On the evening when I sat down on a sofa, with laptop resting on my lap (where else a laptop can rest?) to write this post, Hairy Bikers Mediterranean Adventure was on the telly. I love these two lads, they are down to earth and they like their food honest and down to earth as well. So what else could I write about if not a great, honest Italian dish that is a proper crowd pleaser – Lasagne. There is a bit more history to this recipe though. Couple of years ago I have been given a pasta machine for Christmas. On such occasion lot of people would use it once. Decide that it’s a lot of hassle, their pasta sticks to everything or folds in most awkward places. Put it away and continue buying commercially produced stuff. Not me, I like to use any new kit at least several times to either make sure that I definitely do not like it or that I can actually use it efficiently. I can say that I like this toy and I’d like to think that I am relatively competent in using it.
Preparing lasagne is a perfect opportunity to use pasta machine. Nothing beats home made, fresh pasta covered with layers of meaty filling and béchamel sauce. I wanted to cook lasagne for some time but this domain has been exclusively reserved to my wife for years. In our family she is the mince queen. Give her a batch of minced meat and she can convert it in all sort of yummy meals. Chilli con carne, shepherd’s pie, cottage pie, spag bol… and lasagne. And she is bloody good at it too. When she asks me what she should cook for our Saturday tea, it is usually very hard for me not to say: chilli! So you must imagine her dissatisfaction was when she learned that I want to venture into her kingdom. We settle for a compromise. She will allow me to cook the dish but I will follow her meat sauce recipe. Fine by me I thought. Her meat sauce is amazing, so as long as I can replicate it I’d call it a win – win scenario. Now you know why I called this recipe Becky’s Lasagne.
This recipe serves 4 adults or 2 greedy adults and 2 children.
- Square ovenproof dish 23 – 23 cm or similar
- Pasta machine or rolling pin and a pair of strong arms
For the pasta:
- 200g plain flour (or even better Italian 00 / ‘tipo’ flour) + extra for dusting
- 2 large free range eggs
- 1 tblsp olive oil
- 2 tsp water
For the béchamel sauce:
- 75g salted butter
- 75g plain flour
- 750g full fat milk
- ½ tsp grated nutmeg
- Salt and pepper to season
For Becky’s meat sauce:
- 250g lean minced beef (5% fat)
- 1 garlic clove crushed with knife and finely chopped (optional)
- 1 onion finely chopped
- 100g mushrooms finely chopped
- 50ml dry red wine
- 1 tin chopped tomatoes
- 1 heaped tblsp tomato puree
- 1 Oxo beef stock cube (or ½ Knorr beef stock cube)
- Salt and pepper to season
- 2 – 4 tblsp grated Parmesan to sprinkle on top of the dish
For the pasta:
- Sift the flour onto the working bench. Make well in the centre and break in the eggs. Add the oil and water.
- Mix the eggs with a fork gradually drawing in the flour.
- Once you have a crumbly texture, gather the mixture together with your hands and knead until you have a soft dough.
- Knead if for another 8 minutes same as if you were kneading bread. If you use a food processor with kneading attachment, add all ingredients in and mix until the dough looks like small pebbles. Transfer onto the working bench and knead for about 2 – 4 minutes.
- Roll into a ball, wrap in a cling film and put into the fridge to rest for at least 30 minutes. Use this time to prepare sauces – see below.
- Once the pasta has rested, cut it two and flatten each half with your hands so that it can fit through the rollers of the pasta machine.
- Dust the pasta lightly on both sides and roll it through the pasta machine from the widest setting to the thin one (alternatively roll it with a rolling pin). You want to achieve pasta sheet 1 – 2 mm thick. Make sure you keep the pasta dusted with flour at all times.
- Using pasta cutting wheel with smooth edge (or pizza cutter), cut the sheets into rectangles matching the width of your ovenproof dish.
- If, after reading this far, you decide to buy ready made lasagne sheets I won’t judge you.
For Becky’s meat filling:
- Place the meat, onion and mushrooms in a large, deep frying (sauté pan) and fry it over medium heat. You don’t need to add any additional oil as both the onion and mushrooms will cook in fat released from the meat. Cook stirring continuously until the meet is coloured all over. It should take about 5 – 7 minutes. If using, add garlic and continue cooking for another 2 minutes.
- Pour in the wine, stir well and continue to cook for another 3 minutes, until the alcohol has evaporated.
- Add in chopped tomatoes, tomato purée and crumble in the stock cube. Stir well and reduce the heat to low. Cook uncovered for another 20 – 30 minutes stirring from time to time. Season to taste.
- Once the sauce reduced take it off the heat to cool down.
For the béchamel sauce:
- Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over a medium heat.
- Pour in the flour and cook for 1 minute stirring constantly until the mixture turns light brown colour.
- Start adding in the cold milk whisking constantly with a balloon whisk. Keep adding the milk in gradually so that the sauce does not become lumpy. At the end stir in the nutmeg.
- When all of the milk and nutmeg is added, reduce the heat to low and cook for about 10 minutes, whisking constantly.
- Once thickened, season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside to cool slightly.
To assemble and cook the lasagne:
- Pre heat the oven to 170 centigrade
- Spread a thin layer of the béchamel sauce over the bottom of the ovenproof dish.
- Lay one layer of earlier prepared pasta sheets on top of the sauce, trimming if necessary to fit the dish.
- Spread a layer of the meat sauce on top of pasta sheets and cover with layer of béchamel sauce.
- Lay another layer of pasta sheets on top of the sauce.
- Repeat points 3 and 4 until you run out of the meat sauce. The overall number of layers depends on the personal preference. I like my lasagne quite rigid so I spread the sauce quite thinly and usually end up with 3 layers of meat. Becky likes her lasagne on a sloppy side so she skips the bottom layer of pasta and assembles the dish only two thick layers of meat.
- Cover the topmost layer of pasta sheets with the remaining béchamel sauce and sprinkle with grated Parmesan.
- Cook on the bottom shelf of the oven for 30 minutes.
- Increase the temperature to 190 centigrade and cook for another 15 minutes until golden and crispy.
- Once ready, leave it to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Serve with a bottle of medium bodied red wine (Chianti or Rioja Crianza would be my preference).