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
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)
1 x Star Anise
Béchamel (Mornay) sauce
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.