Friday, 5 September 2008

it feels like autumn lasagne

Kelsie was away shooting a music video of our favourtie band Marshan last Saturday. It was, as usual, grey and wet. I thought it would be nice for her to come home to a big plateful of lasagne.

When Kels was in her twenties she went across to New York to be a nanny for a couple on Long Island. The mother was Italian-American and it was at her family gatherings that Kels first got introduced to real Italian-American cooking. She described the first Christmas Eve meal there and the table that was groaning with food. Kels says that the grandmother's lasagne was probably the best thing she's ever tasted. I can only imagine.

Actually here's what i imagine. I imagine the ragu probably cooked for at least 3 days before even being assembled into a lasagne, and that the meat was probably not your standard beef mince that you get at a grocery store. I imagine really good sausage was added as well and that some kind of magic happened over the course of slowly ticking over those 3 days of cooking. Who knows? Kels never got the recipe and so I guess i have figure out the secret of the grandmother's lasagne all by myself.

So the ragu i made last Saturday did NOT tick over for 3 days. I made the ragu early in the afternoon and estimate it was probably cooking for about 4 hours on the stove before being assembled.

I used a recipe from the BBC recipes site which can be found here. And I've recreated it below:

Lasagne by Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi from Return to Tuscany

Serves 6-8

For the ragu:
4 tbsp olive oil
4 celery sticks, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 sprig rosemary
700g/1lb 9oz beef mince
340g/12oz pork mince
1 bottle red wine (750ml/26½fl oz)
2 x 400g tins tomatoes, roughly chopped
200ml/7fl oz beef stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the bechamel sauce:
1 litre/1¾ pints whole milk
2 bay leaves
¼ onion
pinch of nutmeg
50g/2oz butter
50g/2oz plain flour

For the lasagne:
14 slices of fresh pasta
3 balls mozzarella, cut into small cubes
small handful grated parmesan
freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp butter

  1. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and sauté the celery, carrots and onion for approximately 15 minutes. Add the garlic and rosemary.

  2. Add the beef and pork mince and cook until the liquid from the meat has been absorbed.

  3. Pour in approximately 400ml/14fl oz of red wine and stir well. Cook for approximately 45 minutes. (NOTE: I used a whole bottle)

  4. Once the wine has evaporated, add the tomatoes and stock. Leave the mixture uncovered to cook slowly for two hours. Top up with more warm stock if necessary. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. (NOTE: I cooked it for an extra hour and definitely added more beef stock.)

  5. To make the bechamel sauce, place the milk in a large non-stick saucepan, add the bay leaves, onion and nutmeg and gently bring to the boil.

  6. In a separate saucepan melt the butter and add the flour. Beat well and cook for two minutes. Remove the milk from the heat and add a little to the flour mixture. Combine well, and when all the milk has been absorbed, add a little more. Continue to do this until all the milk has been added, whisking continually.

  7. Blanch the pasta in salted boiling water for three minutes. Put the bechamel sauce at the bottom of a lasagne dish in a layer, then place some of the pasta strips over the top. Follow this with some of the mozzarella and parmesan, and sprinkle over freshly ground black pepper. Follow with a layer of ragu. Repeat this step twice until all the ingredients have been used up. Dot knobs of butter over the surface and cook in the oven for 30 minutes. Serve.

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