For this week's Presto Pasta Night I'm taking it real slow and making lasagne.
At the heart of a good lasagne is the Ragù - the rich, slow-simmered meat sauce that provides a counter to the creamy Béchamel sauce.
Growing up, making ragù was a Sunday morning ritual. After my mother returned from the early mass, we would set the process in motion. Onions, carrots, celery had to be finely chopped - parsley, sage and rosemary picked from the garden.
There are several steps that are vital to the success of the ragu - first you must allow the vegetable base to cook down - the vegetables must soften slowly and be allowed to gently colour. This takes time - a good 20 to 30 minutes.
Next you must brown the minced meat in this vegetable base - add the meat in stages so that it sautés rather than stews. The colour you build on the meat in this stage will reward you at the end with a greater depth of flavour.
Finally, once the tomatoes have been added, it's then becomes a question of time. Cook it slowly and cook it for a long time. Our Sunday morning ritual was so designed that the last hour of cooking happened while we were at the 11am mass. On return all that was left to do was put on the pasta.
baby Bocconcini (mozzarella balls)
sautéed mushrooms (optional)
500 grams minced beef
4 Italian pork sausages, peeled and cut into pieces
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
fresh rosemary, finely chopped
fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in boiling water
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Make the Ragù:
Place olive oil and a knob of butter into a large pot over a medium-low heat and when the butter has melted and has started to sizzle add the onion, carrot, celery, sage and rosemary. Stir this well and allow to cook slowly until the vegetables soften and start to colour. As I mentioned before, don't rush this stage and allow it 20-30 minutes to get to the right stage.
Add the minced meat a little at a time, increase the heat slightly to make sure the mixture doesn't stew. You need to keep stirring and breaking down the meat so that it evenly colours and no lumps remain. Once one portion has browned add the next. Then end result should be quite a dry mixture.
Now add the sausage pieces a few at a time - stir this well but don't be as rough, allow this to stay a little chunky.
When all the sausage has been added it's time to build the tomato base.
Add tomato paste to the mix, increase the heat a little and stir it vigourously through the mixture. You need to cook the raw taste from the paste so give this 5 minutes before moving onto the next stage. You should notice a change of appearance in the paste, it will darken and almost look like it has split.
When that happens, add in the diced tomatoes. For this amount 1-2 cans should be sufficient. I always use Italian tomatoes as none come close to them in quality - they have great flavour and ripeness. You could also replace one of the cans with tomato passata if so desired.
For special occasions, my mother would add porcini mushrooms. Dried porcini need to be softened in boiling water for about 30 minutes - strain, but reserve the liquid.
Chop the porcini roughly and add to the mixture along with the reserved liquid - the liquid gives the sauce a deeper colour and added porcini flavour. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Simmer the mixture for about 30 minutes then turn the heat down low so it barely bubbles and cook for another 1½-2 hours. Add the chopped parsley just before it's finished cooking.
If you don't want to cook this on the stovetop, you can also cook it in the oven for a similar amount of time. Keep an eye on it as it does tend to dry out a little quicker in the oven so you'll need to add liquid to keep it moist.
One of the best things about Lasagne is that you can make large quantities easily and it freezes so well. Rather than OD on lasagne I make some to have fresh and I put the rest away in these nifty foil containers.
The first layer of lasagne is Ragu - add it sparingly, it is used to moisten the base of your dish. This is then followed by a pasta sheet. If you are using dry then under-cook them so that they aren't al dente - the pasta will finish cooking when you bake the dish.
Add more ragu topped with béchamel sauce.
As a little treat I've then added some sautéed mushrooms.
The pattern repeats - pasta, ragu, béchamel and ripped bocconcini
The final layer goes on - pasta, ragu, béchamel and a sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano and grated Mozzarella. If you are freezing the lasagne, then omit the cheese - add it fresh when you cook the lasagne.
Sealed away, perfect for those lazy days.
Tagged with Pasta