Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Super Delicious Lasagne!

Probably one of my favourite foods is Lasagna. I only really started to eat it after I met Mr. Grad all those years ago. I grew up in a very poor family with 6 children and parents who couldn't work due to illness so we tended to eat what we could afford which meant a lot of potatoes, stews, cheap meats etc nothing very fancy. I was 13 before I even ate a strawberry! 22 before I tasted cherries for the first time and 24 before I ate an aubergine!  The list is endless really, I am still discovering foods that seems so exotic to me but you see everywhere! Lasagna was way off the list as a kid, beef was too expensive and fresh pasta sheets pretty much unheard of. We were more of a shepherds pie kind of family, which is still my go to comfort food.

But Lasagna... I'd had Lasagna before but it was the ready meal kind, you know, way too salty, way too mushy and far too many calories. I never really liked it until I tried the real deal. Proper Italian lasagna made by a proper Italian Mamma. One bite and I was in heaven, oh the delicious savoury yet slightly sweet meat sandwiched between layers of handmade pasta, oozing creamy bechamella sauce. Sooo good!! It's also one of Mr. Grad's favourite foods so I had to get down to making it!

It took me a while to find a recipe that really hit that sweet spot, there were a few requirements. Primarily, no celery. In my humble opinion celery has no place in a lasagna, or anything else for that matter! I've never eaten a Lasagna in Italy that's had this monstrous thing in it. It's probably one of the most disgusting things I can think of, seriously just... ugh. Béchamel sauce is a must it's not lasagna without it and none of this fancy schmancy one with cheese and goodness knows what else, yeah I've even seem some with celery in it, what is up with that?? Why would you do that? Just a simple, traditional Béchamel is what you want.

So I had a search around and found this Jamie Oliver recipe. The meat sauce totally hit the spot, the creamy sauce, not so much but I just ignore that! Seriously butternut squash? Just... no. So a few adaptations later and I had this Lasagna to serve to the almost in-laws. Nervous? moi? you betcha! But... it's probably the one thing that I've cooked that really turned the almost in-laws opinion, the meal that said 'I can take care of your son.' It was incredibly delicious and they quickly suggested that I could open a restaurant with this dish. High praise indeed!!

I mean look at it, all golden and bubbly and steaming hot with the gooey Béchamel and Mozzarella oozing out and those beautiful crispy bits on the edges that taste soooo good. What more could you want?? It's perfect for these cold winter nights!

So without further ado I give you Lasagna!
Lasagne. Serves 6.

This lasagna is sooo good. It does take some time, but I promise you, it's totally worth it! I always make a full batch and freeze 2/3 of it so we can pull it out when we are hankering for some. I guarantee it's a fool proof way to make your partner's family love you!

For the Meat Sauce:
  • 2 slices of bacon, finely chopped
  • pinch of Cinnamon
  • 1 Onion - finely chopped
  • 1 Carrot - finely Chopped
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic - minced
  • 2 handfuls of fresh herbs, use a mix of Sage, Thyme, Oregano, Rosemary, whatever you have about. You can always use dried herbs (about 1 tbsp of each) but fresh have such a better flavour!
  • 4 tbsp Olive Oil
  • 400g good lean Beef Mince
  • 200g good quality Sausages, cases removed. 
  • 2 tins Chopped Tomatoes
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 250ml Red Wine
  • Salt and Pepper
For the Béchamel Sauce:
  • 750ml Milk
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 15-20 Black Peppercorns
  • pinch of Nutmeg
  • 1/2 Onion thickly sliced
  • 3-4 Cloves
  • 60g Butter
  • 30g Plain Flour
To Assemble:
  • 8-10 fresh Pasta Sheets, soaked for a few minutes in boiling water
  • 1 ball of Mozzarella
  • 2 handfuls of grated Parmesan Cheese
For the Meat Sauce:
  1. In a large saucepan heat gently fry the bacon and cinnamon until golden and then add the oil, garlic, onion, carrot and herbs and cook over a medium heat for a few minutes.
  2. In a bowl mix together the beef and pork meat and then add to the pan with the onions and carrots and mix well. Cook for 5-10 minutes until the meat is nicely browned.
  3. Pour in the 2 tins of tomatoes and the wine, add the bay leaves and bring to the boil. 
  4. Turn down the heat, cover with a lid using a wooden spoon to create just a little gap and allow to simmer for 1-1.5 hours stirring occasionally until the sauce has reduced and you have a wonderfully thick, but not dry meat sauce.
  5. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
 For the Béchamel Sauce:
  1. In a small sauce pan heat the milk gently with the bay leaf, peppercorns, onion, cloves and nutmeg until it comes to a simmer.
  2. In the meanwhile melt the butter over a medium heat in a larger saucepan, once melted add the flour and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until smooth and glossy, cook for a couple of minutes to cook the flour. Keep stirring so as not to make it too brown.
  3. Add the milk to the butter and flour a ladleful at a time, making sure it's mixed in completely before adding the next. Keep doing this until all the milk has been added.
  4. Continue to cook the sauce over a low heat, stirring all the time until it thickens considerably. It should not be cement like but not too runny either. 
To Assemble and Cook the Lasagna:
  1. Preheat the oven to 180c/160c Fan/Gas Mark 4 and lightly grease your dish with butter.
  2. Put a layer of pasta sheets on the bottom, trying to cover up most of the dish. (I usually let them hang up over the sides and fold them over later)
  3. Now add a layer of meat sauce and spread evenly over the pasta. Top with some of the Béchamel and a sprinkling of Parmesan
  4. Add another layer of pasta followed by another layer of meat sauce topped with the Béchamel and parmesan.
  5. Repeat this until you've used up all your meat... I usually get about 3 layers of meat.
  6. Top the final layer with pasta and then a generous amount of Béchamel to cover it completely. 
  7. Tear over the mozzarella and give it a final sprinkling of Parmesan.
  8. Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden and bubbling. (add 10 minutes if you're cooking from frozen and just check that its piping hot all the way through.)

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