Wednesday, May 11, 2011

L'ultimo Lasagna

Some recipes you treasure. Hidden away from prying eyes, these recipes aren't in the roll a dex. Whether it be handed down through the family or one which you have carefully cultivated over years and years of attempts, these recipes are always a bit closer to your heart.

This is one of those recipes for me. When my Mum first got me into cooking it was a Lasanga that she showed me how to make.  Ask a person to name 3 Italian dishes and no doubt Lasagna would be one of them.  Along with Spaghetti Bolognese and Pizza these three dishes have spread the world over and become synonymous with Italian Cuisine.  From the student who every other night calls dinner some canned good upon toast to the 30-something foodie who owns 17 types of Oil, every palette can recognize the taste and every cook will have tried to replicate their own version.

Commonly thought of as the bolognese it is the rich tomato and meat stew actually know as a ragu which forms the base of two of these champions of Italian cuisine.  The sauce gets it's western name from the region of Italy of which it is a specialty, Bologna.

Like an Italian woman a good Ragu gets better with age.  Slow cooking the sauce allows the rich aspects of the dish to come together and will result in a deep flavor that will leave a lovely linger on your tatstebuds and have you crying out for crusty garlic bread and a good chianti

The recipe below has reached it's crescendo.  Altered throughout the years with the addition of this and the subtraction of that it is now at that point where I am happy to pass this down to the next generation as Ant's famous Lasagna.  Should 2012 come true this will be the last supper.

So here it is.  In all it's glory.  L'ultimo Lasagna P.S.  It's a long ingredient list but you'll find you probably have most of the ingredients in the pantry.  It's time consuming.  But it's worth it.

L'Ultimo Lasagna

One BIG pot of slow cooked Ragu.
Serves 6
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cooking time 2.5-4.5 hours


1 250g ball Mozarella sliced as thin as you can or replace with grated mozarella for a cheaper option
12 dried Lasange sheets.

1/2 Onion, skin removed.
1 Bay leaf
1 Sprig Rosemary
6 Peppercorns, lightly crushed
2 cloves garlic, crushed
750ml Milk
50g Butter
3 Tbsp Flour
100g Parmesan Cheese, grated

500g Beef Mince
250g Pork Mince
150g Streaky Bacon, chopped.
2 x 400g cans Chopped Tomatoes (the more Italian the better)
1 tube Tomato Paste (the more Italian the better)
400ml Beef Stock
750ml wine (minus chef's quota)
1 Carrot, Finely Chopped
1 1/2 Onions, Finely Chopped
2 Stalks Celery, Finely Chopped
3 cloves Garlic, Finely Chopped.
1 tsp Sugar
1 Tbsp Worchestshire Sauce
2 Bay Leaves
A few sprigs Thyme
2 Tbsp Dried Oregano.

The Pasta Sauce
  • Heat 2 Tbsp Olive Oil in your largest saucepan on a medium heat
  • Add the bacon and cook for 5 minutes until crisp. 
  • Turn the heat down a bit then add the onion, celery and carrot and sweat gently for a further 10 minutes.

This trio of vegetables is known in French cookery as a Mire Poix and is the start to many savory sauces.  In Italian cooking it is known as the Soffritto.  In Creole cuisine it is called the Holy Trinity.  Bow down to it's savory goodness.
  • Add the garlic and cook for a further 1 minute.
  • Turn the heat up high and add the pork and beef mince.  Break the mince apart with the back of a wooden spoon and brown the mince until all the liqiuid it produces is absorbed.  This will take about 10 minutes.
  • Add ONE WHOLE BOTTLE OF WINE.  Yes, that's right.  A whole bottle.  

    This helps to give the pasta sauce a richness.  If you can't bring yourself to do it then you can add less (400ml if you must).  When choosing the wine go for something quite strong like a shiraz or a cab sav.  There is no need to buy an expensive bottle but don't buy something that you wouldn't drink and was found on special, hidden in the back of a liqour store.

    • Allow the wine to reduce by three quarters.  About 20-30 minutes.
    • Add the remaining ingredients.  Give a good stir and leave to simmer on a very low heat for as long as possible, but anywhere between 2-4 hours, stirring occasionally.  If the mixture gets too dry add more stock.
    • Season with plenty of salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper.
    • Allow the mixture to cool for 20 minutes before compiling the lasagna.
    Once your pasta sauce is bubbling away you can turn your attention to your bechamel.

    The Bechamel Sauce

    One of my favorite things I learned in my Lasagna years was the flavoring of the milk for the bechamel sauce.  It turns an ordinary cheese sauce into something much more interesting, with a fantastic savory characteristic that goes so well with the rich pasta sauce.
    • Rinse a medium sized saucepan under water.  Without drying it add the 750ml milk.  This will help prevent the milk from burning to the pan.
    • Add the onion, bay leaf, peppercorns, rosemary and garlic to the milk.
    • Place the milk on a low heat, warming it gently, stirring every now and then until just before it boils.  Take off the heat, place a lid on the saucepan and then leave to infuse until your pasta sauce is off the heat.
    Once the pasta sauce is cooling you can start to put together the bechamel.
    • Gently reheat the milk.
    • Strain the milk into a pouring jug. 
    • In a separate saucepan add the butter and melt on a low heat. 
    • Once melted add the flour.  Stir to mix.  Let it bubble away for 1 minute, stirring occasionally. 
    • Add about 1/4 cup of milk and Combine well.  When all the milk has been absorbed, add a little more.
    • Continue to do this until all the milk has been added, whisking continually. 
    The art to a smooth bechamel is all in how you add the milk, ensuring you use as much elbow grease as you can muster to ensure that the milk is fully incorporated, with the mix resembles a smooth paste, before adding any more. 
    • Continue cooking for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon.
    • Take off the heat add the parmesan  cheese.  Mix until it is melted.
    • Season with salt and pepper.

    Putting it all together 
    • Cook Pasta sheets as per packet insturctions. Drain.
    • Make a layer of pasta sheets in the bottom of a greased 20x28cm oven proof dish. 
    • Add 1/3 of the ragu then 1/4 of the bechamel.  Top with 1/3 of the Mozzarella Repeat twice. 
    • For the top layer lay out the pasta sheets then cover with the remaining bechamel.  Sprinkle a little extra grated cheese on top.
    • Cook for 30-40 minutes until the top layer is golden.
    • Allow it to rest for 10-15 minutes when out of the oven to help the layers stay together when cutting.
    Served with a light salad.  You can't get better!

      No comments:

      Post a Comment