An Italian Classic and a firm family favourite.

Growing up Lasagne was always one of my favourites, always first to finish and always seconds.  I often would have it if we went out for a meal.  They were good, but not as good as my mum's.  The main difference was that it was a much stiffer bake with only the cheese sauce on the top and not through the lasagne itself. I much prefer my lasagne to be wetter and with more cheese sauce.  To be honest this was really strange as I didn't like cheese sauce, wouldn't eat mac & cheese or cauliflower cheese back then, but loved the combination of the cheese sauce and the bolognese with the silky layers of pasta.  One thing that my mum always did was to pre cook the pasta sheets as well, I used to do that, but have since stopped as I certainly don't have and haven't for some time, got the time to faff with all that malarky.  Pasta nowadays doesn't need pre cooking anyway, when we go back the 40 years to my first memories of lasagne, I'm sure it was different then.

Over yhe years I've made all sorts of different lasagnes, chicken and cherry tomato, seafood, lamb mince, roasted vegetable, posh open lasagnes which on reflection look nothing like a lasagne at all and were as closely related to the traditional al forno version as a horse is to goat!!  But when you are a chef, you dabble with what is on trend and what seems to be the current thing to do at that time.  Now that I am older and wiser, well definitely older, the only two lasagnes that I tend to make are a traditional beef one and a roasted vegetable one.  All the previous incarnations can be made into different dishes, but nut lasagne for me anymore.

Below is my recipe for a classic beef lasagne, but you'll see that I have broken it down into stages so that this one recipe becomes more flexible and can be used for many more dishes.  There is a base tomato sauce, a bolognese, the cheese sauce and of course the finished lasagne. 

You can easily make this into a vegetarian version by substituting the beef mince for roasted vegetables.  A summer version could include the likes of Mediterranean vegetables, squash.  Or an autumnel version with the likes of roasted carrots, onions, parsnips, swede, celeriac, leek.  You could also substitue the beef mince for Quorn mince, but I am not a big fan of meat substitues, I much prefer my vegetarian protein to come from a more natural state.

The beauty of being able to master two sauces like a tomato base and a white/cheese sauce is that there are so many uses for them in so many different styles of cooking, not limited to Italian or pasta dishes.

 

Beef Lasagne 

Makes 1 large dish, serves 8-10 or make 2 smaller ones and freeze 1.

Base tomato sauce

2 tbsp olive oil

2 onions, finely chopped

2 carrots, finely chopped

2 celery sticks, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tbsp tomato puree

2 tsp dried oregano

2 x 400g/14oz cans chopped tomatoes

Method

Heat the oil in a pan and add the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper. Gently cook for 10-15 mins until the veg is tender then add the tomato puree, garlic and oregano. Stir in the tomatoes and 150ml water. Simmer very gently for 30 mins until the sauce has reduced half and is very thick. (If you have doubled or tripled the quantities, this may take up to 1 hr.)

Stir occasionally, particularly towards the end of the cooking time, so that the sauce doesn’t catch on the bottom. If you like your sauce a little thinner, add a splash of water. Serve half with pasta and chill or freeze other half in 1-2 batches for later use.

For the Lasagne

1kg of lean beef mince

Lasagne sheets

100g butter

100g plain flour

750ml milk

300g grated cheese of choice, Red Leicester and Mature Cheddar were used in this recipe.

18 lasagne sheets

Method

For the Cheese sauce

Melt the butter in a pan.

Add the butter and stir in to make a paste.  Cook for a couple of minutes on a low heat to cook out the flour.

Add the milk a little at a time to, whisking at each stage to remove lumps and ensure a smooth paste then sauce is made.

Check seasoning and add a little salt and pepper.

Add 200g of the grated cheese to the sauce, constantly stirring or whisking in until it is melted well into it.

To complete the Bolognese you will need to add the mince to the base sauce to make a classic style ragu.  This can be done in two ways.  It can be added to the finished sauce once it has been sealed off or add it to the veg once it has been sweated off and the finish with the tomatoes.

This is dependent on whether you already have the tomato sauce made or are making the whole thing from scratch.  You could also cheat 1 stage further and buy a shop bought ready to use tomato pasta sauce.

You are now ready to build the lasagne.  First put some of the Bolognese sauce in the dish, then a little of the cheese sauce, then lasagne sheet.  Repeat this 2 more times and then top the last layer of lasagne with the remaining cheese sauce and top with the remaining cheddar.

The base tomato sauce can be used for so many things, simple pasta pomodoro, as the base to a Bolognese as used above, as a base for a curry sauce, use the Bolognese to create a chilli con carne.  It really is so versatile and can be used in so many dishes and is so easy to make and will taste so much better than any shop bought jar of tomato sauce.

I have kept this recipe alcohol free, but you can easily add some red wine in at the stage with the tomato puree, about 1/2 a bottle for this volume of sauce.  Reduce it right down before adding the chopped tomatoes.  Also for that extra umami hit in your bolognese, add about 1/2tsp of marmite.  This will really boost the flavours of all the ingredients as the yeast extract acts as a flavour enhancer.  Even if you don't like marmite this is worth doing as you won't actually be able to taste it, but you will notice the difference.  It's a great addition to most gravys and sauces.  Yust be careful on gluten free diets as it contains gluten.

Step by step video guide to the recipe.