Ok, so here's the problem...
There's a million lasagna recipes out there and I'm a little scared to approach the subject of giving away our 'special' one. However, this is the recipe that I have been cooking with for about 10 years.
I'm sure Mamma Italiano would scoff loudly at some of what's below but to me it's a meaty (although veggie), healthy, quick and infallible family lasagna recipe. Oh, and it can be frozen and reheated if you want to make a huge one! (We often freeze into single portions as, after about 3 minutes in a microwave, makes an ideal quick lunch with a green salad.)
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This recipe serves 6 hungry diners. Enjoy!
500g Veggie mince (or the real stuff, we like to cater for everyone is all)
1 beef stock cube (or 1 tablespoon of Marmite to keep it vegetarian)
4 large onions
About 20 button mushrooms
8 large tomatoes
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
2 red peppers (bell peppers, not spicy ones, they come later!)
Tomato puree (we usually use around half of a tube, your choice)
A full bulb of garlic
Course ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tiny, innocent looking chilli (your choice of variety, but be careful!)
2 packs of dry lasagna sheets
250g grated hard mature cheese (we like an Irish cheddar)
250ml of milk (for the cheese sauce)
6 leaves of basil
Pretty simple method this one. First, familiarise yourselves with the basic construction of a lasagna. We like to make a lasagna with at least 9 layers but this can be tricky. 5 or 6 layers is fine.
The different layers will require 2 sauces, a rich tomato and mince sauce and the cheese (or bechemel) sauce.
To make the cheese sauce, heat the milk until it starts to boil, then remove from the heat and begin sprinkling in the cheese while stirring quickly. At first this will seem like a pointless exercise as the sauce takes a while to thicken but stick with it until all the cheese is melted completely and the sauce begins to thicken.
We find 250g of cheese and 250ml of milk makes the perfect consistency for our lasagna but we do like the cheese sauce a little sloppy so if you want to thicken yours up, simply add more cheese or, if you want to stay a little healthier, add a teaspoon of cornflour to the mix (don't worry, the cornflour will cook off in the oven).
To make the tomato and mince sauce, first finely chop and fry the onions and garlic together until the onion starts to soften and go a little transparent. When this is done, take them out of the pan and place in a bowl for later. (REMEMBER: Save a handful of chopped onion UNCOOKED for later.)
Now fry the mince and either your stock cube or Marmite until it starts to brown. A good little tip at this stage is to add a little splash of water to allow the stock to melt and to be evenly distributed around the mince.
Add the fresh, chopped tomatoes, chopped peppers and the finely diced chilli to your sauce. To make it really thick and juicy, now add the half tube of tomato puree and the tin of chopped tomatoes (a bit of a cheat but we find it gives the best results). Now add the cooked onion/garlic mix from earlier and stir in well.
At this stage, to give your tomato sauce a really Italian flavour, add the finely chopped basil leaves and cayenne pepper. (If you like, you can add a few sprigs of coriander at this stage too.)
Now chop the button mushrooms roughly (no finer than quarters) and add them to the mix.
Finish the sauce with a generous amount of black pepper and a decent pinch of salt.
Ok, your two sauces are done. Take an oven proof dish (we usually use a square one as dry lasagna sheets come in rectangles but you can use a round one if you wish) and begin by placing the handful of chopped onion you saved on the bottom. This helps to remove the cooked portions without them sticking to the bottom.
Now place a layer of pasta sheets to completely cover the bottom (don't worry of they overlap a little and remember, these sheets snap easily so don't be tempted to try and do this with full sheets only, you will end up with a very stodgy lasagna!)
Now comes the fun part;
On top of the layer of sheets you just laid, pour 2 or three large spoonfuls of the tomato sauce and spread evenly with the back of a spoon. Now add another layer of pasta sheets. On top of these, pour enough cheese sauce to cover them completely. Now spoon on another 3 or so spoonfuls of your tomato mixture.
Yes, you guessed it, now you continue with pasta... cheese sauce... tomato sauce... pasta... cheese sauce... tomato sauce...
Be sure to finish the lasagna with a top layer of pasta sheets covered in cheese sauce.
On top of this, grind a generous amount of black pepper then top with more grated cheese (if you want to be very Italian at this stage, use a hard Italian cheese like Parmesan).
Heat your oven to 180 degrees C and place the lasagna in the centre of the oven for 45 minutes (35 minutes for fan ovens)
Place a baking tray beneath your lasagna as, when it starts to bubble, a little sauce and melted cheese tends to escape and run down the edges.
After cooking, we like to leave the lasagna for about 10 minutes uncovered. This seems to help it bind together and we have less slipping layer catastrophes as a result. Maybe you'll have steadier hands and can serve it straight from the oven!
Anyway, we hope you enjoy this recipe and look forward to hearing about your cooking exploits.
Please remember; Lasagna is a very evocative dish for many families and all we're doing is sharing our version. I'm sure your version is just as nice if not nicer so hold the hate mail!
Fantastic Tip: Strange one this as it applies to after the lasagna is cooked but a really good tip is to leave it overnight in the fridge. The garlic infuses the layers and gives a much more intense flavour than the fresh-out-of-the-oven lasagna. The strong tomato and pepper flavours also infuse the sheets of pasta themselves.
Until next time, enjoy your kitchens and we wish you all Fantastic Cooking!
The Fantastic Team