Lasagne alla Bolognese

Lasagne alla Bolognese

Growing up, Lasagne Alla Bolognese wasn’t as popular as it is today, in fact I think I had my first lasgane in the 70’s and my Mum made a version using tagliatelle instead of the lasagne pasta sheets. I remember how delicious it was!

If you don’t know, highly unlikely, but lasgane is an italian dish made from lasagna pasta which is a wide, flat pasta and possibly one of the oldest types of pasta known. Lasagne being the plural of lasagna. Traditional lasagne is made in layers of pasta with a ragù sauce, topped with bechamel and Parmigiano-Reggiano. In other regions and outside of Italy it is common to find lasagne made with ricotta or mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce, various meats, even fish and seafood or vegetarian even, typically flavored with wine, garlic, onion, and oregano. In all cases the lasagne are oven-baked.

It was also thought that the lasagna pasta was made in Roman times as it was easy to store the flat pieces of pasta. In Ancient Rome, there was a dish similar to the traditional lasagne we know today, it was called lasana or lasanum meaning container or pot. It is also thought that it came from the Ancient Greeks who had laganon, a flat sheet of pasta dough cut into strips.

Anyway, lasagne became really popular in the early 80’s and was served at nearly every dinner party with stacks of garlic bread! Also a new crave. To this day, whenever I visit my brother, my sister in law usually serves up lasagne. I often cook it here when we have guests, mainly because it can be prepared earlier then popped in the oven, giving you time to chat with your guests!

There are many recipes out there and as with most Italian dishes they do vary from family to family. My original recipe was based on my Mum’s and it was well known in my circles of friends and family and to this day when I cook it for guests here, they are all pleased.

The meat sauce or ragù is usually made with the holy trinity of diced onion, carrot and celery, sweated in a pan then meat seasoning and tomatoes. I don’t usually do the trinity, but start with onion and garlic and a pinch of crushed chili, then the meat, tomato paste, tomatoes then the seasoning of salt, pepper and herbs. I always used to use a mixed Italian seasoning, but now I tend to use just thyme and fresh basil. Some people use rosemary. I always pop in a bay leaf or two. I have even tasted cinnamon in there and I would suspect this to be a Sicilian version?

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

For the Bolgnese or ragù sauce

  800g minced beef
  150g unsmoked pancetta or unsmoked bacon, chopped very finely
  1 carrot, finely chopped
  1 stick celery, finely chopped
  1 large onion, finely chopped
  2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or crushed
  A good squeeze of concentrated tomato purée or tomato paste
  1 glass red or white wine
  1 440ml tin of chopped tomatoes
  1 sprig thyme, leaves only
  Handful of fresh basil, chiffonade
  olive oil
  salt and pepper

For the lasagne

  8 sheets lasagna pasta
  1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

For the béchamel

  2 tbsp butter
  2 tbsp
  500ml milk
  Half a medium onion, peeled
  2 cloves
  1 bay leaf
  1 pinch nutmeg
  Salt and pepper to season

Preparation method:

For the Bolgnese or ragù sauce

Fry the pancetta or bacon gently in a little olive oil until it starts to release its fat. Be careful not to burn it then add the vegetables and fry until the onions are transparent, stirring from time to time. Add the minced beef and cook until it is lightly browned then add the tomato puree, give it a good stir and then add the wine and mix well. Add the chopped tomatoes and the herbage and stir well.

Season with salt and pepper and add the bay leaves.

For the béchamel

Add the onion with a couple of cloves stuck in and a bay leaf the milk and gently bring to the boil – keep a close eye on it as milk can boil suddenly
Strain the milk through a sieve into another vessel.

Melt the butter in another pot over a medium-low heat and stir in the flour until it makes a nice yellow paste.
Start adding the strained milk, a bit at a time and keep stirring with a whisk and making sure it is smooth before adding more milk.
When you have a smooth white sauce, bring to a boil then simmer for a couple of minutes.

Take off the heat and add the pinch of nutmeg and season with a pinch of salt and pepper.

For the lasagne

In a casserole or baking dish, spread a layer of the ragù then cover with a layer of the dried pasta sheets on top. Do not overlay them as they become thick and stuck together and don’t cook properly. You can also add some béchamel in layers too but I usually just use it as a topping. So repeat the layering with ragù and pasta, then pour the béchamel over the top and then sprinkle with Parmesan. You can also use other cheeses if you like, sometime a provolone is nice or asiago or even mozzarella!

Now bake in an oven at 180°c for about 40 minutes or until the top is browned and bubbling nicely.

Remove from oven and let it sit for 5 or 10 minutes before serving. Serve with some nice crusty garlic bread.

Enjoy!