Lasagne is one of Italy’s most loved and famous dishes – it was one of my favourites when I was growing up, and I was very fortunate to have an Italian granny who taught my mum, who in turn taught me this recipe, so it is authentic.
That means there are no sausages, chopped vegetables, cottage cheese, or anything else that people throw in – the result is an absolutely delicious dish that any Italian trattoria would be proud to serve.
Lasagne takes quite a while to prepare and it’s very easy to go wrong. The last thing you want is to serve over cooked, dry stodge to your dinner guests, especially when you’ve worked for an hour and a half to prepare it!
You can make the sauces and prepare the pasta in advance, but I wouldn’t assemble the dish until you’re ready to cook it.
You’ll need a 13 x 9″ baking pan and this recipe serves approximately nine people.
Step 1: Bolognese Sauce
- 1.5 lbs of ground beef (it must be lean)
- 1 large white onion
- 1 grated carrot
- 1 stick of celery finely chopped
- 2 large cloves of garlic
- Salt and pepper
- Fresh herbs (can be dried): parsley, oregano, thyme, bay leaves.
- 2 tins of plum tomatoes – never use chopped because they are too watery.
- I tablespoon of tomato puree
- Fry the onions with the garlic in a little olive oil until they are softened.
- Add the meat and stir on a high heat until browned.
- Add all the other ingredients.
- Cover with water and allow to boil with the lid on for at least an hour, but actually the longer you leave it to simmer gently the better! I leave mine to simmer for about 2 hours. Add water if it looks dry and stir occasionally.
How do you know when it’s cooked?
The smell, the colour and the oil. You should smell a delicious rich aroma; it should not smell of raw tomatoes. The colour should be deep and rich, not a bright red tomato colour, and the oil should be sitting on the top of the sauce in little puddles. Once all these are present, then your Bolognese is ready.
Step 2: Béchamel Sauce
This is the classic way of making béchamel sauce that uses roux. It’s not difficult.
- 850 ml milk
- 2 bay leaves
- Whole black peppercorns (about 10)
- 80 g butter
- 50 g plain flour
- Heat the milk with the peppercorns and bay leaves very gently until it starts to simmer.
- Strain the milk into a jug and keep warm.
- Put a saucepan over a gentle heat – add the butter and melt it slowly – it should not turn brown.
- As the butter melts add the flour in small amounts and stir to make a smooth paste. That is your roux.
- Add the warm milk a little at a time, keeping the heat low, and stir vigorously until all the milk has been mixed into the roux in small steps, a little bit at a time. You are aiming for a smooth sauce. When you have mixed in about half the milk, use a hand whisk to add the rest, and keep up a quick pace.
- Turn the heat down to the lowest setting and cook for about 5 minutes – whisking it periodically.
- Add seasoning.
- Keep the sauce warm by putting taking it off the heat and covering the pan with cling film.
Step 3: The Pasta
Never, under any circumstances, buy precooked or quick cook pasta sheets. Sheets of durum wheat pasta that requires boiling before assembly is the best. Quick pasta did not exist during my granny’s days! I have tried using it and ended up very upset indeed.
- 1.5 Boxes Durham Wheat Pasta
- Boiled Water (lots of it!)
- 2 tablespoons of oil
- Grated Parmesan
- Bring a lot of water to the boil in the largest pot you have.
- Add salt and the oil.
- Wait until it is bubbling and then carefully add the pasta one sheet at a time, gently stirring so that the sheets don’t stick together.
- When the pasta has softened remove it and put it into a large bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process.
Assembling the dish:
To assemble the lasagne you should grease a baking dish with butter. Add a large spoonful of Bolognese sauce and one of béchamel. Cover the bottom of the dish completely. Do not mix the two sauces together, the dish should be white and red, and if you use green pasta, you will have the Italian flag in a dish!
- Add a single layer of pasta over the sauce. Repeat the process. Until you run out of ingredients.
- The final layer is of béchamel covered with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.
- Use a lot of sauce – it should ooze out when you cut into the dish.
- Place in a preheated oven and bake at 350 (180 C) for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the top is sizzling and browned. All you’re doing at this point is heating the dish through so that the flavours blend – and the pasta will cook through. The mistake people make is leaving it to long in the oven and so it either turns soggy or dries up.
Leave to stand for about 10 minutes and serve with a fresh mixed salad and a glass of red wine!
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G Adventures has a great holidays called Local Living in Southern Italy, where you will be taught how to cook wonderful Italian food, and stay in an ‘Agriturismo’ organic farm.
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