I can’t remember the last time I’ve gotten stuck in a cooking rut, but if you know me, you’ll know it means shit has hit the fan. I cook when I’m upset – it’s when I’m devastated that I can’t.
These past couple weeks? I couldn’t.
For reasons I don’t feel comfortable disclosing, I’ve had to have more company around than I usually do. A lot of eating out ensued, and on days where I had time to myself, I’d been too tired to cook. Thankfully, I seem to have climbed out of that funk, at least long enough to throw together a dish of lasagna, because this weekend is a weekend for comfort food.
I don’t know how many of you watch/play Defense of the Ancients (DotA), but I do, and this week, my favourite team did an Alliance and failed to qualify for The International, which is the biggest and most important tournament of the year. Why, Na’Vi, why. I cry all the tears.
And today, I cry all the tears into my gorgeous dish of lasagna.
I can’t remember the first time I had lasagna, but I can remember the first time I made it to the recipe on the back of a St. Remo lasagna sheet box. I vaguely recall it being pretty darn good, but what sticks out in my mind is the fact that I royally screwed up the bechamel sauce.
Back then, I knew neither Julia Child nor Jacques Pepin, and as such had zero idea about thickening and roux and the five basic sauces of French cuisine. What I ended up making was a thick, molten lava mess of milk and butter.
I’ve since learnt how to properly make bechamel. My advice for you, if you’ve never made this sauce before, is to go slow and look for the perfect texture. And obviously the perfect texture is one that coats the back of your spoon, and is yet of a pourable consistency. You have to trust your own instincts on this one, because stoves differ, and what takes ten minutes on mine might take only eight on yours. Whatever the case, I wish you all the best with your bechamel endeavours.
I’ve highlighted other important things to note, and tips regarding lasagna in a video, so you can just hear me talk about it if that’s easier.
And on that note, here’s a somewhat loose-and-easy recipe for the lasagna, and more specifically, the one I made last night. Feel free to switch it up; change the pasta sheets to wholewheat pasta, add wilted spinach, omit the port or wine, change beef to something else – the sky is your limit.
- 3 ribs celery, finely diced
- 2 medium onions, finely diced
- 1 bulb garlic, coarsely chopped
- 2 medium carrots, finely diced
- 800g ground beef (or lamb/chicken/mutton)
- One can tinned tomatoes
- 125g tomato puree
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 3 bay leaves
- Small bunch fresh thyme, leaves picked
- Half a beef stock cube
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- Salt and cracked pepper to taste
- 2 cups full fat milk
- 40g soft butter
- 2 tbsp all purpose flour
- Fat pinch of nutmeg
- Salt to taste
Pasta sheets and 250g of good Mozzarella cheese, pre-grated if you’re lazy (like moi).
Again, I want to be brief so you don’t tear your hair out, so here’s the method in five easy steps.
- Cook the Bolognese: Saute celery, onion, garlic, and carrot together in a large pot. Separately in a skillet, pan-fry mince, occasionally turning with a spatula so it doesn’t stick together.
- Transfer mince to pot, add tinned tomato and tomato puree. Swill both tins out with wine or water and add that to the sauce. Add the rest of the ingredients, lower the flame and let it bubble for 15 – 20 minutes.
- Cook the Bechamel: Melt butter in a small saucepot. Add flour, whisking hard to remove lumps, then add milk and nutmeg and continue to whisk. Cook until sauce comes to pourable consistency.
- Layer the lasagna: lasagna sheet, bolognese sauce, bechamel sauce, Mozzarella. Repeat until you have three to four layers, depending how deep your dish is. Line your oven tray with some foil or baking paper, as there will most likely be some bubble-over action.
- Bake in a 170°C oven for about 35 minutes.
By all means, feel free to make the lasagna ahead of time. It can be stored in tightly-packaged cling in the freezer for up to a week (probably longer, but use your own discretion here), defrosted in the chiller, and reheated afterwards in the oven. I’d advise against using the microwave for a full and uncut dish of lasagna, as it might lead to some unsavoury exploding between the layers.
Whatever the case, enjoy the comfort food. Have a good weekend!