You really can’t beat a proper homemade lasagne. It’s one of my all time favourite comfort foods. This recipe uses my ultimate ragù alla bolognese sauce, layered with a homemade béchamel, pasta and rich parmesan cheese.
The secret to a great lasagne really is the bolognese. I’ve been working on my Bolognese sauce recipe for a while to make sure it’s absolutely perfect, and trust me it’s delicious. The meat has to be the star of the show. Too many recipes out there call for loads of chopped tomatoes and vegetables. This just masks the flavour of the meat, rather than enhancing it. The secrets to a delicious bolognese are: a finely chopped ‘soffritto’ of onion, garlic, celery and carrot, high quality mince, a good red wine, minimal water and most importantly – time. You cannot rush a ragu otherwise the meat will be tough! It needs plenty of time to bubble away and intensify in flavour – at least 3 hours. Also, if you don’t like celery just chop it up really, really finely! It will essentially disintegrate in the pan but it’s so important for the overall flavour so it cannot be missed out.
Do not buy white sauce/béchamel or bolognese from a jar! They’re ridiculously expensive considering how easy they are to make! All you have to do to make a béchamel is whisk 3 ingredients together in a pan. The processed ones are usually extremely high in salt too. The ‘Dolmio’ ones are particularly bad and have loads of unnecessary ingredients.
This quantity of bolognese serves 4 people as a sauce, or up to 6 in a big lasagne. I usually make the full batch, use half for a smaller lasagne and save the rest for pasta. You can freeze it for up to 2 months, or keep it in the fridge for about 4 days. Just make sure it’s piping hot when you re-heat it.
I only ever buy mince when it’s reduced, then I just freeze it straight away and defrost it before I need it. This way I always get my mince at least half price! I used a 500 g organic pack from Sainsbury’s for just £2. Morrisons is also great for the wine! They have great bottles on offer all the time. If you’re buying Chianti though, make sure it’s not 2014 vintage (if you want to know why, you can read about my tuscan wine tasting experience in the Italy section of my blog).
– 500 g lean beef mince (approx. 10% fat)
– 250 ml red wine (of your choice, I used Chianti Classico which was on offer in Morrisons)
– 1 celery stick
– 1 small carrot
– 1 small red onion
– 1 garlic clove
– 4 tbsp double concentrated tomato puree
– 2 pancetta slices
– a bay leaf
– 1 tsp oregano (dried)
– 350 ml water
– 1/2 a beef stock cube
– 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce (optional)
– sea salt and black pepper
– olive oil
– 40 g plain flour
– 60 g butter
– approx 300 ml milk
– lasagne sheets
The first step is to make the two sauces:
1. Finely chop the celery, carrot, red onion, garlic and pancetta then tip into a medium saucepan. Fy over a medium heat in a little olive oil, salt and pepper, until softened (about 5 mins).
2. Turn up the heat a little, then crumble in the mince meat and brown all over. TIP: Depending on how fatty your meat is, you can use a lid to tip away some excess fat at this stage.
3. Add the glass of red wine and boil until most of the liquid has gone. TIP: you can tell when the alcohol has boiled off because the smell of the fumes will change
4. Turn down to a very low heat, add the tomato puree, cold water, bay leaf, oregano, the stock cube and the Worcestershire sauce. TIP: Make sure you only add half a stock cube because of the salt content. You can save the other half for another time. Do not season the sauce at this point. Its best to taste it at the end and adjust the seasoning then.
5. Place a lid on the top and leave to simmer gently for two hours, stirring occasionally
6. After two hours remove the lid and leave to reduce for another hour uncovered. Adjust the seasoning to taste and remove the bay leaf. TIP: the final consistency should be quite thick, it should not seem thin or watery.
7. If making in advance, leave to cool and store in the fridge/freezer. If using immediately, set aside to cool.
1. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a low-medium heat
2. Add the flour as soon as the butter is melted and whisk to form a thick paste (the roux).
3. Cook the roux for about 30 seconds to get rid of the floury taste
4. simply add the milk bit by bit, whisking until smooth between each addition.
TIP: you can always use a wooden spoon if you don’t have a whisk but make sure you beat it well to get rid of the lumps. The sauce will thicken as it cools so don’t worry if it seems a bit runny while it’s hot. You should take it off the heat when it pours easily, like hot custard.
To assemble the lasagne:
1. tip about a third of the bolognese onto the bottom of a rectangular baking dish
2. Add a layer of lasagne sheets
3. Top with a béchamel, a thin layer of grater parmesan, then more bolognese.TIP: Make sure you completely cover the lasagne sheets with the sauces otherwise they won’t cook and will burn in the oven, especially the final layer!
5. Repeat steps 2 and 3 once more
4. Add a final layer of lasagne sheets, top with a thick layer of béchamel and a good, even layer of grated parmesan.
5. Bake for 45 minutes at 180°C Electric /160°C fan / gas mark 4, until its bubbling over the sides and its beautifully golden and crispy on the top.
TIP: If you can’t get your dried lasagne sheets to fit in the dish, simply par-boil for about 2 minutes in boiling water. You’ll then be able to trim them to shape/size on a chopping board.