Lasagne loveliness

You know sometimes when you feel like no matter what, you deserve a treat? Yes, I have been good on my diet and yes, I have lost weight… and yes, I would have carried on with it. In fact, I have every intention of going back on the diet. But not tonight.

The constant snow and darkness, now followed by the miserable rain; the cold and disruption to everything is getting everyone down. Added to that, the nasty fall where I banged my head…

Oh and my camera has broken. I have to use my BlackBerry, or the Bear’s camera. And I had just (as in the day-before-just) bought a new battery, and two chargers (one for the car) for my camera. Insult piled upon injury!

Well, do you really think that some steamed vegetables, say, or maybe some celery would make me feel better?

Or would this…….?

A steaming dish of lasagne… or as the lovely Saucy Smith , from lobstersandwich calls it, Faux-sagna. Read her description and recipe and then you will see why I just had to do it….

Hot, steaming pasta with delicious ragu, bound together with a cheesy bechamel sauce?

Easy to eat…. so very easy to eat while curled up on a sofa…. perhaps with some garlic bread?

Surely, after the week I have had… and the bump on the head that I got, it would be not only right, but, in fact, eminently sensible to have lasagne? I’d been reading how Saucy made her her free-form lasagne and it seemed so right.

The essence of this recipe is that you don’t use pasta sheets and build it up.. you use what you have and you make it quickly. Saucy used penne but I didn’t have any. I had half a bag of lumaconi and a jar full of macaroni. I could work with that. I’d have to… I just needed  to put the two sorts together to get enough.

I had some beef mince in the freezer, some tinned tomatoes, some Parmesan cheese. I had half a pint of milk. I had two eggs. I had everything I needed!

First of all, saute some onion until it is soft and fragrant, then

…add the mince and brown that off.

Take the pan off the heat.

Add the chopped plum tomatoes and stir it all round

And put it all in a big bowl and mix it round.

While that was going on, I had cooked the pasta… I had to do it separately as I was using two different sizes. Big bits first, then while they are draining, do the littler bits of macaroni.

That only takes a few minutes, just drain each pan full and let it dry off.

While that’s drying, make the cheesy bechamel sauce.

To make a good base bechamel, you need equal quantities of butter and flour.

 I like to use Italian ’00’ flour, which is extra fine. (I make pasta from it when I have the time, but today is not the day for that)  If you haven’t got the Italian flour don’t worry, just use plain flour.

I melted 30g of butter and then stirred in 30g of flour.

This really is the work of moments… a gentle stir round to bring it together, let it cook for a couple of minutes or so then start to add milk.

Lumpy? Yes, of course, but it just needs you to stir it quickly, consistently and well until it becomes a smooth and silky sauce

Keep going and add the milk slowly. I used the half pint. I wanted it to be thick and creamy. A sprinkle of salt and a grating of pepper freshens it up.

Once it is smooth, add handfuls of finely grated parmesan – I used maybe 80g because that was what I had (and I did need some for something else…)

The thing is, you must taste it. Does it suit you? Do you like the taste? You’re the one that is eating it.

Take it off the heat and add a couple of egg yolks (the whites can be used maybe tomorrow in scrambled eggs or an omelette. Tomorrow is another day, another meal)

Stir it in, making the sauce rich and delicious.

The rest of the grated parmesan?

Just to prove how quickly this can be done, I had started making some foccacia when I was getting the other ingredients together. Possibly the easiest bread to make in a hurry.

I tweaked it by adding chopped garlic to the dough so it was kneaded through the dough (at Christmas I made it with snippets of bacon on the top and garlic puree in it ) and then,  when it was beautifully plumped up, I scattered the fluffily fine grated parmesan over it.

That can bake when the lasagne goes in to the oven.

That’s not a great photograph but that is using my phone… trust me, it is beautifully bouncy and when I prodded it with my fingers they just sank in, the dimples just ready and waiting for a drizzle of oil.)

Back to the lasagne…

That mixture of pasta will have dried off by now so add it to the bowl with the meat and tomato mix

(Actually I am liking the look of this with the two different sizes)

Then, pour three quarters of the cheesy bechamel into the bowl and stir it through.

Don’t use all of it… I said, three quarters. The rest has to be blobbed on the top, so you must leave some

See how it makes a creamy, tomatoey mix?

How it seeps and fills the pasta?

Butter a good sized baking dish and pour the mix in

Then blob what is left of the bechamel over it. Don’t cover it… this is a random splodging of sauce!

Oven on…175 degrees

Free-form lasagne in on one shelf, foccacia on another

Quickly wipe down the benches, open some wine and prepare for bliss

The bread will take about 15 minutes and the lasagne maybe 30. That’s good because it means the foccacia has time to cool slightly before you start eating it.

Break the bread so you can both get at it

Get the lasagne out and scoop out a big bowlful

(Do you like the sound, as I do, of a spoon pulling up a portion… that first spoonful comes out with a sort of sucking popping noise.. maybe a sticky squelch… you know what I mean? It just tells you this is going to be good)

That’s not a great photo but I have to say, there’s only so long I was going to stand around, pointing my phone at it, while I breathed in the smell of lasagne.

There were delicious little morsels of macaroni and big shell like lumaconi, filled with a glorious mix of meat and tomato and cheesy bechamel.

Lovely garlicly, cheesey foccacia alongside it.

Now THAT made me feel better.