I have been making lasagne ever since I was just a newlywed. It was one of the first dishes I learned where I wanted it to be authentic and perfect, although I had NO idea what a family favourite it would become. Cooking anything for over two decades makes for a lot of practice, but bizarrely this was one of the harder recipes to record as it’s all in my head. It was strange taking measurements and jotting things down. These days I sometimes make my own pasta sheets, but I’ve assumed that you will, like most normal people, be using bought ones. I’ve also listed the quantities below to make a lasagne for four people, but I make mine with double all the quantities below, and it feeds eight easily. I should also add that I only put the bechamel sauce on the final top layer, and not on all the layers as this is what my family prefers. It also saves a bit of time, and means that I assemble the lasagne all the way to the last layer, then I pour the bechamel over and pop it in the oven.
for the bolognaise sauce:
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1 to 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 600 g beef mince
- 1 bay leaf
- handful chopped flat leaf parsley
- 1 tbspn tomato paste
- 100 ml red wine
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- 1 cup beef stock
- salt, pepper
for the bechamel sauce:
- 50 g butter
- 50 g plain flour
- approx 500 ml milk
- 1 tspn ground nutmeg
- 1 pack fresh lasagne sheets
- Grana Padano cheese, grated
- mozzarella cheese, grated
1. First make the bolognaise sauce. Begin by heating the olive oil in a pot (I prefer my large round Le Creuset ones) on a medium heat. Saute the onion for about ten minutes. Then add the garlic and saute for another five minutes until it’s all soft and slightly caramelised.
2. Add the mince and turn up the heat to brown the meat, making sure you keep breaking up the mince with a wooden spoon. Cook until it’s all brown and there are no lumps. Add the herbs. Next pour in the wine, turn the heat all the way up to cook off the alcohol. When it has reduced a bit stir through the tomato paste. Then add the canned tomatoes.
3. Slowly add the stock in small amounts. (You may not need it all. The meat should be JUST covered in the sauce, the pasta sheets will soak up sauce). Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper, and make sure you have a taste to see if it needs a little more. (You can also add some dried basil or oregano at this stage if you like). Leave it to simmer for about an hour on very low, stirring occasionally.
4. When the sauce is ready heat the oven to moderate, about 140 C fan forced.
5. At this stage I assemble the lasagne up to the last layer ready for the bechamel. I spoon a bit of sauce into the bottom of a rectangular baking dish (one about the size of the lasagne sheets). Next goes a sheet of pasta, then a third of the bolognaise sauce. Then a handful each of the cheeses. Then I repeat it twice more, so there are three layers of bolognaise. Then I finish with a final pasta sheet, on which I pour over the bechamel.
6. For the bechamel start by melting the butter in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. When the butter has melted stir through the flour with a wooden spoon, until it forms a smooth paste. Cook, stirring constantly, for a couple of minutes. Then pour in the milk (ideally heated beforehand, but I have never bothered with that). Turn the heat up to high, and begin whisking to incorporate the flour/butter paste into the milk. Add a little salt and pepper, and the nutmeg, and keep whisking. The sauce will slowly thicken. Keep whisking as it thickens so it stays nice and smooth. (It’s hard to say how long this part will take, the sauce is ready when it’s a thick pour-able consistency, but not runny). If you like you can whisk some of the cheeses through the sauce when it’s done.
7. Pour the bechamel sauce over the top layer of pasta, and pop it in the oven.
8. Cook for about 45 minutes, checking half way through that it’s not too brown. If it is, either cover it with aluminum foil or turn the oven down a little.
9. You should get about eight portions, depending how big or small you like them.