Category Archives: 2 hours +

Recipe: The best baked lasagna

lasagna is a typical Italian dish, it has many variations even in the same regions there can be big differences. I’ve developed my own over the years as I like the northern style with plenty of Béchamel sauce while also liking the simple tomato based meat sauces of the southern regions. This recipe combines the best of both and one or two other influences as well.

While it’s very common to see lasagna not many people realise just how much goes into it, you cook up a meat sauce, then you make the Béchamel sauce and finally you layer it all together and bake it. A 3 part process that can be a little time-consuming but is well worth the effort.

Oh and before anyone says it, I know, a Béchamel sauce with cheese added is a Mornay sauce so this is not a traditional lasagna at all really.

I use a lasagna tray for making this (approx. 32cm x 26cm x 8cm), if you don’t have one of similar size you could use a number of smaller ones, just be aware of the depth, you’ll be surprised how much the layers add up to.


The best baked lasagna
The best baked lasagna

Ingredients;


Meat Sauce
1 x Anchovy fillet
6 x slices of pancetta or bacon, chopped
1 x large sprig of rosemary, picked and finely chopped
2 x bay leaves
1 x large red onion, diced
2 x sticks of celery, diced
1 x carrot, diced
2 x cloves of garlic, crushed
500g Beef mince
500g Pork mince
250ml Red wine
3 x 400g tins of tomatoes, chopped (plus one tin of water)
Salt
Pepper
1 x Star Anise

Béchamel (Mornay) sauce
100g flour
100g butter
1L milk
1/2 onion
6 x cloves
75g x parmesan
3 x mozzarella balls, diced

400g of lasagna sheets
Freshly grated Nutmeg

 

Serves 12 – 15 portions


The meat Sauce

Begin by heating a large saucepan over a medium heat, once it’s up to temperature add a little extra virgin olive oil, then the anchovy and pancetta/bacon, fry them for about a minute and add the onion, celery, carrot, garlic, rosemary and bay leaves. Cook these together gently for about 20 minutes.

Next you want to add your meat, making sure to break it up as much as possible as you’re adding it and keep it moving over a high heat until it browns, then add the wine and simmer for a minute before adding the 3 tins of chopped tomatoes and a tin of water.

Finally add a single star anise, bring the lot to a boil and simmer for 1 hour. Then taste and season before removing the bay leaves and star anise as they can have a very unpleasant texture and it’s only their flavour we’re after anyway.

While the meat sauce is simmering get on with the Béchamel sauce.

Béchamel (Mornay) sauce

Take the half onion and skewer it with the cloves, now place this in a saucepan along with the milk and warm it but do not let it boil.

In another slightly larger saucepan, start melting the butter but do not let it burn, keep the heat as low as possible. Once melted add the flour and quickly stir it in until you have a sandy paste like substance. Now using a wooden spoon or plastic whisk start to slowly add the warmed milk, (but not the onion and cloves) mixing it in as you go, the slower you can add the milk the less likely you are to end up with a lumpy sauce so take your time.

Once all the milk has been added you need to “cook out” the flour, this is done by continuing to bring the sauce slowly up to temperature, stirring regularly and tasting. This can take as little as 10 minutes or as long as an hour. When you taste it, if you can still taste flour then keep going and taste again in another few minutes. Once you’ve “cooked out” the flour you have a Béchamel sauce and this can be used with many dishes or subtly changed by adding things like chopped parsley or dill to create other sauces.

But what we want to do is make a Mornay sauce so we add in about half the diced mozzarella and most of the parmesan cheese, hold back enough to cover the top of the final dish. Stir the sauce until the cheese melts and combines completely with the sauce, if it’s too thick use a little milk to thin it, but don’t go crazy we want it a little thick so it will sit on top of the meat layer rather than combining with it.

Final assembly and baking

Take some kitchen paper dipped in extra virgin olive oil and oil up your lasagna dish. If you have a non stick dish, I prefer to start with a pasta layer as it makes the lasagna a little easier to serve. next you want to add a layer of meat sauce followed by a layer of the Béchamel/Mornay sauce. Then sprinkle at little less than a third of the remaining mozzarella over the Béchamel, sprinkle a little grated nutmeg and repeat the Pasta, meat sauce, Béchamel, mozzarella and nutmeg, layers twice more using all the remaining mozzarella on the top, also sprinkle the top with the remaining parmesan.

Bake for 30 – 40 minutes at 180C until the top is golden and bubbling. You can serve this immediately although it’s best to let it cool a little first as the portions will stay together better.

This also freezes very well just wait for the lasagna to cool completely and portion into freezer suitable bags or boxes. Then when you just have to defrost them and reheat when you want Lasagne.

Recipe: Roast Rib of Beef and Roast Gravy

Sliced Roast Beef with roast gravy
Sliced Roast Beef with roast gravy

Ingredients;

Rib of beef
3 carrots
2 sticks of celery
1 leek
1 onion
2 sticks of rosemary picked and finely chopped
Salt
Oil
Beef Stock


Season the joint with salt, then peel and roughly chop the veg and place in the bottom of the roasting tray to act as a trivet. Drizzle some good quality olive oil over the joint, sprinkle the chopped rosemary over the meat and place in a preheated oven at 230C – 250C.

Baste the joint frequently with the juices and fat that run out of the meat. Reduce the heat to 200C once the meat has sealed. The total roasting time is 15 minutes per 500g plus 15 minutes, or until the juices run clear.

Once removed from the oven the joint should be rested for 15 minutes before carving.

While the meat is resting, remove the fat and oil from the roasting tray, this is best done by lifting one corner of the tray carefully so the liquid runs to the opposite corner, then simply spoon off the clear liquid. Next get the roasting tray over a high heat and use a wooden spoon to gently work any bits that are stuck to the tray loose, at this point it’s a good idea to add a generous measure of red wine or (my personal preference) port to help “de-glaze” the tray.

Once all the pieces have been worked loose, think about how much gravy you want when finished and add roughly twice that amount of hot beef stock to the roasting tray, bring it to the boil and remove from the heat.

Now strain this through a sieve into a clean saucepan and bring to a boil. Allow the liquid to reduce by half and it should thicken just enough to give a really rich gravy, if it thickens too much just stir in a little stock to thin it down again.

Recipe: Moroccan Lamb Stew

It’s National Gut week in the UK this week (23rd – 29th August). It’s an annual campaign that aims to help people understand the importance of good digestive health by providing free information and advice on how to achieve a healthy gut. Which seems like a good idea that we don’t have an equivalent to here in Ireland :(

Still at least we can read the UK website and documentation to get ourselves up to speed :)

Antony Worrall Thompson is one of the Ambassadors for the Campaign and has devised a number of recipes for those suffering from IBS, looking to watch their weight or who simply want to look after their inner health. The recipe that follows is one that he has kindly provided to help promote the cause. You can find out more about Gut Week here and I recommend having a read over this document for some quick tips to a healthier gut.


Moroccan Lamb Stew
Moroccan Lamb Stew

Ingredients;

450g lean leg of lamb, cut into 2.5cm cubes
11/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 large onion, roughly diced
4 garlic cloves, crushed
4 tomatoes, skinned and diced
1 tablespoon harissa or hot pepper paste
400g tin of chickpeas in water, drained and rinsed
350g trimmed and peeled pumpkin, cut into 2.5cm cubes
1 pickled lemon, finely diced
2 tablespoons chopped mint
1 tablespoon chopped coriander

Serves 4


Coat the lamb in the black pepper.

Heat the oil in a large non-stick saucepan, add the lamb and cook until it has browned all over. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is soft and is slightly brown, adding a splash of water if necessary to prevent sticking.

Add the tomatoes, harissa and 425ml water. Bring to a simmer,cover and cook over a medium heat for 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 hours, topping up with water as necessary, until the lamb is almost tender.

Add the chickpeas and pumpkin and cook for a further 15 minutes or until the pumpkin is tender. Add the lemon, mint and coriander. Serve immediately.

Recipe: Strawberry Ice Cream

Strawberry Ice Cream
Strawberry Ice Cream

Ingredients;

5 large eggs
600g fresh ripe strawberries
Juice of half a freshly squeezed lemon (about a tablespoon)
100g sugar
200ml milk
200ml double cream


The restaurant that inspired me to start making my own pizzas (Da Michele, Stezzano, Italy) also makes their own ice cream and while I’m a sucker for their vanilla (it really is divine) Elly and Anto were completely taken with the strawberry when we visited last September. I waited until strawberry season began this year to start perfecting my own strawberry recipe and I’m really happy with this one.

The most important thing with this recipe is to use the freshest strawberries you can get your hands on, it really makes a difference to the overall flavour. They should be sweet but still have that tart bite.

So once you have strawberries, give them a rinse under running water and remove the cores. Next, purée them in a blender, until smooth and pass it through a sieve to remove the seeds, you may need to do that last step twice to remove all the seeds.

Place the strawberry purée in a pan along with the lemon juice and heat the mixture gently, as the purée warms up it will begin to give off a strong strawberry smell, just before the mixture comes to the boil remove it from the heat and put it to one side to cool.

Next separate the egg yolks. The egg whites are not needed for this recipe so you can put them to one side to be used later for and egg white omelettes or meringues. Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until they turn a pale yellow and have a smooth consistency.

Next bring the milk to a gentle simmer and remove from the heat. While whisking the egg mixture add the warmed milk in a slow trickle – if you add it too fast there is a chance you could scramble the eggs, which is no good for making ice cream.

Now place the egg yolk mixture over a low heat and while stirring continuously, allow this to thicken into a custard. You’ll know when it’s ready when it coats the back of a spoon easily and does not just flow off. Be careful to keep the egg mixture below 76C as the eggs will scramble at that temperature. Once you are happy that the custard has thickened, remove it from the heat, mix in the strawberry purée and place in a sealed container in your fridge and allow it to cool down as much as possible (5C or less).

While you’re waiting for the custard to cool down whip the cream to soft peaks. Once the custard has cooled completely, gently fold the cream into the custard and either follow your ice cream machines instructions to freeze it or place in a sealed container in your freezer until frozen, remembering to stir it every ten to fifteen minutes to break up the ice crystals.

Once the ice cream has frozen you’re ready to serve, be aware that this is a strongly flavoured ice cream, while sweet it also has that fantastic tart bite that just makes a strawberry, it goes great with most sweet pies and if you’re a real strawberry lover is fantastic on it’s own.

Recipe: Ragu Giorgio (aka the best spag bol)

Ragu
Ragu

Ingredients;

Extra virgin olive oil
3 x carrot, halved lengthways and chopped
3 x celery sticks, halved lengthways and chopped
3 x onions, finely diced
3 x garlic cloves, finely sliced
1 x anchovy
5 large tomatoes
50g sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped or blitzed in a blender
150g tomato puree
2 x large handfuls of fresh basil, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Pinch of ground cumin
500g lean mince beef
2 x bay leaves
500ml water
250ml wine
300ml Italian tomato sauce


Once you have completed all the preparation, get a large saucepan, pour in a generous lug of olive oil and get it onto a high heat until the oil just starts to smoke. Add the anchovy and fry this hard until it starts to break up and disappear. At this point add your carrots and bring the heat down to a medium heat.

Fry these for about 5 minutes, then add the onion and celery and reduce the heat to a low heat and continue to fry this until the onions begin to caramelise (usually twenty to twenty five minutes) stirring occasionally.

While this is happening you need to skin, quarter, core and de-seed the tomatoes. To skin them you will need a pan of boiling water and a bowl of ice cold water. First score an X on to the bottom of each tomato, with the water boiling hard, carefully pop the tomatoes in for about 1 minute, then remove with a slotted spoon and place them in the bowl of ice water to stop them cooking and make them easier to handle. Now you should be able to remove the skin by simply tearing from where you made the X. Next quarter the tomatoes and using a teaspoon remove the core and seeds in one go, you only want the flesh of the tomato. Remember to keep an eye on the main saucepan while you are doing this.

If the onions are starting to caramelise by now, simply remove the pan from the heat. Begin to fry the mince, with a pinch of cumin powder, in a large frying pan over a high heat. You want to brown the meat as quickly as possible, making sure that you brown all the meat.

Depending on the quality of the mince you may find that it releases some water once you start to fry it, if this happens keep the heat as high as you can and keep turning and moving the mince until all the water boils off. This can take a bit of time so don’t forget about the other pan, and remove it from the heat if the onions start to caramelise before the meat is done. You want to keep frying the mince until it is completely dry looking and starts to stick to your frying pan.

At this point your onions should have started to caramelise and you may have removed them from the heat, if you have, get them back onto a low heat for about a minute then add the meat. If the onions haven’t started to caramelise then turn the heat down on the meat and give it an occasional stir until the onions start to caramelise and then add the meat and stir the lot together.

By now there may well be some mince and fat stuck to your frying pan, this is great because that’s pure flavour. Add a good splash of your wine to the frying pan and using a wooden spoon or spatula gently stir and scrape those little bits off the pan, the heat and wine should make this very easy and in less than a minute all that flavour should have combined with the wine which you can now pour into the saucepan.

With regards to the wine: The conventional wisdom is to use red wine. If you have some available great, however the day I came up with this recipe, I looked at our collection of unfinished bottles and there were no reds, as I didn’t want to open a bottle of red just for this, I picked up a bottle of white wine, a Sauternes (very sweet wine) that had been open too long and had started to vinegar a little. A quick bit of measuring and in it went.

Now if my mum was still alive I would have gotten an earful, not only letting such a good wine start to vinegar but also for using it for cooking, that is until she tasted the end result, this gave the whole dish a different flavour than if I had used a red wine and exaggerated the caramelised flavour of the veg in a way that’s hard to describe.

Next you will need to add all the tomatoes, tomato purée, the blitzed sun-dried tomatoes, Italian tomato sauce, oregano, the rest of the wine, basil, bay leaves and stir gently.

Now bring this up to a medium heat and start to add the water, while stirring continuously. You want to add enough water so that the sauce is slightly thinner than you want the end result to be. In my case this turned out to be 500ml almost exactly but depending on the water contents of your ingredients you may require less or more. Once you’re happy with the consistency bring it to a very gentle simmer and cover the pot.

You want to simmer this for at least an hour stirring it occasionally. After an hour give it a good stir, if it’s still a little thinner than you like leave the lid off and let it simmer for a few more minutes and it should thicken up. I’ve had this Ragu simmering for up to 3 hours on occasion and if anything it just improves the flavours.

Finally, taste it and season it with salt and pepper if required and stir in 2 tablespoons of the best extra virgin olive oil you can find.

I like to serve this with fresh Tagliatelle and some Parmesan cheese, grated fresh over the top at the table.

Thankfully this recipe freezes really well and is ideal for freezing in bags as described here, 150ml is a serving so we tend to freeze it in bags of 300ml for the two of us. Alternatively, we’ve found the leftovers make great pizza. just spread some on your pizza base, add some cheese over the top (crumbled Mozzarella if you want to be really decadent) and cook as usual.