Words and photos by Ren Behan
We’re on the brink of autumn and saying our warm goodbyes to outdoor eating, barbecues and colourful salads. As the days grow shorter and colder, our cravings move toward the familiar, with more substantial, warming foods and hardier ingredients.
Comfort Food, Jamie’s latest book out now, celebrates the changing seasons, and recipes inspired from childhood memories – an opportunity for me to see which comfort food dishes I remember from growing up and which are completely new to me.
I’ve found that comfort food and comfort cooking is definitely all about creating dishes that instantly bring on that “warm and fuzzy” feeling. Slow roasts, oven bakes, mashed potatoes and gravy, and puddings with lashings of custard all beckon. I think of it as “rainy day” food; the kind of food you want to eat when you’re feeling under the weather or when you’re having a pyjama day. It’s restorative, wholesome, tasty food that conjures up happy memories, or that reminds you of a particular place or time.
At the very top of my comfort food list is an oven-baked, cheese-topped lasagne. There’s a certain process involved in preparing this dish; there are stages, it takes time, it is almost crafted. It might seem like a labour-intensive task, but it’s worth the effort spending a little time creating those flavourful layers that come together slowly as they bake. See it as a ritual and don’t rush. You could even channel the Italian Mamma (or Papà!) within and try making your own fresh egg pasta; it’s not as difficult as you might think. With fresh pasta, the end result is a much lighter dish. You should also experiment with the flavours within the layers of your dish. Purists will enjoy slow cooking Bolognese, while more adventurous cooks might like to try a version using pancetta, pork belly, squash and chilli or even a vegetarian aubergine lasagne.
My own white lasagne (lasagne in bianco) favourite is one made with fresh pasta sheets, griddled courgette (or zucchini), Italian ham and mushrooms with a white sauce. I promise you it is worth the effort – you’ll definitely find this recipe a comfort as we slide into autumn.
Ham, mushroom & courgette lasagne
For the white sauce
- 600 ml whole milk
- 2 tbsp plain flour
- 50g mature Cheddar cheese, grated
For the lasagne
- 500g fresh lasagne sheets
- 4 large courgettes
- Olive oil
- 700g white mushrooms
- 300g Italian ham (Prosciutto Cotto)
- Sea salt and black pepper
- 50g mature cheddar cheese
- Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas 6.
First, make your white sauce. Pour 500ml whole milk into a saucepan and bring to a simmer on a very gentle heat. Whisk two tablespoons of plain flour with 100ml whole milk, until you have a completely smooth paste. Add the paste to the simmering pan of milk and whisk well. Continue to cook on a very gentle heat until the sauce begins to slightly bubble and thicken. Add 50g mature Cheddar cheese and stir again. Cover with clingfilm and set to one side.
Using a peeler or a food processor, very finely slice the courgette lengthways. Heat a large griddle pan, drizzle with olive oil and fry the courgette in batches, flipping over after a minute or so, or once charred. Once you’ve griddled the courgettes, add a further drizzle of olive oil to the pan and add the sliced mushroom. Fry the mushrooms for a couple of minutes and transfer them to a dish.
To assemble the lasagne, take a rectangular baking dish (approx. 30 x 35cm) and line it with baking paper. Ladle a small amount of white sauce onto the bottom of the dish and top with a layer of fresh lasagne sheets. Spoon over some more of the white sauce and lay half of the griddled courgettes, along with half of the mushrooms, half of the ham, a good grating of Parmesan and a twist of salt and pepper.
Top with another layer of lasagne sheets, add some more white sauce and repeat the same process, using up the rest of the courgette, ham and mushrooms. Lay a final layer of fresh lasagne sheets on top, spoon over any remaining white sauce, scatter over the Cheddar and grate over plenty of Parmesan cheese and a final twist of black pepper.
Bake the lasagne in your preheated oven for 30 minutes, until golden and bubbling.
Look out for some more tasty comfort food recipes coming up soon, or buy Jamie’s new book here.