Monday, 18 April 2011

Recipe VI - Lasagne al Forno

Ingredients for the lasagne:
A box of lasagne sheets (green/egg/ ordinary, to preference)
600g minced beef
2 medium-sized onions
1 medium-sized green pepper
1 medium-sized red pepper
5 fresh tomatoes, sliced
2 large balls of mozzarella, cut into cubes
A glass of cheap red wine
Fresh herbs from the garden
5 cloves of garlic, crushed under a knife and finely chopped

Ingredients for the béchamel sauce:

Recipe for the lasagne:
  • Switch on the oven to 175°C and put a square, ceramic baking dish in it. Take the minced beef, garlic and some of the fresh herbs and fold them all into each other, adding salt and pepper from the pepper mill slowly, aiming properly to make sure it is not over-salted.
  • Using a large, rounded frying pan like a wok, take the onions and peppers and gently fry them in olive oil. Add the minced beef mix and fry until it is almost fully browned.
  • Add the tomatoes and put a lid over the pan. Once the tomatoes have disintegrated, add the wine (however much you want to liquefy the filling), add the rest of the herbs, add the mozzarella and gently cook in the covered pan until the mozzarella is totally integrated into the sauce. You may need to keep a good eye on the bottom of the pan, as mozzarella has a habit of sinking to the bottom and burning. If there is enough liquid, this should not be a problem.
  • 45 minutes is recommended, but if you are pushed for time, as long as all the ingredients are in the pan, you should be able to move onto the next phase.
Towards the end of the pan phase:
  • Put on some salted water in a saucepan - this is where you will dip the lasagne sheets before you put them in the oven.
  • Béchamel: Heat up the butter (a good, thick slice from the block, and add some flour until it solidifies with the butter. Add some milk slowly to your mixture, making sure you balance it with more flour if necessary. Add your pepper and grated nutmeg at this point too. Once it is of a good consistency, keep it near to you, ready for the filling of the baking dish.
Filling the baking dish:
This is a great pleasure of mine - one of the most delightful experiences of making a lasagne.
  • Take the baking dish out of the oven. Put three sheets of lasagne into the boiling salt water for about 20 seconds.
  • In the bottom, pour some of the béchamel. Using a pair of tongs, remove the lasagne sheets from the water and shake off the excess liquid. Put them on top of the bechamel, covering the bottom of the dish.
  • Put three more sheets in the water.
  • Using a large serving spoon, put some of the minced meat sauce on evenly-spread.
  • Add the next three sheets of lasagne.
  • Put three more sheets in the water.
  • Add another layer of minced meat sauce.
  • Lasagne sheets, remembering three more in the water.
  • Add some more bechamel, but no meat sauce. This gives the centre a truly creamy taste!
  • More lasagne sheets.
  • More meat sauce. By now, you should be running out of meat sauce. Upon the final top layer of meat sauce, pour the excess béchamel.
  • Put the whole thing in the oven for 25 to 45 minutes, depending on the size.

Removing lasagne from the baking dish:
Many people have severe trouble keeping the lasagne whole. You need a sharp knife, and go around the outside of the lasagne, peeling it away from the dish. Then, cut across the middle, length-ways, then width-ways, depending on the number of eaters. Using a spatula and your knife, ease the first portion onto the spatula. The first one is the trickiest part!

Any lasagne would not be complete without a good bottle of half-bodied, young red wine. Good examples come from the south: Sicily and Puglia.

Starter dish:
Insalata Caprese: Sliced tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, basil leaves, olive oil, balsamic vinegar.
Slice the mozzarella and slide it between pieces of tomato. Put a leaf of basil on top and drizzle the olive oil and balsamic vinegar on top.
Buon appetito!

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