By Ren Behan
The best lasagne I ever ate was in the foothills of the northern Italian mountains of Emilia-Romagna in Italy. My sister’s mother-in-law, Carmela, had made it. I remember the paper-thin handmade pasta, layered up with a flavourful slow-cooked ragù of pork and beef, a light, white sauce and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese grated over each layer and all over the top. A really good homemade lasagne can’t be beaten. It’s the ultimate comfort food, a great crowd-pleaser and it’s perfect for the whole family, especially the kids.
For a truly Italian experience at home, you might fancy having a go at making your own pasta. If not, the next best alternative is to pick up some fresh lasagne sheets from the chiller cabinet. For a Simple Baked Lasagne, start off by making a ragù, which is the meaty sauce that will go between the layers of pasta. The longer you can cook the meaty sauce for, the better, so make this in advance if you can. You can even use leftover cuts of shredded meat from a slow-roast if you have any. Next, make a simple white sauce called a ‘Béchamel’ or a ‘Besciamella’ or follow the steps in the recipe for Jamie’s quick crème fraiche alternative.
The rest of the lasagne making process is really just an assembly job. You can even get the kids to help with layering it all up. Don’t forget to add plenty of grated Parmesan cheese between each layer. The top should have a really good covering of grated cheese, so that when it bakes in the oven, you’ll get a crispy golden topping.
If I don’t have time to make a ragù meat sauce, I make an Italian recipe called ‘Lasagne Gocca D’oro’ which is made with ham and mushrooms – the kids love helping me with that one as they can chop the mushrooms, tear the ham and grate the cheese, too. I also sometimes make a quick meat sauce using really good quality sausage meat, which takes less time to cook than mince. I’m also really looking forward to trying Jamie’s Chicken Lasagne, too. You can watch the video here for some simple step-by-step instructions.
If you’re not a fan of meat lasagne, or you need to feed a crowd including vegetarian guests, try Jamie’s baked Aubergine Lasagne, which uses the soft flesh of a steamed aubergine, flavoured with garlic, thyme, chilli and basil. You layer it up in the same way that you would the simple baked lasagne, adding cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.
Making a baked lasagne packed with flavour is a guaranteed way to keep the family happy – and don’t be afraid to experiment with fillings. Buon Appetito!