Late-Night Lasagne

 

Finally a savoury dish from me! As much as I love baking and satisfying my sweet-tooth cravings, making a big dinner for my family when I’m back at home is one of my favourite things to do of an evening.  This week, my little sister has been staring as the lead in her end of year musical and, like the ever-supporting older sister, I went to watch her on her final night. This has been the case for the last 7 years and yes, the shows are fantastic and I love going and watching her do her thing, but there is always one come down at the end of the night: no proper dinner for us when we get home.

This year, I decided to prep this lasagne in the afternoon so that when we inevitably arrived home at silly o’clock (it was half 11 last year) we had a proper dinner to sit down to, rather than picking up our usual battered chips (a midlands delicacy) and hurrying home to eat them before they get cold.

This lasagne was also a favourite of mine to cook at university, I would usually cook up a big batch (about 6 portions) and freeze it so I always had something in, which came in very useful during revision and exams when I would get home after 10 hour days in the library and wasn’t really in the mood to cook up a big meal. At uni, I would use turkey mince in place of beef mince to save money, both taste delicious and don’t require any alternations to the cooking methods/times. If you’re going to freeze this, then make sure you defrost it fully before reheating in the oven for 30 minutes, or the microwave for 4 (minutes).

Ingredients (Makes 6-8 Portions, depending on how hungry you are!)

For the Meat Ragu:

1 Onion (chopped)

2 Cloves Garlic (Finely chopped)

2 Celery Stalks (Chopped)

2 Large Carrots (Chopped)

250g Beef or Turkey Mince

250g Mushrooms, stalks and all (Sliced)

OPTIONAL: Half a Yellow Pepper and Half a Red Pepper (Chopped)

2 Tbsp Tomato Puree

400g Tin Chopped Tomatoes

1 Medium Glass (175ml) Red Wine

1/2 TSp Table Salt

6 Peppercorns (Crushed)

2 Tbsp Mixed Italian Dried Herbs

1 Beef or Chicken Stock Cube

For the Béchamel Sauce: 

1 Litre Semi-Skimmed Milk

Pinch of Nutmeg

Pinch of Salt

6 Peppercorns (Crushed)

80g Butter (I have used both salted and unsalted and both work fine)

80g Plain Flour

For the Topping: 

200g Grated Cheddar Cheese

Recipe

– Before beginning anything, preheat the oven to 180C/160C Fan Oven/Gas Mark 4/350F.

For the Meat Ragu (I usually make this first, and then go on to making the Béchamel Sauce, as that requires quite a lot of attention):

Chop the onions and garlic and add the a large, heavy bottomed sauce pan with a few glugs of olive oil. Keep this on a low heat with the lid on until the onions have started to soften (but aren’t transparent/completely soft yet) – about 5 minutes.

After this 5 minutes, when the onions are slightly softened, add the carrots and celery, and again leave on a low heat with the lid on for a further 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent anything sticking to the bottom of the pan. Once the onions and other veg are softened, add the minced beef (or turkey mince) and cook on a low heat until the meat is browned.

Once all the meat is brown, give the mixture a stir and add in the sliced mushrooms (in this case I also added chopped peppers at this point, but this was a first for me and isn’t really necessary, I just had peppers in the house that needed to be used up!) Add the tomato puree and stir until the puree is evenly distributed through all the ingredients.

Cover the pan and leave everything to cook together, still on a low heat, for 10 minutes, again stirring occasionally so things don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. After these 10 minutes, add the tin of chopped tomatoes, the glass of wine, the salt and pepper and Italian herbs, and refill the empty tin with boiling water and one stock cube (either beef or chicken depending on whether you are using beef or turkey mince) and give the mixture a stir, before turning up the heat and bringing the mix to a boil with the lid on.

Once the mixture has come to a boil, remove the lid and let the ragu bubble away and reduce, allowing some of the liquid to evaporate away so the ragu isn’t too ‘watery’. When the ragu has met your desired consistency, turn the heat off, put the lid back on and leave to one side so you can make up your béchamel sauce.

For the Béchamel Sauce: 

Add the milk, nutmeg, salt and pepper to a saucepan and simmer on a low heat. Whilst the milk is heating up, melt the butter in another large heavy bottomed saucepan. When the butter has melted, gradually stir in the flour until you have a smooth but solid paste (known as a roux).

When your butter and flour has reached this consistency, gradually add the milk to the roux until you have a thick white sauce. At this stage, stir in the grated cheddar cheese until it has combined well, then take the sauce of the heat and get ready to assemble the lasagne!

For the Topping: 

When it comes to assembling lasagnes, everyone has their own ways, and this is how I tend to do it:

Layer lasagne sheets across the bottom of the oven dish, followed by a layer of meat ragu, then white sauce, and then a third of the grated cheese. Repeat this whole process again twice, until you finish with a layer of white sauce with the final third of the grated cheese on top.

Place the lasagne in the centre of the oven and cook for 30-40 minutes, until the cheese is browned and crispy on top.

When cooked, remove from the oven, leave it to cool a little bit and enjoy!

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