Category Archives: Anchovy

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: 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: Caesar Salad Dressing

a jar of Caesar salad dressing
a jar of Ceasar salad dressing

Ingredients;

3/4 cup low fat mayonnaise
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
2/3 cup of milk
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 level teaspoon smooth French mustard
1 anchovy fillet, minced

Makes approx 300ml

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Caesar salad dressing has gotten a bad reputation in the last few years as being extremely fattening. In truth it is quite fattening but part of the reason that it has earned this reputation is actually nothing to do with the dressing itself and more to do with fast food chains and the eaters’ own lack of self control, or more precisely, lack of portion control.

So in order to restore the balance a bit and also because it’s something I like, I recently went about looking into some recipes so I could make it at home and not buy the bottled ones with god only knows what in them.

The result of roughly 6 hours of research is this recipe, there are elements of a lot of different recipes that I found online in this and one of these days I may even decide to make my own mayonnaise to remove that unknown from the recipe, in the meantime I’ll stick with a low fat mayonnaise. Oh, and if you think that makes a difference to the taste by all means use full fat but I don’t find it lacking in anyway as it is 😉

So onto the preparation, this really is easy to make, but there are a few little tips I’ll give you to make the result even better.

As with most recipes the better the quality of the ingredients, the better the result, but even more so when it comes to salads and dressings. If you can get your hands on a more mature Parmesan cheese, do so. A good 24 or 36 month old will make a world of difference.

For the garlic, I use a garlic press and then chop the pressed garlic as finely as possible, there is nothing worse than the look on a guest’s face if they get a lump of fresh garlic in their salad. It’s only momentary but best avoided!

The anchovy can be equally as strong as the garlic, so I’ll go back and forth across it with a knife until it’s all stuck to the blade then scrape it off and repeat at least two or three times. The rest of the recipe is so quick it’s worth spending at least five minutes on both the garlic and anchovy to avoid “the face”!

Now once you have all the ingredients prepared, just mix everything (except the milk) together well then add the milk slowly until you get the consistency you prefer.

Pour this into a sterilised glass jar or bottle and store it in your fridge until you’re ready to use it. It should keep in the fridge for 2 weeks, just remember to shake the jar well before using it.

Recipe: Italian Tomato Sauce

Italian Tomato Sauce
Italian Tomato Sauce

Ingredients;

1 anchovy fillet
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 large handful of basil, stalks and leaves separated and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons of dried oregano
4 x 400g of tinned plum tomatoes
extra virgin olive oil
salt
pepper
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar

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Chop the garlic as finely as possibly, remove the leaves from the basil and roughly tear them up, take the green part of the Basil stalks and chop them up reasonably fine. Open the tins of plum tomatoes.

Heat a large saucepan and pour in roughly 2 tablespoons of oil, once this has heated add the anchovy and garlic, you want to stir fry these gently till the garlic starts to colour slightly and the anchovy starts to break up.

Next add the plum tomatoes, oregano, about half the basil leaves, all the chopped basil stalks and stir gently being careful not to break the tomatoes if at all possible. Put a lid on the saucepan and bring to a gentle boil and simmer for at least an hour stirring occasionally. I have let this sauce simmer gently for anything up to 3 hours depending on how much time I have on my hands, this makes the sauce a bit thicker and the flavours stronger.

At this point you can start to break up the tomatoes with a spoon or alternatively use a hand blender to blend it into a nice thick sauce.

Next add the remaining basil and taste the sauce. Then season with salt and pepper to taste, add a tablespoon of red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and stir them in well.

I’ve found from experience that the better the plum tomatoes the thicker the sauce, however if you find that your sauce is not as thick as you like it, simply simmer it for longer the next time you try.

Recipe: Basil and Tomato Soup

Great on a cold winters day

Ingredients;

1 anchovy
1 clove of garlic – very finely sliced
1 small onion – finely diced
1 large carrot chopped roughly
2 sticks of c
elery chopped roughly
500g of ripe tomatoes – cores removed and chopped roughly
3 large handfuls of fresh basil – leaves ripped up roughly, stalks kept and chopped finely
400g tin of plum tomatoes
1L chicken stock
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

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In a large saucepan, gently fry the anchovy and garlic until the anchovy breaks up and starts to vanish. Do not let the garlic burn, but a little bit of browning is okay.

Add the carrot, onion and celery and fry gently till soft – about 10-15 mins.

Add the fresh tomatoes and let them stew for about 5 mins while stirring slowly.

Next add the tinned tomatoes and stir.

Add the chicken stock – enough to cover the mix and bring to the boil, then simmer for 20 mins, stirring at 5 minute intervals.

Take this opportunity to tidy up, trust me it’s easier than having a messy kitchen to clean and tidy later!

Finally, add the basil leaves and chopped stalks and continue to simmer for another 10-15 minutes.

At this point, allow it to cool for a few minutes and season well with salt and pepper.

Now, it can get messy if you’re not careful, grab a ladle and push it down into the soup gently so you fill it with liquid, but try not to get any of the solids in it, using this method remove (and keep) as much of the liquid as possible, this will allow you to control the ‘thickness’ of your soup in the next step.

Next pour the remaining ‘soup’ into a blender, avoid an enormous mess akin to a Freddy Krueger slashfest by NOT over filling the blender and also placing your hand on top of the blender when starting it. Blend it until it’s smooth and creamy looking and pour into a saucepan, keep doing this until all the soup has been blended and you should have a bowl of really, really thick soup. Now start stirring this and adding back in the liquid that you removed until you get the ‘thickness’ you want and you’re done. If you add all the liquid back and your soup is still too thick use some more stock to thin it a little more.

Simply heat the soup and garnish with a drizzle of olive oil or cream, a small sprig of basil and serve with some chunky ultra fresh bread or Crostini with pesto.