Everyone knows what lasagne is, right? Layers of meat in tomato sauce with white stuff between thin layers of pasta. Easy! Until you try to make it... what is the white stuff anyway? How do you make the tomato sauce? Is it expensive to make and how do you get it to taste good?
Read on for my take on this tasty Italian dish... using ingredients available from your local supermarket.
Step 1: The Simple Ingredients You Will Need
As you can see, the ingredients are quite simple and the sort of thing you will have in your storecupboard.
- Minced beef - the package we buy is 750g (26oz) 1lb 10oz, but you can use up to 2lbs
- Minced or leftover pork- up to 300g (optional)
- Two 400g / 12oz tins tomatoes
- Two large onions
- Frozen peppers
- Garlic Granules and salt, or garlic salt
- Beef stock cubes (e.g. Oxo)
- Black pepper
- Dried basil
- Plain flour
- Lasagne sheets, the kind that don't require pre-cooking
- Bread (can be stale)
- Cheese of your choice - we use cheddar(optional)
- Cooking oil
- Butter or margarine
Step 2: Utensils Needed
You will need:
- A large saucepan and a smaller one
- Chopping board
- Sharp knife
- Pyrex dishe(s) to assemble the dish in
Step 3: The Red Stuff - the Meat and Tomato Sauce
Start by roughly chopping the onions, heat your large saucepan and start the onions cooking. As they start to brown move them to the side of the pan and put the block of beef mince onto the hot pan, allow it to sear - to enrich the flavour. Turn the block over and sear the other side .. if it falls apart you've got really good low-fat mince - Don't Panic, just keep turning the bits! If not, don't worry, just break it up.. Brown off the mince, stirring it well. Add the pork and stir in the frozen peppers. The pork adds moisture and bulks up the beef.
Add two beef stock cubes and stir in well...allow to cook for a couple of minutes.
So, now the beef is all nice and beefy, we are going to make it juicy and even more tasty. Add a can of tomato and 1/2 teaspoon of dried basil. Stir it into the beef. You can add a second can of tomatoes depending on how thick you like your sauce.
Now put it on the back burner (literally!!!) and allow to simmer for at least 30 minutes on low, this makes the mince tender and juicy.
Step 4: the White Stuff
Now we need to make a well-flavoured white sauce. Start by putting about 20ml (about one and a half tablespoons) cooking oil and 50g (2oz) of butter/spread in to the saucepan and heating it until the butter melts. I use the oil to help reduce the amount of fat in my diet...and butter substitute spread, however some spreads are so low in fat that they melt and evaporate as they are mainly whipped water! So if you use a spread, make sure it is suitable for cooking.
Then stir in about 60g (4 table spoons or 4 oz) of flour. Turn off/take off the heat (if your cooker uses elements they will retain the heat so you'll need to take your pan off the heat, induction cookers have a very low thermal mass so I can simply hit the off logo printed on the glass). Mix well to coat all the flour with the fat. Then add about 1/4 pint milk and stir well. Then beat well to remove all the lumps.
Now add about a further 1/2 pint of milk and beat well again to ensure are still no lumps. The add 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt (or 1/4 teaspoon garlic granules and a good pinch of salt) and a good crunch of black pepper. If you have dried rosemary you can add a 1/4 teaspoon... but not fresh as its so strongly flavoured when fresh that it tends to drown out all the other flavours!
Bring slowly to the boil, stirring all the time. Add more milk if it goes really thick...its a sauce not a pudding, you want to be spreading it with a spoon, not cutting it with a knife!
If you want you can add some cheese and melt it in.
Now turn on your oven... 200C (400F)
Taken on its own, the above is a simple recipe for a white sauce .. you could use it and add parsley to go with fish, or add extra butter and parsley and use it in a fish pie.... or add curry powder and cook for 1/2 hour to go on chips (fries)??? Anyhow, back to the lasagne recipe...
Step 5: Assembly
As I said earlier, I'm making a big family sized dish and a smaller one to go in the freezer for my son to have while we are away.
Pyrex dishes do not have square corners, they always have a radius due to the manufacturing process. So, snip off on corner of each lasagne sheet to make it fit more snugly in your dish. For the smaller dish I radiussed both ends of two sheets so they would fit across the dish.
Now to assemble the dish ... ladle a thin layer of meat sauce into the bottom of the dish(es). Then add a thin layer of white sauce. Then cover with a layer of the pasta sheets, it doesn't matter if they overlap. I find I have to work fairly quickly at this point as the moisture in the sauces can make the pasta curl if I don't get the second layer on quickly enough.
Add another layer of meat sauce, another of white sauce and another layer of pasta. By this time I'm out of meat and running out of white sauce, so I just top the dishes with the remained of the white sauce. Keep adding layers until you either run out of space, or food... hopefully both!
Using a cheese grater I grate breadcrumbs all over the top, then cheese, then its straight into the heated oven wich is now nice and hot.
Give it 10 minutes to start crisping the top, then turn the oven down to 180C (350F). Cook for at least 30 minutes... or until you are so hungry you can't wait any longer.
Step 6: The Eating
Well, I was going to present a photograph of the final dish, but by the time I'd photographed the small one (which I'd taken out early to avoid over-cooking so it could be finished off later) the main dish had already been served! I'll take that as a compliment... so all I can show you is the small one (sorry, it looks a little anemic as it was deliberately under-cooked) and the great platefuls of deliciousness which didn't last very long ... like I said - cook until you can't wait any longer!
As I said earlier, we like our with lots of sauce, as you can see.
I hope you enjoy reading this Instructable, and more importantly, making and eating the lasagne.