Lasagne Bolognese is an epic dish. It sure looks like an ordinary broiled mass of cheese, pasta and meaty tomato sauce but it’s so much more. To make lasagne bolognese as I dreamed from that day forward I wanted to, everything gets a lot of love and time. The ragu needs to be cooked for hours. The béchamel (besciamella, as we Italians call it), although the simplest of the five “Mother Sauces”, is still a set of ingredients that must be cooked separately, and in a prescribed order. The pasta doesn’t have to be fresh, but I recommend to make your own fresh pasta, as the lasagne bolognase will taste so much better. And the cheese? There’s just one, Parmesan, and it doesn’t overwhelm. Lasagne bolognese takes a while to be ready, but the result is surely worth the efforts.
INGREDIENTS FOR THE BOLOGNESE SAUCE
2 rashers of smoked streaky bacon,
2 medium onions
2 cloves of garlic
2 sticks of celery
2 heaped teaspoons dried oregano
500g good-quality lean minced beef
2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A small bunch of fresh basil
FOR THE LASAGNE
250g dried egg lasagne sheets
1 large ripe tomato
FOR THE BECHAMEL SAUCE
½ a small onion
500ml semi-skimmed milk
a sprig of fresh parsley
a pinch of nutmeg
6 black peppercorns
optional: 1 bay leaf
45g plain flour
70g Parmesan cheese
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
DIRECTIONS TO MAKE THE BOLOGNESE SAUCE
Finely slice the bacon . Peel and finely chop the onions, garlic, carrots and celery. Place a large saucepan on a medium to high heat. Add 2 lugs of olive oil, your sliced bacon and the oregano and cook and stir until the bacon is lightly golden. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the veg to the pan.
Stir occasionally for around 15 minutes, or until softened and lightly coloured then stir in the minced meat and the tinned tomatoes. Fill one of the empty tins with water and add to the pan. Stir in a good pinch of salt and pepper. Pick the basil leaves and place in the fridge for later. Finely chop the basil stalks and stir into the pan.
Bring to the boil. Turn the heat down and simmer with a lid on and slightly askew for 1 hour, stirring every now and again. Take the lid off and cook for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Keep an eye on the sauce as it cooks, and if you think it’s starting to dry out, add a splash of water. Meanwhile, weigh out the ingredients for the white sauce.
DIRECTIONS TO COOK THE PASTA
Boil some water in the kettle and pour it into a large pan, then add your lasagne sheets with a drizzle of oil and blanch (slightly soften) for 3 to 4 minutes making sure they don’t stick together – cook them in batches if necessary. Drain the sheets in a colander and carefully. Pat them dry with some kitchen paper to absorb any excess water – leave to one side until you’re ready to build the lasagne.
DIRECTIONS TO MAKE THE BECHAMEL SAUCE
Peel and slice half an onion. Add the onion, milk, parsley, nutmeg and black peppercorns and bay leaf (if using) to a pan on a medium heat and gently bring to the boil – keep a close eye on it as milk can boil suddenly. Strain the milk through a sieve, discarding anything left behind. Melt the butter in another pan on a medium-low heat. Mix in the flour.
Start adding the strained milk, a ladleful at a time, stirring each lot in before adding more. When you have a smooth white sauce, bring the whole lot to the boil then simmer for a couple of minutes. Take off the heat and finely grate in most of the Parmesan cheese. Mix well then season with a pinch of salt and pepper.
DIRECTIONS TO FINISH THE BOLOGNESE SAUCE
Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F. Remove the Bolognese sauce from the heat, then tear and stir in any larger basil leaves, keeping the smaller ones aside for later. Have a taste of the sauce, and season with a little more salt and pepper if you think it needs it.
DIRECTIONS TO MAKE THE LASAGNE
Spoon a third of your Bolognese sauce into the bottom of an earthenware ovenproof dish (approximately 25cm by 35cm). Follow with a layer of lasagne sheets and another third of your Bolognese sauce, then spoon over a third of your white sauce. Top with another layer of lasagne sheets. Spoon over the rest of the Bolognese sauce and another third of the white sauce.
Finish with a final layer of lasagne sheets and top with the rest of the white sauce and finely grate over the remaining Parmesan. Top with some slices of tomato, scatter over the small basil leaves and drizzle with olive oil. Cover with foil, place in the preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes. After that, remove the foil and cook for a further 20 minutes until the lasagne is bubbling and golden. Serve lasagne bolognese on the table with a fresh green salad and let everyone help themselves.