Monday, 5 May 2014

Legendary lasagne

I've yet to meet someone that doesn't like lasagne. More specifically, I'm yet to meet anyone that doesn't like my lasagne. Yes, I'm sure there are Italian families that have spent generations honing their recipes, passing them down from Nonna to granddaughter, but I'm going to go as far as to say that mine is better than theirs. Pretty bold and maybe a little bit racist but ho hum, this lasagne is the shit. Fact.

The other thing that I'm guaranteeing is that this dinner is minimal effort for maximum reward. Get the sauce on early on a Saturday morning, kick back and watch the football. The Mrs will come home from a day of shopping to a house smelling like a restaurant in the back streets of Napoli, and you spend the evening reaping the rewards... Now I know that there are plenty of pre-made lasagne and bechemal sauces out there to make things nice and easy for you but that's not what we're about. Plus most of them taste like filth. This is the real deal and still nice and cheap to make.

If you become a regular reader of the blog which, if you want learn how to impress the ladies with your culinary expertise, you should then you will learn very quickly that I struggle to work in measurements. I'll try and be as helpful as possible but, since I am one, I am well aware of blokes' inability to follow instructions and therefore most of my creations are not constrained by strict quantities of this or exact amounts of that. This lasagne recipe is the perfect example of this since you can play about with it to create your own masterpiece.

How it's done

As you can see, all of this stuff in the photo is pretty straightforward and recognisable so there is nothing to be scared of here. Everything shown comprises the easy part of the lasagne - the sauce - and is what you'll be working with first up.

With these ingredients you can go as low end (Tesco Value or Sainsbury Basics) or as high end (lean mince from the butcher, a vintage Merlot etc) as you like - all depends how much you want to impress or what sort of reward you're after. If the Mrs is on a diet then be sure to use lean mince and make sure she's aware it's in there. Every little helps...
The ingredients shown in the photo above made a huge lasagne that we ended up eating for days - not that I minded as it was fucking delicious. If you're only cooking for two then you can pretty much halve what is shown. You need:
  • Some beef mince
  • A few rashers of bacon
  • Some mushrooms
  • A couple of red onions
  • Some garlic (I was lazy and used the pre-chopped, jar stuff)
  • Some Italian mixed herbs
  • A bay leaf
  • A beef stock cube
  • Tomato purée 
  • One or two cans of chopped tomatoes
  • Balsamic vinegar 
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Olive oil
  • Some red wine
  • Dried lasagne sheets

OK first things first, pour a glass of red wine. Nothing to do with the recipe but you can't cook well without a glass of vino on the go. Second, chop up the bacon, mushrooms and onion and lob into a large pan with some oil and the garlic.

Fry them off until the onions go soft and then throw in the beef and use a wooden spoon to break it up. Once the mince starts to brown throw in the broken up stock cube and a nice lug of Worcestershire sauce. When all of the mince has browned, put in a decent squeeze of tomato purée and your tin(s) of chopped tomatoes.

At this point start throwing in whatever you like but I would suggest a reasonably-sized splash of the red wine, some balsamic vinegar, the mixed herbs and a bay leaf. Give the whole thing a stir, stick the lid on, turn the heat down and walk the heck away. Wait come back! You forgot your wine...

You can pretty much leave this going, with the occasional stir, for 4-5 hours. Once you are happy with it, just turn off the heat and leave the lid on as the flavours just get better and better the longer it's sitting there in it's own filth whilst you're watching Soccer Saturday or enjoying some less than innocent web browsing time whilst the Mrs is out of the house.

Next up is the roux (or white sauce for the uncultured amongst you). This is slightly more complicated and I have no photos because you need to attend to it whilst you're making it otherwise you'll fuck it up! What you need for this is:
  • 4oz butter
  • 4oz plain flour
  • 1.5 pints of milk
  • 4oz grated cheese
  • Salt and pepper

Timing is quite important here so stay focussed. Are you ready? Then let's begin. Stick the butter into the pan (and don't be a dick and choose a small pan, remember we are putting 1.5 pints of milk into this) and melt it on a low heat. Once the butter is melted, throw in the flour and stir like crazy for exactly one minute. Remove the pan from the heat and start gradually adding the milk, stirring the whole time to make sure we have no lumps. 

Once all of the milk is in, get it back on the heat and bring to the boil, stirring continuously until it thickens. Simmer (this means bubbling but not boiling like crazy) it for two minutes exactly and then remove from the heat and add the cheese and a shitload of seasoning. By a shit load I mean about 20 rounds of salt and pepper.

Now you're ready to build the thing. Be sure to remember to take out the bay leaf before you start though! Just start layering up so stick a bit of the roux on the bottom of the dish, followed by some of the meat sauce. Then lay down a layer of pasta, breaking up sheets to fill in the gaps. Do this once or twice more (cheese, sauce, pasta) depending on the size of your dish before ending with a layer of cheese sauce. On top of this, pile on loads of grated cheddar cheese and some freshly grated parmesan wouldn't go amiss either.

The final thing is not for everyone but I love it. Drizzle over some balsamic dressing (the thicker stuff if you can find it). Not only does this make the top go nice and crispy, but you can also use it to write a message or make a design on top. If you're looking for some sort of bedroom action for dessert, why not give her a not-so-subtle hint with your balsamic artwork? Stick the whole thing in the oven (on an oven tray with a layer of aluminium foil - we don't want to add extra washing up or cleaning the oven to our to-do list guys) and cook for 35 minutes at 200C.

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