Category Archives: Plain Flour

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: White Soda Bread

White Soda Bread
White Soda Bread

Ingredients;

340g plain flour
5g salt
5g bicarbonate of soda
290ml buttermilk


Preheat the oven to 200C.

Sieve the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl and stir.

Make a well and pour in the buttermilk, then mix quickly to make a dough.

Place on a lightly floured surface and knead briefly, you almost want to treat the dough like it’s really hot when you’re kneading it, handling it as little as possible. Then form into a round and flatten slightly before placing it on a lightly floured baking sheet.

Cut a cross in the top with a sharp knife and bake for about 30 minutes or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Cool on a wire rack.

Recipe: Yorkshire Puddings

Rushed Yorkshire Puddings
Rushed Yorkshire Puddings

Ingredients;

125g plain flour
pinch of salt
1 egg
200ml Milk
20ml Vegetable oil


In the world of classic accompaniments Yorkshire puddings are to roast beef as R2D2 is to Luke Skywalker. Yeah, Luke is handy enough on his own but with R2D2 around you know it’s going to be better.

These are easy to make, once you know what traps to fall into, if you take your time and don’t rush, they are easily avoided. The picture above is a perfect example of these kinds of traps, these weren’t hand whisked enough so they didn’t rise well and were also overdone.

Sieve the flour and salt together in a bowl then add the egg, mixing everything together. Mix the milk and vegetable oil and add half the mixture and beat until smooth.

Then add the rest and whisk until smooth and airy, this is best done by hand, whisking the mixture towards you, so you can raise the whisk a little each stroke to catch more air. Put a small amount of oil in each section of a muffin tray (about 3-4mm) and pre-heat it in the oven at 220C.

Once the tray is hot, pour the batter into each section of the hot tray (roughly 3/4 fill each) and cook for 40-45 minutes until risen and golden brown.

Recipe: Pastry “Pizza”

Pastry Pizza
Pastry Pizza

Ingredients;

1 packet of puff pastry
5 – 6 tomatoes, as ripe as possible, diced roughly with the majority of the seeds removed
10 – 12 black olives, finely chopped
Shredded Parma ham (or other dried meat)
Mini mozzarella balls (or shredded mozz)
Handful of basil leaves, roughly torn up
Strong cheese, such as Red Leicester or vintage cheddar, finely grated
Fresh rocket (or oregano, thyme or similar)
Plain flour
Vegetable oil

Serves 2 as a main course, 4-6 as a snack/starter


Preheat the oven to 200 C.

Flour your worktop well and roll out the pastry to fit the size of a large baking tray. Place it carefully on the baking tray and brush all over with the vegetable oil.

Dress the pastry to 1 centimetre from the edge with your toppings, starting with the tomatoes, then moving onto the olives, basil, parma ham and mozzarella. Sprinkle the grated cheese over the top and place in the oven to bake for 20-25 minutes, until the edge of the pastry is golden brown.

Remove from the oven, cut into large slices and sprinkle with the rocket before serving.

Recipe: Beer Bread Rolls

Beer Bread Rolls on a cooling rack
Beer Bread Rolls on a cooling rack

Ingredients;

3 x 7g packets of dried yeast
1 large tablespoon of honey
625ml beer (I like Hoegaarden but I’ve also done this with Smithwicks as well)
500g of strong white bread flour
500g of plain flour
30g salt
Plain flour for dusting

Line

Lets talk about beer for a moment, I mentioned two brands of beer above that I have tried this with, Hoegaarden creates by far the better flavour of these two, but any beer should work, just be aware that a lot of the flavour of the bread comes from the beer so make sure you use a beer that you like to drink and you shouldn’t go too far wrong 😉

Sieve your flour into a large mixing bowl (the bigger the better) and add the salt and make a well in the center.

The next part of this recipe goes against the grain for most guys, we need to warm the beer in a saucepan until tepid. Then dissolve the yeast and the honey in half of this and hold onto the rest. I know it’s difficult to do this to a beer you like but trust me it’s worth it.

Now pour the yeast mixture into the well you made in the flour and with an open flat hand start making circular movement in the liquid moving from the center outwards (bringing in the dry ingredients) until the yeast/beer mixture is soaked up. Next you want to add the remainder of the beer and continue to mix until all the dry ingredients have been incorporated and you have a moist dough.

Now for the most important part of making bread and also the most fun, kneading. Start by flouring a work surface well and placing the dough on it, what you want to do is roll, push, pull, fold and punch your dough for about five minutes or so. If any dough sticks to your hands just rub them together with a little extra flour and it’ll fall right off.

Flour both your hands and the top of the dough lightly and form the dough into a large roundish shape, place it back in the mixing bowl and score the top of it.

Now we’re going to leave the bread to prove for the first time – we want it to roughly double in size. I’ve found it’s best to cover the bowl with a slightly damp tea towel and leave it in a warm draught free place. This can take up to one and a half hours, so there is no point sitting there waiting for it to happen leave it alone and check in every fifteen to twenty minutes until the dough has doubled in size.

At this point you want to knock the dough back by kneading it again for about a minute.

Next, divide the dough into twelve balls and set them on a greased baking tray ready to go into the oven. You want to leave some space between each one, as they prove again they may expand into each other however once cut the joined bread rolls should pull apart easily.

Then cover them again and leave them to prove again until they double in size. They may be a little slower to double this time but don’t panic, it usually takes considerably longer for the dough to rise the second time so hang in there and just be confident, it will.

While they are proving, heat your oven to 225 C.

Once they have doubled in size dust the tops with a little flour. Next you want to place the baking tray into the oven as carefully and gently as possible, after all your hard work to this point you don’t want to spoil them by knocking any of the air out of them. Also, be careful not to slam the oven door 😉

They should only need twenty to twenty five minutes to bake but you can check if they’re done by picking one up and tapping the bottom if it’s sounds hollow they’re done. Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool on a rack for about forty-five minutes.

You can of course use this recipe for all sorts of bread, just shape it into whatever you want before the second proving and cook in the same manner.