Category Archives: Bay leaf

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: Fish cakes with parsley sauce

Fish cakes with parsley sauce
Fish cakes with parsley sauce

Ingredients;

For the fish cakes:
450g potatoes, cooked and mashed
50g butter
1 large onion, finely diced
225g smoked trout, flaked
225g fresh cod, poached & flaked
225g fresh salmon, poached & flaked
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon chopped dill
1 tablespoon chopped chives
2 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley (divide into 2 equal halves)
Zest of 3 lemons, finely chopped (divide into one-third and two-thirds)
6 tablespoons of breadcrumbs (approx 2 slices bread)
3 tablespoons of plain flour
2 eggs, beaten
Vegetable oil

For the parsley sauce:
1 medium onion, finely diced
100g butter
75g plain flour
600ml milk
Large handful of flat leaf parsley, leaves and stalks finely chopped (keep the stalks separate)

Makes 8 fish cakes (2 per person is a very decent meal) and enough sauce to cover them. If you are going to chill / freeze some of the fish cakes, reduce the ingredients for the sauce proportionately.

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Directions on how to make speedy mashed potatoes can be found here.

To poach the fish, cover in cold water, add 1 bay leaf and bring to boil. After boiling for 5 mins, remove from heat and flake the fish, discarding the skin and the bay leaf. Remove any bones at this point and throw away.

Heat the 50g butter and sauté the onions over a medium heat for about 10 mins, so they are well cooked but do not take on colour.

In a large bowl combine the breadcrumbs, half of the chopped parsley and one-third of the lemon zest. Tip out onto a plate. On a 2nd plate, spread out your flour. Finally, on a bowl (or plate with high sides), pour out your beaten eggs.

In your empty bowl, combine the mashed potatoes, flaked fish, cooked onion, dill, chives and the remaining parsley and lemon zest. Mix well with your hands and divide into 8, forming into fish cake shapes. Dip each fish cake into the flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs, coating well and set aside. The fish cakes can be chilled or frozen at this point for later use – 24-48 hours in fridge, 1 month in freezer.

Now turn your oven on to 200 C. Begin to cook the parsley sauce while the oven heats. Melt your butter over a medium heat and add in the chopped onion and parsley stalks, frying gently for about 10 minutes until softened, but not coloured. Reduce the heat and add in the flour, stirring well. Start slowly adding in the milk, about 2-3 tablespoons at a time, stirring in well to avoid lumps. You may need to play with the heat here, keep your mix just below a simmer.

Just after you start adding the milk to the sauce, heat enough vegetable oil in a frying pan to just cover the bottom. Fry the fish cakes over a medium heat for 3-4 minutes on each side, until lightly golden. Be careful not to use too much heat as they will burn easily. Once fried, transfer to a baking tray and place in the oven for 10 minutes.

All this time you should have been keeping an eye on your sauce, adding the milk until you get to the consistency you desire. With about 2-3 minutes before the fish cakes are ready to come out of the oven, add in the chopped parsley and stir well. Season to taste with salt and pepper – this is very important as the sauce will be incredibly bland without added salt!

Note: if you can’t get the specific types or quantities of fish listed here, feel free to substitute smoked salmon, tinned tuna, etc, as needed.

Recipe: BBQ Sauce

BBQ Sauce
BBQ Sauce

Ingredients;


1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
10 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 fresh chillies, stalks and seeds removed
Olive oil

10 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked
10 sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves picked
Small bunch of fresh coriander
10 bay leaves
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
6 cloves
Zest of 2 oranges

Juice of 2 oranges
200g soft brown sugar
1 tablespoon of Molasses
6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
200ml tomato ketchup
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons English mustard
200ml apple juice
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

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Continuing on from the BBQ Rub last week we have the second crucial element for making great BBQ meat, the sauce! This recipe makes about 750ml of sauce so make sure you have a few glass bottles or jars available to sterilise and store it, unless you’re planning to use it all in two or three days. Why make such a large quantity? Easy, it takes just as long to make half the amount and you’ll want to have it again and again so why not make plenty to start with :)

There are a lot of ingredients so before you begin, take them all out and prep them, I find this helps me to make sure I don’t accidentally forget something.

To start, take your onion, garlic and chillies and blitz them together in a blender or food processor until you have a paste. Then take a pan add some olive oil and get it on to a low heat. Add the paste and fry it for about 5 minutes.

While that’s happening take your thyme, rosemary, coriander, bay leaves, cumin, fennel, paprika and cloves place them in your blender or food processor. Next add the orange zest, you don’t wan’t the pith (white bit) and blitz this to a purée.

Once the paste has had it’s five minutes add the purée and cook for another minute. Next add the sugar and molasses, stir them in well and continue to cook it for another few minutes until the sugar dissolves and you have a thick brown paste.

Now add 285ml of water stiring it in well and let it heat slowly for another two or three minutes. Now add all the remaining ingredients, stir it well and bring the lot to the boil. Now take a deep breath, turn the heat down a little and let it simmer for about five to ten minutes until the mixture starts to thicken a little.

Grab a large bowl and a sieve and pour the sauce through the sieve (depending on how thick it has gotten you may need to “encourage” it with the back of a spoon) into your bowl to filter out the larger bits, and throw away the bits left in the sieve. Repeat this process a couple of times until you’re left with a silky smooth looking sauce.

Leave it to cool completely. Then either, use it straight away like a glaze (just brush it over your meat of choice in the last few minutes of cooking) or pour it into your sterilised glass jars or bottles to stored for use later.

How do I sterilise glass jars or bottles?

The easiest way I’ve found is to fill the kitchen sink with boiling water from the kettle and submerge the jars/bottles and their lids in it for about ten minutes. Once you remove them add the sauce immediately and get the lids on tight.

Once they cool they can be stored in a cool dark place or the fridge. The sauce should keep for about six months.

Oh and just to keep it in perspective, this recipe should be enough to do about eight full racks of back ribs. But we’ll get into that more on Friday, so y’all come back now! :)

Recipe: “Blazing Saddles” Baked Beans

A Pot of Freshly made Baked Beans
Blazing Saddles Baked Beans

Ingredients;

4 whole onions finely sliced
1 heaped teaspoon of (smoked) paprika
3 fresh chillies finely diced
25g butter
3 x 400g tins of Pinto beans
3 x 400g tins of Cannellini beans
2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
4 bay leaves
Salt
Pepper
White wine vinegar
3 tablespoons of molasses
Olive oil

Serves 8-10

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Hmmm Beanz meanz Heinz, except in this case it doesn’t :) We are all familiar with baked beans in tomato sauce and how wonderful they are as a side order with a fry up or on hot buttered toast, it’s so easy to open a tin of them and bung ’em in the microwave, that we take them for granted.

When I made this first I was surprised by just how convenient the tinned version is by comparison to making your own, but when I tasted my own for the first time, I knew the effort was worth it.

These are close to being the best baked beans I have ever tasted, unfortunately that honour still resides with a man who served me from a fire pit when I was in Utah about 9 years ago as I haven’t managed to get the sweetness the same. Don’t worry, if I discover his secret I’ll update the post and let you all know 😉

First up you’re going to need a large saucepan on a medium heat. Add a lug of olive oil and once it’s up to temperature, add your sliced onion and paprika, give them a good stir and fry them for 10 – 15 minutes or until the onions soften.

Next add the butter to the pan and once that has melted, add the tinned tomatoes, 5 of the cans of beans (including the liquid), the bay leaves, a good pinch of salt and pepper.

Next, drain the liquid from the last can of beans and discard it. Then add the beans to the pot along with the chilli.

Now stir and bring this to a gentle simmer and bring the heat down, you just want them to burble and blurp (a little) at you rather than boil. If they boil, the beans will split and you’ll end up with mush rather than beans 😉

Leave them for about an hour and a half stirring occasionally.

Now taste them and season with salt and pepper to taste. Then add about a tablespoon of white wine vinegar, the molasses and stir well before serving or leaving them to cool and freezing them in portions.

These are great as a side dish with just about any meat and most fish, or used for the traditional beans on toast, or with a portion of boiled rice and a good ladle full of beans over the top.