightly caramelised on the outside. Don’t be afraid to just let it ‘sit’ in the pan for a couple of minutes. It works best if you don’t continually stir.

Port, passata and tomato puree on a chopping board.

Meat sauce simmering away on a hob.

 

Once you have some nice caramelisation going add that shot of port! It will de-glaze the pan and the delicious flavour will seep right into that meat. Add the tomato puree, stir that in and then pretty much everything else goes in next – the chopped onions, grated carrot, chopped garlic, give it a stir, then add the passata and stock. Stir again and add the herbs. I add salt and pepper and then I transfer it to my biggest burner and bring it to a boil, once its bubbling turn the heat right down, stick on the lid and check it every 20minutes till its ready. I’ll do a taste check every now and then too and add more salt and pepper if it needs it.

The sauce takes roughly an hour to simmer down. I keep a close eye on it but the consistency you want is saucy – not too thick. I always think it needs to be slightly looser than you would make bolognese. That extra juice will be absorbed by the pasta sheets later on. The sauce in the photo is during cooking and is still too juicy.

 

 

 

Make your béchamel and then get ready to layer it all up! This is the fun part! I always do a meaty bottom layer and then my subsequent layers will be thinner. You don’t need to worry about covering every single bit of sauce with pasta sheets – just do it roughly as it will expand when it cooks – I find if I am too neat and tidy it forces the sauce to spill out over the edge later. Once I am at my final layer of meat sauce I top it with a layer of pasta and then on goes the béchamel – I make sure to spread this to the edges to get an even layer.

Now for the cheese! I just make sure everywhere is roughly covered and scattered evenly. Then a dusting of black pepper and cover with foil. Make sure the foil is kind of dome shaped on top and that you leave space. This will stop the melted cheese sticking to the foil. I place a baking tray under my dish because I always tend to get some leakage and this catches the spills without making my oven a mess. I’m already looking at purchasing a deeper stoneware dish in the Christmas sales.

Foil on, its in the oven for 40 minutes to cook the pasta through. After that, the foil comes off and you cook it for 10minutes so you get that delicious browned cheese. It needs to sit for about 10minutes after cooking as it will be easier to cut and serve.

Lasagna fresh out of the oven with a browned cheese topping.

The flavour of the lasagna is incredible. It has the perfect ratio of pasta, meat, béchamel and cheese. The meat is tender, full of flavour and that port really adds a richness as well as a gorgeously deep colour. The pasta is al dente and perfectly sandwiches the meat, the béchamel is gooey and a delicious contrast with tangy cheeses. Mmm! Italian deliciousness at its best.

Whats your favourite way of making lasagna? Are you a three cheese kinda person too?

1 Comment

  1. 29th November 2017 / 10:01 am

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