There can be no better comfort food than a meaty, tomatoey and cheesy lasagne. The tasty sauce and the oozy golden cheese on top is something that induces serious day dreaming. I used to shy away from making lasagne because of past failed attempts, the copious amount of steps/pans/sauces one had to make and the seemingly endless cooking of the dish. My cravings, however, soon drove me into the kitchen and I surprised myself by how easy it was. I’m not saying that there are any fewer steps these days, but this dish seemed a little less arduous and a lot more rewarding.
As simple as the recipe is, I was recently served a disastrous excuse of a lasagne at an Italian restaurant. With about 15 sheets of pasta and only cheese between them (a horrible tomato sauce poured over this abomination) I vowed to never order the dish again! I’m sure my recipe is not authentic in any sense of the word, but it is delicious and it is extremely good value for money, making 8 generous serves. I try to use an equal quality of meat and vegetables as it makes the lasagne not only lighter but healthier too (for your wallet and your hips!).
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced small
2 medium carrots, diced small
4 stalks celery, diced small
4 garlic cloves, chopped finely
500g extra lean beef mince
2 tbsp dried oregano
1 red capsicum, diced small
250g mushrooms, diced small
690g jar tomato passata
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 ½ cup beef stock
1 dried bay leaf
2 tbsp plain flour
2–3 cup hot milk*
1 garlic clove, finely minced
100g cheddar cheese grated
50g parmesan cheese, grated
18 instant lasagne sheets
*Tip: To avoid lumps in my white sauces, I heat the milk which seems to make it incorporate faster and more evenly into the flour and butter.
1. Start with the meat sauce by heating the oil in a large saucepan and add the onion, carrots and celery. Sauté on a medium-high temperature for 6–8 mins; you’ll want to soften them quite a bit and wait for the edges to brown. Once lightly golden, add the garlic and cook for another 2 mins.
2. Add the beef and start to break up with a wooden spoon so that you don’t have any big lumps.
3. Once the meat is browned, add the oregano, capsicum and mushrooms. Stir everything to combine and cook for another 3 mins or until the vegetables have started to release their moisture.
4. Add the passata, tomato paste (I prefer to add it at this stage to avoid it tasting bitter), stock and bay leaf and bring everything to a simmer. Turn the heat to low, put a lid on and cooking gently for 45 mins. This cooking time is important for the favours to develop and for everything to become tender. When the time is up season with salt and pepper to taste.
5. To make the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the flour, using a wooden spoon to stir it quickly into the butter to form a loose paste, cook for 2–3 mins to cook out the flour. Swap to a whisk and add the first cup of hot milk to the pan whisking vigorously. Once this has been combined (without lumps), continue to add the second cup of milk. Add the minced garlic, 70g cheddar cheese and 30g parmesan cheese to the sauce (reserving the rest) and a grinding of pepper. If the sauce seems too thick, add more milk. Remember that the sauce will thicken further when it is in the oven.
6. Preheat your oven to 210°C. I use a large roasting dish to cook my lasagne in. To assemble the lasagne, remove the bay leaf and place a quarter of the meat sauce in the bottom on the tin to cover. Arrange 6 instant lasagne sheets evenly and cover everything thing with meat sauce. Top with a layer of cheese sauce and repeat two more times. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.
7. Bake for 30–35 minutes or until the top is nicely golden.
8. When the lasagne comes out of the oven, let it rest for 15 mins before serving. This makes it easier to cut and avoids those nasty mouth burns as your loved ones dive in.
This is a great dish to make in advance. I’ve made it the day before up until the end of step 6 and baked from cold. Once cooked you can also freeze the portions for up to 2 months and reheat in the oven/microwave at your convenience.