You know me. You know I am all about that comfort food life. And what isn’t comforting about a dish of lasagna to share with friends and family (or to feed yourself over a few days)?
I haven’t made lasagna that often, as when you are making it from scratch it can be a two- to three-hour process. It’s not difficult, but it can be time consuming. Obviously there are ways to cut down the time it takes: buy pre-made lasagna sheets, buy ready-to-use roux, buy grated cheese. But that doesn’t feel right for something that I make with love to share with my friends.
In the past six weeks I have made lasagna twice. Once for myself, re-testing my old recipe from years ago, and again just a few days ago for the office. On birthday party days (explained in my Beetroot Chocolate Cake post), we either all bring something in for lunch, or we order in. We like to eat in our office, and a birthday party day feast is something we all look forward to. This time, however, my colleagues asked if I could make lasagna. I was happy to oblige because we had a half day the day before, which meant I had plenty of time to invest in making the lasagna for them all.
In the end, I made two types of lasagna: one meat, one vegetarian. They are both delicious, and my meat-loving colleague said that while he will always love the meat one, he “can accept” the vegetarian one as tasting good. This is about as high a compliment as we will ever get for something that is a vegetarian option of a dish from him. So I’ll take it.
Another colleague told me I should record down the first reactions of each of them as they ate it, but that was mostly just noises of enjoyment as they took their first bites. What can I say? They loved the lasagna. And making people happy with the food I make keeps me in the game, and makes me happy. What’s the point of making food if people don’t enjoy eating it?
The real beauty of a lasagna is not just in the taste, but in the layering technique. When you slice into a lasagna and you can see the distinct layers, oh what a vision! I got super excited with the beauty of the layers in these lasagnas. I know, I know. It’s weird. I don’t care.
I used three different cheeses for this lasagna as well, to give it that real cheesy goodness: grated cheddar, grated Parmesan, and torn up mozzarella. I used a different combination of each cheese on each layer, one layer had cheddar and parm, one had mozzarella and parm, another had cheddar and mozzarella. Because cheese is important.
Please don’t feel scared by the prospect of this lasagna. I know I talked about it taking time, but there are moments where you can leave things for 45 minutes and take a break, so don’t panic. Once all the components are made, and they can be made in bulk, then assembling is easy. It’s a great dish to make when you are having a lot of people gather, and you can make most of it ahead of time. Ottolenghi would call that “lazy” cooking – whereby you make components and then just leave it all until you have to assemble it. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.
Whether you want to make the vegetarian lasagna, or the meat-based lasagna, both will be huge hits with whoever eats it. Trust me. Have I ever let you down before?
600 gram mince beef OR 2 large aubergines
1 tbsp olive oil
25 grams butter + 40 grams butter, divided
1 onion, diced
5 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
400 grams tinned chopped tomatoes
250 ml beef OR vegetable stock
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tsp + 1/2 tsp ground/grated nutmeg, divided
fresh pasta dough OR lasagna sheets (make sure these do not need to be pre-boiled)
600 ml warm milk
40 grams plain flour
100 grams Cheddar, grated
100 grams Parmesan, grated
100 grams fresh mozzarella, broken into chunks
- If making aubergine lasagna, chop the aubergine into cubes and sprinkle salt over the cubes. Set aside.
- In a heavy-bottomed pot, add the oil and 25 grams of butter, over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the onion. Cook for 5 minutes, until soft, then add the garlic and mince beef. If using aubergine, use a kitchen towel to pat off the salt and then add it to the pan. Season with salt and pepper.
- Add the smoked paprika and cook for 5 minutes, until the beef starts to brown, or the aubergine skin starts to brown.
- Add the chopped tomatoes, stock and tomato paste. Add 1 tsp of nutmeg. Stir and combine well.
- Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat to medium-low. Partially cover the pot and allow to simmer for an hour. Until most of the liquid has cooked off. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- While the filling is simmering away, you can make the fresh pasta dough (or you can relax and have a glass of wine).
- About 10 minutes before the filling is ready, it’s time to make the roux. Place the 40 grams of butter in a saucepan over a medium heat. Once the butter is frothy, sprinkle the flour over the butter and whisk it together.
- Remove from the heat, and pour the milk into the saucepan 100ml at a time, whisking continuously. Once all the milk has been added, place the pan back on a medium heat, add the remaining nutmeg and allow to thicken (about 5 – 6 minutes). Whisk occasionally, to ensure that everything is combined well.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- Grease a 25 x 25 cm Pyrex dish, then layer one third of the meat/aubergine filling into the dish. Ladle a third of the roux over the filling. Sprinkle your choice of cheese combo (about 1/4 of the cheese). Place pasta sheets on top of the cheese. Then repeat with the filling, roux and cheese two more times.
- Once you have placed the final layer of pasta on the top, cover it with the remaining cheese (the more the better in my opinion).
- Place the lasagna in the oven for 30 – 35 minutes.
- Remove from the oven, cut into equal servings and serve with a side salad, or veggies.