Lasagne was the first dish I was asked for my recipe for. Which is funny as I never followed any recipe when making lasagne. My way of making lasagne may have evolved over the course of time but it always consists in double meat and vegetable-tomato layers with home-made bechamel and cheesy top.
I remember the first lasagne I had. We were invited for a Sunday dinner to my mum’s friend, who used to spend her summer holidays in rustic Italy. Along with some sunny memories she brought home the lasagne recipe to share with us. Once the lasagne was out from the oven and on the table we all got a squarish piece, and, I must admit, I was a bit disappointed with the size and thought it looked more like a starter than the main course. Little did I know how reach and filling each bite is. By the time we finished we were all so full no one was able to have a second helping.
Later on my mother recreated the recipe and lasagne made it into our regular menu, in fact it became one of our signature dishes. It was proven to wow, sure to please and easy to share so no wonder I fed it to my boyfriends, served it at friends get-togethers and made it for family occasions – all with great success and much love and praise.
I cannot think of a more shareable dish. When you bring it to the table, cut it into even-ish pieces, share around and enjoy. But also when you prepare the dish. Because it is quite time consuming and involves many pots and pans the more people are helping the better. Slicing vegetables. Grating cheese. Stirring bechamel. Arranging layers. There’s a task for everyone.
Preparation time: approx. 1 h 15 (depending on the number of helpers)
Baking time: approx. 40 min
*makes a tin of 27 cm x 18 cm of 5 layers of pasta sheets
1 packet of lasagne sheets (I tend to choose the Italian brands and shake it slightly to see if the sheets aren’t broken. To play it save get an extra packet.)
300 g grated cheese (I prefer grated mozzarella as it’s light and not as greasy but any cheesy leftovers from the fridge could be used as well.)
Vegetable-tomato sauce layer:
2 tins of tomatoes – either pelato or chopped or both
a selection of seasonal vegetables – 300 g – courgette, aubergine, peppers, green beans, mushrooms
2 gloves of garlic
1 tbs of olive oil
salt and pepper to season
500 g minced meat
1-2 onions roughly chopped
a small bunch of fresh basil leaves or 3 tsp of dried basil
2-3 tsp of dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
1 and 1/2 cup of milk
75 g butter
3-4 tbs flour
4-5 tbs grated cheese (from the 300 g)
a pinch of grated nutmag
salt and pepper to taste
On a large frying pan heat a small lug of olive oil. Add chopped onion and cook until golden and soft. Add the mince meat and break it down with a fork. Cook until brown. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to very low and simmer while you get on with the other sauce. At the end add the herbs, mix, turn off the heat and keep covered and warm.
Wash the vegetables and chop into 1-2 cm cubes or stripes. In a medium pot (big enough to add 2 tins of tomatoes) heat a lug of olive oil, add the chopped vegetables and gently saute until they soften. Add tinned tomatoes (pour some water to your empty can, swirl around and add to the sauce as well). Season with crashed garlic, salt and pepper and leave to simmer for about 15 minutes.
In a small pot get your bechamel sauce ready. On a low heat melt the butter, add the flour and keep stirring until you have a smooth paste. Add warm milk and keep stirring (before I learnt the proper way to make bechamel I used to make it the other way round i.e. adding milk first and then the flour and it worked as well). Keep stirring for about 5 minutes. The roux will eventually thicken- you can add more milk or more flour if you think it’s needed. Season with salt and pepper. Grate some nutmeg. Add 1/3 of the packet of the grated cheese and stir until it melts completely. Turn off the heat.
- Preheat the oven to 180 °C.
- In a wide shallow pan boil some water and pre-cook your lasagne sheets. Depending on the pot you should do 3-5 at once. After a minute or so remove them – they should get slightly softer, lighter and bigger.
- Grease you ovenproof dish (square or rectangular) with a bit of olive oil and arrange the first layer of the pasta sheets. Cut them as needed to fit the baking tray (mine takes 4 full sheets and 1.5 broken into pieces).
- On the first layer spread 1/2 of the minced meat.
- Pour 1/3 of the bechamel sauce over the meat.
- Add another layer of the pasta sheets. Press the pasta so that it soaks the sauce underneath.
- On the second layer spread 1/2 of the vegetable-tomato sauce.
- Repeat and arrange the third layer with meat and the fourth layer with the vegetables.
- Cover with the last layer of the pasta sheets. Pour the remaining 1/3 of bechamel and sprinkle the grated cheese. Decorate with a few slices of tomato if you like.
Place in the oven and bake on the middle shelf for approx. 30-40 minutes. You want to cheesy top layer turn into golden-brownish crust. Once out of the oven leave to rest for 10-15 minutes and they proudly take to the table. Share and enjoy.