This is not your average weekday dinner, but I can guarantee that if by chance you’ll have some leftovers, it can be a lifesaver if you don’t like to cook one day! 🙂
As the title of the post announced, this is a classic dish of the Italian cuisine. Hearty ragù, creamy bechamel sauce, and a crusty layer of parmesan cheese it’s just heaven for us on a Sunday lunch!
It requires some prepping, even the day before, but it’s really worth it. I generally cook the ragù at least one day in advance so it has the time to cook slowly and develop its marvellous texture and flavour. But even a couple of hours will do (if you wake up early enough to start cooking 😉 ).
INGREDIENTS (serves 4-6)
- 500g lean beef minced meat
- 1 carrot
- 2-3 stalks celery
- 1/2 or 1 onion (according to size)
- 500g chopped tomatoes in tomato juice
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 vegetable stock cube
- 2 bay leaves
- 4-5 juniper berries
- lasagne sheets (1 packet)
- 50g unsalted butter
- 1L milk
- 4 heaped tbsp plain flour
- 1 tsp grated nutmeg
- 50g grated parmesan or grana padano cheese
First thing first, prepare the ragù. Finely chop the onion, the carrot and the celery and mix them together in a big saucepan with the olive oil. This mixture is called soffritto or battuto di verdure in Italian. I’m really struggling to find an equivalent in English… some say mirepoix could work, although it’s a French word, but I guess there is no such word in English because it’s not used. Anyway, this is the base for any good tomato-based sauce. So keep it in mind (and prepare some more, scoop it in an ice cube tray and store it in the freezer for future uses!).
Fry the soffritto for 2-3 minutes, then break the minced meat in the saucepan with your hands, and fry it until it’s completely brown. At this point, add the tomatoes, bay leaves, juniper berries and stock cube, stir well and simmer, covered, for at least an hour and a half. If it gets too dry, just add a splash of hot water. You’ll be sure the sauce is ready when it turns intensely red and it’s a bit thickened, meaning that the tomatoes lost most of their water content.
Once the ragù is ready, it’s time to make the bechamel sauce. Please, please, at least try to do it on your own, and leave those crappy premade sauces you find in the supermarket. Not just for the content of additives, but also because they don’t taste at all as bechamel sauce!!!!!
Put the butter in a saucepan over a very low heat, and leave it melt but not fry. Spoon the flour in while whisking to avoid lumps (don’t worry, it will make lumps, but the next step will help loosen them). Once the flour is completely blended with the butter – you should have a yellowy paste – start adding the milk, that has to be at least at room temperature, whisking continuously. Add it little by little, so it has time to blend in with the flour, until the whole litre is in the pan. Keep on whisking (it’s annoying, I know, but that’s the way to do it) until the sauce starts to thicken up. If it gets too stiff, add a splash of milk at a time, until the texture is creamy but still runny. At this point, add the grated nutmeg and the salt to taste, remembering it shouldn’t be too salty or too “nutmeggy”, but neither blunt in taste.
Yay! If you got to this point, now it’s time to turn on the oven to 180°C fan, and to start assembling this delicacy.
In a baking dish, scoop one spoonful of bechamel sauce to cover the bottom. Place the lasagna sheets to cover the entire surface, and cover it with a layer of ragù, followed with another spoonful of bechamel sauce, followed by other lasagne sheets. Continue so on until you almost filled the dish, leaving some space on top because the pasta will raise a little while baking. Ideally two to three layers of pasta are enough. Cover with the remaining bechamel sauce – maybe mixed with a little bit of ragù for colour and flavour – and sprinkle abundantly with the parmesan cheese. Bake for 30-40 minutes, and to check if it’s ready, pierce the layers with a fork. If it goes in and comes out easily, it’s time to take it out of the oven!
Let it cool down for 5-10 minutes, and serve!