Firstly, the recipe for a decent lasagne doesn’t have to include meat. A great lasagne can please vegetarians or meat-lovers alike, as long as it’s big in size and opulent in nature. These recipes take about 30 minutes to assemble and 45 minutes (for meat-lovers) or two hours (for vegos) to cook.
Grab a long deep earthenware or Corningware dish and grease well. Lasagne should be made as if cooking for a family of six (plus leftovers). It’s an Italian thing.
Preheat oven to 220C. Brown 1kg of minced beef in a large pot. Regular or hamburger mince is perfect to use here -“ that fatty marbling in the meat adds flavour while premium meat requires oil to prevent it from sticking.
When browned, add two teaspoons of minced garlic and cook for three minutes. Reduce heat to low and add a big jar of your favourite flavour of Dolmio or Five Brothers or Paul Newman’s tomato sauce. Making meat sauce from scratch is quite continental, but jarred sauces are a cook’s best friend.
Put half a cup of half-decent red wine into the jar, shake and add to the pot. Stir in a big jar (around 400g) of tomato paste, cover and simmer on low for 20 minutes.
Next, make your white/bechamel/cheese sauce. Melt 100g (or thereabouts) of butter in a large saucepan until foamy. Add half a cup of plain flour and stir well until a paste forms. Gradually add around two to three cups of milk, a little at a time, whisking the liquid into the paste before adding more milk. When it’s almost the consistency of glue (Clag not Perkins Paste), add grated cheese (about 200g or more) to taste. Grated cheese will thicken the sauce, so add more milk if necessary to create a slippery thick sauce that just drops off the spoon.
Your meat sauce should be well cooked by now so take it off the heat. To add a rich piquancy to the sauce, add 1/4 of a cup of sour cream and stir well (off the heat).
Next, you’ll need at least one big box of large lasagne sheets. Spread a layer of meat sauce on the bottom of the big lasagne dish. Then place a layer of pasta sheets on top. Do not overlap the sheets, otherwise the pasta will have the texture of sneakers. Spread a layer of white sauce over pasta sheets, and then start the process over again with the meat sauce. Continue to add layers (to a maximum of four layers of pasta) and finish with a final (thick) layer of white sauce.
Place dish in oven and cook for 30 minutes on 220C. Reduce heat to 150C and cook for 15 minutes. Test your lasagne with a skewer -“ it should slide in easily. Remove dish from oven and stand for five to ten minutes before slicing into slabs and serving with a fresh green salad and sliced baguettes and a good wine.
Vegetarian special: Cut half a pumpkin into thick chunks, glaze with oil, sprinkle with nutmeg, salt and pepper and bake for one hour (or until tender) on 180C. When cooled, slice thinly and set aside. At the same time, slice two to three eggplants (aubergines) into 1/2 inch slices and boil in salted water for 10 minutes. Drain, place in a well-oiled shallow pan, drizzle with extra oil and good quality salt, and bake on 180C until slightly brown and tender. Slice 1kg of flat mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of finely chopped rosemary. When darkened and tender, remove from heat.
To assemble: layer eggplant in a large dish. Cover with pasta sheets and layer with white sauce. Next, add the sliced (baked) pumpkin and continue layering with pasta and white sauce. Lastly, add a layer of mushrooms, then pasta sheets, then white sauce. Cook as for meat dish, adding the grated cheese after reducing heat from 220C to 150C.