When it comes to labour intensive, you don't get much more intense than making Lasagne. Not if you do it properly anyway. There are several shortcuts you can take, and this is all good and well if you don't have the time or the energy to get in and do it all yourself. I know for a fact that you can slap up a Lasagne in about 20 minutes, plus another 20 under the grill, if you use every shortcut you can imagine. But if I know I have a Saturday afternoon to spend in the kitchen, and Lasagne is on the menu, then I'm going to go all the way.
I make the pasta fresh.
I cook the meat for several hours.
C makes the cheese sauce fresh.
And there's nothing you can buy that tastes anything like it.
Fresh Lasagne Sheets
This same recipe can be used to make all sorts of pasta, from linguine to ravioli, but it does rely on you having a Pasta Machine, or a lot of patience with a rolling pin. I tend to reserve making fresh pasta for things like ravioli, where you really need the fresh sheets to work with, but since I didn't have any dried lasagne in the cupboard, I decided to get out the Machine and make some fresh. We got the Pasta Machine as a wedding present, and it's great to use once you get the hang of it.
Shortcut: Buy dry Lasagne sheets from the Supermarket (But be aware that it pays to preboil these before building your Lasagne, which can be a messy process)
Make up a quantity of pasta to suit your menu. I mix 100g of High Grade Flour with 1 Egg for every 2 people I'd be feeding, but it's best to make up between 300 and 500g worth. Use the biggest freshest Free Range Eggs you can find. Sift the flour into a bowl and break the eggs into a well in the centre. Break up the eggs with a fork and bring the flour in to make a rough dough.
Tip this onto a clean bench and work it with your hands until it is a silky, elastic ball of dough. Alternatively, you can do this in a blender or a food processor, and it works just as well. And I really mean it about the Free Range Eggs. Barn eggs just don't give you the same silky elasticity, and lovely deep colour (without waxing propogandic about the Free-Range/Battery Hen argument).
Wrap this in gladwrap and pop it in the fridge for at least an hour.
While the dough is resting, prepare the meat sauce (See Below).
After an hour or so in the fridge, get the dough out and cut a piece off. Return the rest of the dough to the fridge. Oil the rollers and sprinkle your bench or table either side of the Machine with flour. Be careful not to overhandle or overflour the pasta dough, as this will make it brittle and more likely to break before it's ready.
Flatten the dough down with your hand and start rolling it through on the widest setting. Step the rollers in one setting and repeat. Be sure to gently dust with flour as you go to prevent sticking.
This will take some practice, and it can be frustrating at first, but once you get the knack it's both fun and easy. Even Isaac can do it!
Keep rolling the sheet through until you get to the last or second-to-last setting, or until you feel the dough won't last another roll.
Hang the rolled sheet on the back of a chair.
Once you've rolled out all the dough, you can do what you like with it. For this exercise, I just sliced the ends off and cut the sheets into nice 8" x 4" pieces.
You can use the Pasta Machine to make spaghetti, linguine or fettucine, depending on the cutters, or you can use the long sheets to make ravioli or tortellini. If I feel inspired, I'll cover that in the next couple of months. The pasta cooks in boiling water in about 2 minutes, and can be served just with EV Olive Oil, Parmesan, and freshly ground pepper. Its amazing how nice it is like this.
Chop up a couple of onions, finely chop a head of garlic, and deseed and slice 2 small red chillis. Fry these in hot oil until the onion starts to soften.
Remove the onions to a bowl and heat more oil in the same pan. Add mince; you probably want to cook about 1 1/2 times as much as you would use if you were making a bolognaise. Brown the mince and season with freshly ground pepper, salt, and freshly grated nutmeg. Once the bulk of the moisture has cooked off the meat, add a splash of Worcester sauce and allow this to cook in. Add a tin of chopped tomatoes, bring to the boil and reduce to a low simmer for at least 2 hours. If you can arrange to have this cooking for about 4 hours or even more, all the better. What you're aiming for is a Sauce, so the longer that mince can cook, the more it will break down and become less like chewy mince and more like a liquid.
Shortcut: Throw onions, garlic and mince in the pot at the same time. Season to taste. Brown and add a jar of pasta sauce. Simmer until hot through.
C's Famous Cheese Sauce
In a small saucepan, heat 50g of butter over a gentle heat. Slowly add a small scoop of flour, about 3-4 T, whisking vigourously until it thickens.
Add between 3/4 to 1 Cup of Milk, and don't allow this to boil. Add a Cup of grated Cheddar and 1/4 Cup of Parmesan, and melt this all through until you have a lovely cheese sauce consistency. Stand.
Shortcut: Buy a grotty packet of Add-Water Cheese Sauce and mix that up instead. If you really have to.
Building the Lasagne
Oil a large oven dish with a lid. Place a layer of meat sauce in the bottom, about 1cm thick.
Add a layer of lasagne sheets, overlapping slightly and ensuring that the edges of the dish are covered.
Add another layer of meat sauce, then a coating of cheese sauce. Keep in mind that you're making about 3 layers, so don't overdo it (like I always seem to). This takes discipline.
Lasagne Sheets, Meat Sauce, Cheese Sauce, Lasagne Sheets, Meat Sauce, Cheese Sauce. Then just to make sure that this dish doesn't get the Heart Foundation Tick, add some extra grated cheese and a grind of pepper. Sprinkle with paprika if you have some (which I didn't - sob!).
Put the lid on and place in an oven at 190C for 20 mins. Remove the lid and switch the oven over to grill for about 10 minutes.
Yip, its a bit of work, but you'll never get a Lasagne like this from a shop or by taking the shortcuts mentioned above. I've even had Lasagne in Italian Restaurants that aren't as good as this homemade recipe. Get into it on a weekend afternoon, then cut it up and freeze it in portions for really easy weeknight meals.
Enjoy, if you can find the time.
Next post: Ham Risotto