Classic Lasagne

Just like Spaghetti Bolognese and Chilli Con Carne, this is another one of those recipes that you’ve just got to get the hang of, because nearly everyone enjoys it, so it’s the perfect fall-back menu for any occasion – plus, of course, it’s delicious! This version is also much easier than you might think, since it does away with the usual faff of making a white sauce… my Dad, a lasagne-maker extraordinaire, disapproves of this short-cut (originally suggested by the marvellous Jamie Oliver), but I think the end result is just as delicious, and it’s much simpler.

200g beef mince
6 rashers of streaky bacon
1 onion
1 carrot
2 sticks of celery
5 large ripe tomatoes
1 tin of chopped tomatoes in tomato juice
A glass of red wine
Dried rosemary and oregano
Olive oil
Salt and black pepper
A 300ml tub of crème fraiche
A box of dried lasagne sheets
Cheddar cheese, to grate on top

Serves 4-6.

Although lasagne’s pretty simple, it’s best to allow plenty of time if you can, since making the Bolognese sauce in advance and letting it ‘mature’ will leave you with loads of flavour. When I’m making lasagne, I tend to make the Bolognese sauce after lunch, let it simmer for an hour or so, and then turn off the heat and just let it sit until I’m ready to finish off.

First of all, finely dice the onion, carrot and celery, and get it sizzling in a generous splash of olive oil. Chop the streaky bacon into small pieces. Once the onion has started to soften and turn golden, add the bacon, the mince and a generous sprinkling of oregano and rosemary. Use a wooden spoon to break up the mince, and stir until the meat loses its pink colour, then add the red wine – there should be a hiss and the liquid should bubble. If not, turn the heat up, as you want the alcohol to evaporate and just leave behind a lovely flavour (this is why you add the wine at this point, not once the sauce is already made – otherwise the wine will make it bitter).

Next, chop the fresh tomatoes into chunks (making sure to chop out the stalk-y bit at the top) and add them to the pan along with the tinned tomatoes. Fill the tin with water and pour that in too. Season well, adding a bit more oregano or rosemary if you think the sauce needs it, and then turn the heat right down and leave it to bubble with the lid on top for about an hour. After that, turn the heat off and just leave the sauce on the hob or the counter (don’t put it in the fridge).

The lasagne needs to bake in the oven for nearly an hour, so start the final stage in advance of when you want to eat. Preheat the oven to 190˚C (170˚C fan), and while it’s getting up to temperature, put the sauce back on the hob on a high heat, without the lid, to reduce the liquid so it doesn’t end up too sloppy. Remember to stir it frequently so that it doesn’t burn on the bottom.

When the oven has reached the correct temperature, you’re ready to assemble the lasagne. Start with a layer of Bolognese on the bottom of the dish, top with lasagne sheets (there’s no need to soak or cook them beforehand, even if it says this on the packet – they’re so thin that the moisture from the sauce will cook them through) and spread a third of your crème fraiche over the top of the sheets. Repeat twice more so that you end up with crème fraiche on the top. Sprinkle with some grated cheddar and a little olive oil, then cover the dish with tinfoil (or with a saucepan lid if you have one that fits). Place in the oven for 20 minutes, then remove the lid or tinfoil and cook for a further 30 minutes.

By this point, the lasagne should be golden-brown on top and turning slightly crispy around the edges. Test that the pasta sheets are cooked through by piercing the lasagne with a fork in the middle – you should feel a slight resistance but the fork should cut through easily. Serve with plenty of green salad and a glass of red wine – delicious.