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5/21/15

The lasagna recipe

I make lasagna maybe once a month on average*, basically because the kids like it. Hey, who doesn't like lasagna? This morning's mailbox includes reader WL (a new mailer), who noticed it's been mentioned a couple of times on these humble pages and asked for the recipe. So rather than just send it to one person...

There's no big secret; if there is one it's to care about the tomatoes; what you use and how you use them, because it makes all the difference.

Ingredients
3kg plum tomatoes (they grow round here, delicious and dirt cheap). Go for the bigger ones if you have a choice, always go for ripe, red ones.
3/4kg minced beef
1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 kg cheese (50% a tilsit-type that melts completely, 50% a harder whiter cheese that doesn't, both local cheeses, nothing out the ordinary, use whatever you prefer in the end) EDIT for clarity after a mail came in: The tilsit here isn't real tilsit with that way strong flavour, it's a cheese "made in the style" that's normal tasting and melts nicely. Bottom line: the cheese and its strength is up to you, the point is to have one that melts a lot and one that melts a bit.
Milk, flour and butter for the bechamel
Packet dried lasagna (a decent local brand, works perfectly)
Olive oil/cooking oil. You'll need salt on hand, too.

Method
Cut tomatoes in half, then grate them through the large holes of a cheese grater so that you grate up all the flesh and you're left with the skin in your hand (which you throw away). The pips are grated through too. 3kg of this takes time, so stick some decent music on and be careful about those fingernails on the grater. And yes, it's worth it. And no, don't stick the tomatoes whole into a blender and make them into a liquid skin and all. Do it right, you'll notice the difference when you get that first fork of finished lasagna in your mouth, this is way waaay more important than getting anal about the over-debated fresh/dry pasta question.

Big pan, 50% olive oil/50% cooking oil in the bottom, heat it up, when hot (not mega-hot though) throw your grated tomato in there. Bit of salt, bit of water, put the lid on, wait til it starts boiling, turn the heat right down, leave it there a couple of hours minimum, remember to stir every so often, maybe last half hour without the lid on to help the final reduction process. All this matters. Again, do it right and your tomato sauce will pay you back with interest. The difference between this and that shit they sell you in jars is enormous, measure it in light years.

In another pan (I use a large frying pan) sweat off the finely cut onion and the very finely cut garlic cloves (low heat). Add the minced beef, stick the heat up to medium, cook through until brown, salt to taste.

When the tomato sauce is done, add 90% to the minced beef. Make sure your mix is nicely sloppy. Cook through a little more. Okay, the mix is now done, that's the work out the way, relax.

Two Pyrex dishes (we use them, metal baking trays are just as good I suspect), into which:

Layer of dry lasagna
Layer of mince/tom sauce mix
Layer of dry lasagna
Layer of mince/tom sauce mix
Layer of dry lasagna
Layer of mince/tom sauce mix
Layer of dry lasagna
Then a final layer of the tomato only sauce you held back from earlier.

Then on top of that the two types of cheese, grated, sprinkled on top. Put as much or as little as you like (we tend to put a lot because the kids like cheese). Into a hot oven for 30 minutes.

You now have 30 minutes to make bechamel. Melt butter, add flour (equal quantity to butter), make roux, add milk and a little salt (be careful with your salt in bech, it gets salty quickly esp if you're using salted butter, go for a very small pinch here) low heat to boiling point, stirring all the time (not joking). When thickened turn off heat, it's done. Don't ask me for the quantities, I do this by eye, but while I'm here and if memory serves, it's 30g butter and 30g flour for one pint of milk. But I could be wrong, check somewhere else if you're not sure.

Take out the lasagna, spoon a layer bechamel over the top, back in the oven for another 15 to 20 minutes (do that by eye, depends on your heat setting). Job done.

Some green leaf salad's nice with lasagna. Serve on a plate and put it in your mouth and chew it and swallow it, repeat until plate empty. End


*Though make enough for two full meals for four people and half gets frozen