Lasagne al Forno

  • Time: 4 hours
  • Serves: 6
  • Level: medium

‘… Watery, tasteless, soggy, dry, burnt, bland, waste of time. Lasagne should be none of these things, only absolutely delicious. Make it properly and people will be talking about it for years, that’s not a joke!’

Pete
'Well we can't claim fame for the world famous lasagne but Dad can certainly help you learn how to make it taste delicious, every time...'

What you need

For the lasagne

8 sheets of dried egg lasagne

 

For the ragu

500g minced beef, beef and pork mixed, or lamb – or leftover roast meat

1 large onion

1 large carrot

2 sticks celery

150ml red wine (optional – use extra stock and 2tbs vinegar)

300ml chicken stock

400g tomato passata – or tin of chopped tomatoes

1tbs tomato puree (optional)

2 bay leaves

2 tsp oregano

1 tbs butter

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

 

For the bechamel

800ml semi-skimmed milk

50g unsalted butter

50g plain white flour

1/4tsp grated nutmeg

1 bay leaf

Salt and pepper



Dad's Recipe Tales

Lasagne – a special WDC family tradition

Lasagne has always been an important part of our family’s culinary tradition. But these days making your own lasagne may seem rather quaint. Why bother? You can microwave a ‘ready meal’ version in minutes.

But don’t give up on the idea making your own lasagne. A homemade lasagne will always be special and reward both cook and diners alike.

Lasagne has the wonderful ability to impress with elegance and formality, yet also comfort and assure with casual accessibility. This means it will suit most social gatherings; whether a celebratory event, special occasion or just a weekend family meal. Vegetarian versions are straightforward and satisfying and it’s easy to accessorise, requiring only a big green salad, plenty of fresh crusty bread – and perhaps a good bottle of red wine.

 

Call your lasagne ‘al forno’

This will lend a traditional and authentic note to the dish, conjuring impressions of Italian bakers’ ovens stacked high with locals’ lasagne.  Al forno also hints at other prestigious oven-cooked pasta creations, such as the timbale, which are proudly and ceremoniously paraded at the table.

 

The ultimate ‘slow food’

Much of lasagne’s appeal is in the recognition of the sustained effort invested in its preparation. Indeed, lasagne is a classic example of the benefits of slow food. If you decide to make lasagne you will need to adapt to its demands. It will need large amounts of time and energy; all the surfaces in your kitchen and most of your cooking equipment and utensils. Further, left in its wake will appear a long trail of dirty pots and pans, tea towels and soiled sundry items.

But don’t we love it for this very reason? Something this special deserves our time and attention – and when we are so well gratified, who cares about a bit of washing up?

How Dad Cooked It

Quantity: It’s a good idea to double the quantities for this lasagne and make two – one can be frozen.

Pasta: I use DeCecco dried egg pasta. Marcella Hazan in ‘The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking’ says the only suitable pasta is paper-thin dough made at home. I can vouch for this, but there is enough work here already; so just use a good brand of dried lasagne.

Cooking the pasta: I ‘parboil’ my lasagne sheets of pasta before assembling the lasagne. You can use dried sheets during the assembly, but this will require a wetter ragu. You can also ‘parboil’ until almost cooked, but risks a soggy lasagne. Use a rule of thumb: not too under-cooked and not too over-cooked – the results will be fine.

Cooking bechamel: The rule is to either put cool milk into a cool roux or hot milk into a heated roux. In the recipe below I add heated milk to a heated roux. The initial mixing is done off the heat. Then it is cooked slowly for ten minutes to ‘cook-out’ the flour.

My trick: Don’t lay out the pasta on tea towels after cooking. Keep it in a bowl of cold water and dry each sheet individually.

1. Make the ragu

  • First chop the carrot, celery and onion into a fine dice. Fry these in a large heavy pan (with a lid) on a medium high heat in 1tbs butter 2tbs olive oil for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to fry for 5 minutes stirring all the time. Turn the heat down and continue and fry for another 5-10 minutes until soft. Put the vegetables into a bowl and set aside.
  • Heat the pan on a higher heat and add 1 tbs olive oil. Add the meat in two stages. Ensure the meat fries and does not stew in liquid. Keep the heat high and stir. Add a little more oil if necessary.
  • When the second batch is browned, add the cooked meat and vegetables. Add the tomato puree and stir. Add the wine (or vinegar if using) and let it bubble and reduce by half. Add the stock and tomato passata (or tinned tomatoes).
  • Finally, add the bay leaves and simmer gently at a very low heat (ideally using a heat diffuser). Let this cook with the lid ajar for at least 1 hour or preferably 3 or more. Toward the end of cooking add the oregano and stir. Taste and season with salt and pepper. If necessary skim any excess fat on the surface of the ragu. The ragu can be made a day in advance – its flavour will improve while resting.

2. Make the béchamel

  • Pour the milk into a pan and add the bay leaf and nutmeg. Heat gently to a simmer and take off the heat.
  • Put the butter and the flour in a large sauce pan on a medium heat. Stir the mixture and mix into a roux. Continue to stir for 5 minutes without burning the flour. Turn off the heat and continue to stir for a minute.
  • Make a white sauce by adding milk into the flour mixture using a small amount at a time. Beat in the milk until the paste is smooth after each stage. Heat the sauce on a medium heat stirring all the time until the sauce reaches simmering point and thickens. Continue cooking on a very low simmer for 10 minutes, stirring often. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

3. Pre-cook the lasagne

  • Fill a large pan with water (5lt – 6lt). Add a large pinch of salt and bring to the boil. Add 4 sheets of pasta and cook partially. (I cook egg lasagne for 6 minutes, one quarter of the recommended cooking time.) Add the pasta to a large bowl of cold water. Boil the remaining sheets in the same way and keep in the cold water. Have a couple of tea towels to hand.

4. Make the lasagne

  • Use approximately 750ml of ragu and 800ml of béchamel. Spread 1tbs butter over the bottom of the baking dish. Take a sheet of pasta from the water and put on a tea towel. Run your hand over the sheet to remove excess water. Place 2 sheets of lasagna over the base of the dish, cutting the sheets to fit. Spoon one third of the ragu evenly over the pasta. Spoon one quarter of the béchamel evenly over the ragu. Then sprinkle about 30g of Parmesan over the ragu.
  • Place 2 more sheets of lasagne over the ragu mix, and as before add ragu and bechamel. Continue to build like this until all the pasta and ragu are used. This will create 4 layers of pasta with 3 layers of ragu and béchamel between each layer. Add the remaining béchamel onto the top layer of pasta and sprinkle over the remaining Parmesan. If the ragu was made on the same day, the lasagne can be stored in the refrigerator overnight – the flavour will improve and mellow.
  • Heat in a pre-heated oven at 180C, Gas 4 for 30 – 45 minutes.

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