Though admittedly I haven't always been a huge fan. We never made it in my house growing up, though we did buy various frozen versions of it. I was served it in cafeterias and at friends' houses, but it was always American lasagne. Americans like to use ricotta as a layer, a cheese I find unpalatable in texture, too much like paste. If they don't use ricotta then they use some other cheese like goat's cheese or cottage cheese. But the baked pasta, the flavourful sauces all made up for this, and I was happy enough to eat it.
It wasn't until I visited my aunt in Australia that I first tried a true lasagne bolognese and was blown away. Instead of cheese as a layer, you use a bechemel sauce (a white sauce) and the difference for me was astounding. Everything melted together in one gorgeous whole, and I was in awe. I asked my aunt for the recipe for the white sauce, for how she came up with the idea to use it and she looked at me as if I was nuts. "It's just a white sauce!" she exclaimed.
Oh. Right. A few months later I was back in the UK and Michael suggested we make some lasagne. We turned to Joy of Cooking for the recipe and have continued to use the recipe there for lasagne bolognese ever since. It is a long, laborious recipe, but as it lasts our whole family at least two meals, it is worth it. We make it about once a month. I made it yesterday as I needed an easy dinner to heat and give to the kids tonight before guising (what the Scots call trick or treating when they don't want to sound American).
This time I made a double batch of the bolognese sauce, as it is the long, drawn out sauce to make, and paired the lasagne with a salad that uses raw brussels sprouts. I was doubtful the sprouts would work as a salad, but they really, really did. I love brussels sprouts in any form, I confess (I even have a song for them which my children now sing too), but it's nice to have lots of different ways to prepare them.
But, first things first, the meat sauce. As I said, I was doing a double batch so I got everything out. The meat was fresh out the freezer and most of it was bison from Fife. It's free range and allegedly leaner than beef, though if you are looking to cut fat out of your diet, this is not the recipe to try.
I put the oil on to heat and threw the bacon in in frozen lumps. No, I didn't thaw it all the way out first. Yes, I'm sure it would be better if I did.
Once I had browned it enough for it to smell it tastily browning...
I put in the chopped onions, carrots, and celery.
They were cooked until they'd softened a bit...and I wasn't feeling patient...
So I threw in the 2 big lumps of meat still frozen. I actually like it going in frozen for this, as you slowly shave off the cooked parts from the frozen parts and it means you don't tend to end up with any accidental large lumps of mince.
So I added wine, stock, and tomato puree. Not that much tomato goes into a real bolognese sauce, according to Joy of Cooking, contrary to all I'd heard before.
Once that was stirred in I got it all to simmer and added a little milk.
Then I let it simmer for two hours, continuing to add milk every so often, until finally it looked like this. I froze half, and set the other half aside for the lasagne.
Now for the white sauce. Nothing too fancy.
So I melted some butter. Mmm...
To which I added flour.
And stirred it a couple of minutes.
I slowly added milk, stirring, until I had added all that was required, then I threw in celery leaves, carrot pieces, a halved onion, and a couple of cloves.
While stirring it regularly as it heated to just below simmering, I started on the sprouts. I love them on the stalk, but generally I just love seeing them and all their nutty goodness.
I cut off the ends, and this lady peeled off the excess leaves.
Keep whisking, it's thickening now...
Good, the sprouts were all done...
And the sauce was ready - I strained it to get out the veggies and lose any accidental lumps.
Then to this was added seasoning. The recipe says to add nutmeg here, but we tend to grate it onto everything as we layer the lasagne.
Now for the spinach pasta - I like to sneak greens in where I can.
Basically I threw it all in the food processor with the dough blade: eggs, thawed spinach, flour, and a bit of salt
And held onto the machine for dear life until it produced this.
Then I let it rest for a while during the school run. Only a half hour is needed. It makes it easier to roll out the longer you leave it. I then divided it into four pieces, one for each layer.
First into the dish went a layer of meat sauce,
Then I rolled out one piece of pasta dough to roughly the size of the dish. Precision is not essential.
Someone else made their own version.
I transferred the rolled out pasta into the dish.
Then went a layer of meat sauce and white sauce. My son claims he does not like white sauce, so I stirred them together to change the colour.
Then I added nutmeg, seasoning, and parmesan.
Then another layer of pasta
And another mixed layer, then another set but on top of the final piece of pasta
I just put white sauce and parmesan with nutmeg and seasoning - no meat sauce.
It was all wrapped in foil and put in the oven for 40 minutes.
While it was in there I roasted some hazelnuts.
Then rubbed them in a tea towel to get off most of the skin
And used the food processor to thinly slice the sprouts. I think the recipe's author was under the illusion that the reader would want to slice these thinly by hand. Aye, right.
Onto them went some lemon juice and olive oil
As well as these: some thinly sliced apples. I love apple season.
I then took the foil off the lasagne and put it back in to brown further.
While I put the nuts on the salad
Sometimes I like it a bit more brown than this, but hey, it was good and everyone ate it. I should have taken a photo of a slice of it, but I was too busy, you know, eating it. My family got some too.
I'll type up the recipes later, but if you are dying to look at one of them now, the bolognese sauce is here http://joyofcooking.wordpress.com/2007/11/17/bolognese-sauce-ragu-bolognese-page-307/, I can't easily find the others online just now.
Brussels Sprouts, Hazelnuts & Apple Salad (adapted from River Cottage Veg Every Day)
300g very fresh Brussels sprouts, trimmed
juice of one lemon
3 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp thyme
2 tart eating apples
Preheat oven to 180. Scatter nuts on baking sheet and toast until fragrant and browned, about 8-10 min. If they are skin-on, wrap in a clean tea towel then rub vigorously to remove most of skins. Set aside.
With slicer attachment, slice Brussels sprouts thinly, then place in bowl. Pour over lemon juice, olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper and stir to coat leaves evenly.
Quarter and core apple then thinly slice in food processor. Combine with sprouts and toss lightly. Scatter nuts over the top and serve.
3 Tbsp olive oil
30g smoky bacon bits
1 large carrot, chopped
2 celery sticks, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
175 ml beef stock
160 ml white wine
3 Tbsp tomato puree
375 ml whole milk
Heat olive oil over medium low heat and add bacon. Cook until it starts to release its fat.
Add veg and soften them, about 5 min
Add the meat and brown it.
Stir in wine, stock, stock and tomato puree.
Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently, partially covered, for 2 hours, occasionally adding milk 2 Tbsp at a time until all has been added. Season to taste.
1 batch Bolognese sauce
Plenty of Parmesan cheese
1 batch spinach pasta (recipe to follow)
875ml whole milk
1 small onion, halved
1/2 carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
4 celery leaves
2 whole cloves
Freshly grated nutmeg
Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.
Add flour, stirring until well blended. Cook for a couple minutes.
Gradually stir in milk, whisking constantly to avoid lumps.
Stir in onion, carrot, celery leaves and cloves.
Simmer gently, stirring often, until reduced by one third, about 15 minutes.
Strain the sauce into a bowl and discard vegetables.
Preheat oven to 180
Spread a thin layer of meat sauce over the bottom of the dish. Cover with a layer of pasta. Spread a thin layer of bechemel over the pasta and top with a thin layer of meat sauce. Sprinkle over parmesan and freshly grated nutmeg and top with another layer of pasta. Repeat the layers, reserving enough bechamel sauce to cover the final layer of pasta. Loosely cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes
Remove foil and put back in oven to brown.
Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.
170g frozen spinach
500g plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
Place flour and salt in food processor with dough blade and pulse to mix. Squeeze water from spinach and add along with eggs, then pulse until forms a ball of dough. Add olive oil if needed. Set dough aside for half hour to rest before rolling out, keeping it covered to prevent it drying out.