Category Archives: Beef

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: 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.

Recipe: The Greatest Burgers Evah!

The Greatest Burger
The Greatest Burger

Ingredients;

500g lean ground beef
1 large red onion, finely diced
2 slices of bread, made into breadcrumbs
Large handful of fresh rosemary, finely chopped
Large handful of fresh basil, finely chopped
1 tablespoon of coriander seeds
1 pinch of cumin seeds
2 tablespoons dried oregano
Salt
Pepper
1 egg
1 teaspoon of smooth French mustard
2 handfuls of grated mozzarella cheese
1 chili, finely diced

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Burgers in general are just ground beef reformed into a convenient shape to place in a burger bun, right? Even at it’s simplest a burger is so much more than that, every burger maker has their own preference for the cut of beef to be ground for their burgers or the blend of cuts and the percentage of each. Some add nothing more than seasoning and others bulk out their burgers with all sorts of synthetic “fillers” and “flavour enhancers”.

I like the idea of a pure beef burger but in truth I find all but the most exceptional to be a little bland and lacking in flavour, which is why I go down the route of using a blend of herbs and other flavours to make every bite an event.

Once you have the onion and fresh herbs chopped, place the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, a large pinch of salt and pepper and the oregano in your mortar and pestle and grind them up as finely as possible. Then add this to the blender along with the fresh herbs and the bread and blend until you have nice fine herby breadcrumbs.

In a large bowl, add all the ingredients and mix them together well – get your hands in and mix everything together really well, yes even the cheese.

Next place a large sheet of clingfilm onto a clean surface and arrange the mixture on top so that you can roll it into a six to eight centimetre thick sausage and seal it in the clingfilm, making sure to have this sausage compacted into this size as much as possible. Now place this in the fridge and allow it to cool for at least an hour.

Now remove the burger-sausage from the fridge and (without removing the clingfilm) slice it into burgers about one and a half centimetres thick using a very sharp knife. Once all have been sliced it should be easy enough to remove the pieces of clingfilm.

These can then be cooked on a grill, in the frying pan, or my personal favourite, grilled over a charcoal burning barbecue for approximately 2 minutes each side. I like them served in a toasted bun on a bed of lettuce and sliced cornichon with a generous helping of grated cheddar melted over the burger, topped with some hot fresh caramelised onion chutney and a blob of ketchup.

Recipe: Italian Meatballs

Italian Meatballs hot from the oven
Italian Meatballs hot from the oven

Ingredients;

1Kg lean beef minced
2 slices of lightly toasted bread
2 tablespoons of dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon of cumin seeds, ground
1 Chile pepper, finely diced
1 handful of fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 handful of fredh basil, finely chopped
1 egg yolk
1 large onion, finely dliced
1 teaspoon of french mustard

Serves 8

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Lightly toast the 2 slices of bread and whizz them in a blender to make breadcrumbs.

Next finely dice the onion, and fry it gently with a teaspoon of french mustard until soft, then let them cool, while you finely chop the chile, Rosemary and Basil.

Next put your meat into a large bowl and add the chile, rosemary, basil, oregano, cumin, egg yolk, the (now cooled) onion and the breadcrumbs and mix it all together, just get your hands into it and scrunch it all together.

Wet your hands and take some of the mixture and roll it into a ball about the size of a golfball and set it onto a sheet of greaseproof paper and repeat until you have used all the mixture.

Next get a frying pan onto a medium heat, add a little olive oil and fry the meatballs gently, rolling them round the pan so they cook (and colour) all the way round.

At this point you can either bag and freeze the meatballs in portions for use later or you can follow one of these 2 options.

I’m in a hurry

Once your meatballs are cooked, turn the heat right down and pour some Italian tomato sauce over them in the pan. Allow this to heat up while cooking up some pasta. Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and gently stir in the meatballs and sauce, then serve.

I’m not in a hurry

Heat your oven up to 200C, place your meatballs in an oven tray and cover with Tomato Sauce. Take a Mozzarella ball and either chop it into chunks or just rip it up and sprinkle this over the meatballs. Take a handful of fresh Basil leaves, rip them up and sprinkle them over the top, then grate a handful of parmesan over the lot.

Place this in the oven for about 20 minutes or until all the cheese melts and colours nicely. Then serve on a bed of fresh pasta and garnish with some fresh basil.