There is something about this modest dish that always brings a smile to my dinner table. So many people I know are intimidated by making lasagne at home but even though its a little time consuming its well worth the effort.
I think it all comes down to the combination of basic but essential ingredients that makes this dish so comforting. It doesn’t matter whether the pasta is store bought or adventurously handmade. Béchamel sauce (also known as white sauce) is one of the ‘mother’ sauces in French cuisine and is easier than you think. All that’s left is melted cheese and a ragù whether meat based, vegetarian or a combination of the odds and ends in your fridge.
6 sheets lasagne pasta (store bought is fine, and makes this dish enjoyable and fuss free)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 stalk celery, trimmed and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed or finely chopped
400g minced beef or veal
125ml white wine
400g tomato passata, or tinned crushed tomatoes
1 bay leaf
2 strips of lemon zest (can be removed with a potato peeler)
60g plain flour
A pinch grated nutmeg
100g grated Cheddar
80g freshly grated Parmesan
Make the ragù first. Heat olive oil in a wide saucepan. Add the onion, carrot and celery and sauté until it is soft and the celery and onion are translucent. Add the meat and garlic, and cook until all liquid from the meat has evaporated completely and the meat begins to brown. Add the white wine, cook until it has evaporated and add the tomato, bay leaf and season with salt and pepper.
Lower the heat and simmer for around 30 minutes, adding up to 250ml of water as the sauce thickens. All water may not be necessary as the ragù should be a thick and rich sauce.
Add the whole lemon zest pieces and simmer for another 10 minutes and then remove along with the bay leaf. The ragù can be cooked in advanced and kept in the fridge, or even frozen for future use.
Next the Béchamel sauce. Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat. In the mean time heat the milk in a separate saucepan. When the butter is melted add the flour. Stir with a wooden spoon until combined, bubbling and lightly golden.
Add the milk in small quantities and stir well after each addition so lumps don’t form. Continue to add all milk, and stirring all the time until the milk is incorporated. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Continue to cook on a low heat for 10 minutes until thickened and smooth, continuously stirring so not to catch on the bottom of the saucepan. Remove from heat.
This can be made anytime on the day of eating but if not using straightaway whisk well before use as it may become stiff.
When ready to build your lasagne preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Cook lasagne sheets as packet instructions (some pasta sheets sold do not require pre-cooking). Spread a little béchamel on the base of an ovenproof dish. A 28cm × 18cm dish is ideal, but you can trim the pasta to fit a dish of similar size.
Put a layer of lasagne sheets onto the bottom, overlapping slightly. Cover with a thin layer of ragù, then a few spoons of béchamel and a sprinkling of Parmesan. Repeat this process with the lasagne sheets until all ingredients are used or the dish is filled. Finish with the rest of the Parmesan and the grated cheese.
Bake for about 30 minutes until the top is golden and bubbling.
Remove and serve with a light salad or steamed greens.
Serves up to 6