Lasagne

Like bolognese sauce, Lasagne is ‘a dish which, if not exactly lost in translation, has, in the grand British tradition, been considerably mangled’ (Felicity Cloake), so again I am making no claims about authenticity here. Some traditional meat lasagne recipes, for example, contain a ricotta and egg mixture rather than béchamel sauce. The version we enjoy has taken literally years of practice to finesse. For me, the key elements to a tall, non-sloppy lasagne that holds its shape are: four layers of pasta, a thick béchamel, restraint with the bolognese sauce and lashings of parmesan.

Serves 6

Ingredients

1 quantity of bolognese sauce (you should end up with some left over)
200g grated parmesan cheese
8 sheets dried lasagne (no pre-cooking required)

For the béchamel sauce
500ml milk
1 small onion
2 bay leaves
10 peppercorns
2 cloves
6 shards of blade mace
40g butter
40g flour
Salt, pepper, nutmeg

You will also need an oven-proof dish in which to cook the lasagne: I use a pyrex dish measuring 22 x 22 x 6 cm, which accommodates 2 sheets of lasagne per layer.

Method

Place the milk, onion, bay leaves, peppercorns, cloves and mace in a small saucepan. Bring just up to boiling point, then turn off the heat, cover and leave to infuse for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 160 (fan) and grease your lasagne dish.

Strain the milk, discard the infusion mix and wash out the saucepan. Melt the butter in the clean saucepan, raise the heat and add the flour. Cook for about a minute, then add the infused milk, whisking vigorously. Bring to the boil, whisking all the time, turn the heat down and simmer for 6-8 minutes. It will get quite thick.

Set up your station for assembling the lasagne: bolognese sauce, béchamel sauce, parmesan, lasagne. My preferred order of assembly is: 3 tbsp bolognese, a drizzle of béchamel, 3 tbsp parmesan, 2 sheets lasagne. Do this four times, then finish with a thicker layer of bolognese, the rest of the béchamel and a really thick carpet of grated parmesan.

Bake in the oven for 45 minutes until golden brown and bubbling. If you can wait (and would like to avoid burning your mouth), let it rest for 10 minutes before serving. A simple green salad or peas would be the ideal accompaniment.

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