I once bemoaned to my friend Nada that making pizza dough was just too much effort, and she said she felt the same way about lasagne. I disagreed. Undoubtedly, there is a lot of effort involved in making lasagne, but when you’ve finished, you’ve got a weeks’ worth of meals in the freezer. The pizza, on the other hand, takes half a day in the kitchen (for me, anyway), yet its gone in a flash, and any leftovers can’t be frozen. Not to mention that there is truly nothing like home made lasagne.
This is yet another dish adapted from Tessa Kiros’ “Apples for Jam” cookbook. This lasagne makes a regular appearance in my house, because kids just love it, and because its so great to have frozen portions for emergencies, or those nights when you just cannot be bothered cooking but have hungry mouths to feed.
I’ve adapted it slightly by halving the quantity (the original made quite a massive batch) and adding spinach, as I wanted to boost the nutritional value. Besides, I could put anything in lasagne and my son would eat it, so why not add spinach? I use silverbeet, but you could use English spinach if you prefer.
I was initially suspicious about the combination of dried mint, paprika, cinnamon and Worcestershire sauce, but trust me, it works.
There is no getting around it: making lasagne is time consuming and messy. But if you make the sauce the day before, it won’t be so exhausting to contemplate. Extra hands when its ready to assemble will be a great help.
Maybe Nada will give lasagne another go one day? Or maybe I’ll get better at making pizza dough…
Serves 6-8 adults; about 10 kids’ serves
- 1 small bunch silverbeet or large bunch English spinach
- 1½ cups grated fresh parmesan cheese
- about 300 g dried lasagne sheets
For the meat sauce:
- 500 g good quality mince meat (ask your butcher to freshly mince a piece of topside for you)
- 1 large onion
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 fresh bay leaf
- ½ teaspoon dried mint
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ½ tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 400 g tin organic diced tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- ½ cup white wine
- 400 ml water
For the béchamel:
- 50 g butter
- 1/2 cup flour
- 650 ml milk
- grated nutmeg
- salt & pepper
Step 1 – Make the sauce. Peel and dice the onion, and sauté in some olive oil for about 7 minutes, until golden, stirring often. Add the garlic and mix through with the onion, and immediately add the mince, cinnamon, paprika, mint, bay leaf and Worcestershire sauce. Stir through and cook the mince until brown. Make sure you keep an eye on it and keep stirring around, breaking up the mince, so it doesn’t burn and clump. When cooked, remove from the pan, take the lid, and over the sink, drain off any excess fat. This is not really traditional, normally all the pan juices would stay, but in my view the fat’s done its job in cooking the meat, and the excess saturates can be discarded. Return to the stove, add the wine and allow it to evaporate. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and water, allow to come to a gentle bubbling boil, then reduce the heat to very low and simmer for 50 minutes, adding water as it evaporates – the sauce needs to be quite runny to absorb the pasta. Add the chopped parsley and leave aside.
Heat oven to 180 c
Step 2: Prepare the spinach. Wash the spinach well in a big tub or sinkful of cold water. If using silverbeet, remove the green leaves from the white stalk, the easiest way to do this is to hold the stalk upside down by the bottom, ie the white part, and slice a very sharp knife down each side of stalk until the leaf comes away. Place the still wet leaves in a saucepan with a little water in the bottom. Cover, and simmer over a low heat for about 10 minutes, turning a few times. Drain in a colander.
If using English spinach, wash twice, transfer to a bowl and pour over boiling water. Let it blanche in the water for a minute, then drain.
When your spinach is cool enough to handle, squeeze out excess water, chop finely and put aside with the cheese.
Step 3: Make the béchamel. This requires a fair bit of elbow grease, and a good 10 minutes of uninterrupted time at the stove. Heat the milk until warm, don’t boil it. Melt the butter and add the flour, mix through and cook for a minute. Add a few ladles of the warm milk, whisking quickly. I remove it from the heat when initially adding the milk, then return after about a quarter has been incorporated, Continue to add the milk gradually, working quickly with the whisk so no lumps form. When you’ve finished adding the milk you should have a smooth sauce. Allow to cook for a few minutes more, stirring. Add the nutmeg and a pinch or two of salt. If it does go lumpy, pass it through a sieve and return to a low heat.
Step 4: Assemble and bake. Use a non stick heavy baking dish if you can, roughly 20cm x 30 cm in size. Place some water and about half a ladel of the béchamel on the bottom of the baking dish, it should be enough to just cover the bottom. Add lasagne sheets, overlapping rather than leaving gaps. You might have to break some pieces to suit the size of your dish. Add about a third of the meat sauce, scatter a third of the spinach, a quarter of the béchamel (don’t worry if it doesn’t completely cover the layer) and sprinkle with a quarter of the cheese.
Repeat for another two layers.
Finish with a fourth layer of pasta and the last of the béchamel and cheese. If the béchamel has thickened add a little water. You might need to grate a little extra cheese – I always seem to! The top layer needs to be completely covered with bechamel or it will be dry and hard. I like to tuck any broken shards of lasagne down the sides, and if I do this I add a little extra water to the sides. There should be a fair bit of liquid in the dish, at least half way up the lasagne.
Cover the dish with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bak for another 10 minutes. Let it cool down a little and set for half an hour, covered, before serving.
BAZ THE WINO SAYS:
I don’t agree with the whole pairing-by-geography thing – just because two things are from the same country it doesn’t mean they go well together. Just ask anyone who has washed down a perfect Peking Duck with Chinese pinot (yes, it exists and no, you don’t want to try it).
In the case of lasagne, however, you can’t go past the king of Italian grapes, Sangiovese. If you want to keep it authentic, Carpineto Chianti Classico (Sangiovese is the main grape in Chianti, named after the region that produces Italy’s best sangiovese in Tuscany) is about $22 at Dan’s. Good savoury and spice notes backed up by plum and red fruits with a dry finish that won’t be overwhelmed by the rich cheesy goodness of the lasagne.
If you want to keep it local, Coriole was the pioneer of the variety in Australia (although they’ve only been growing it since 1985) and their version can be had for the same price as the Italian. A little more cherry fruit with the savoury and earthy notes that characterise the variety, finishing with fine grippy tannins.