Lasagne al Forno

I make various kinds of lasagne, sometimes using slices of roast aubergine instead of pasta but the real deal is lasagne al forno. I like it with layers of stewed tomato as well as meat and béchamel, so it ends up really squishy but is lighter to eat. The three components: meat, tomato and seasoned white sauce can be made in advance on different occasions, then all that is required is layering up. Any ragu works well, I happened to use pork which ends up dark and rich but lamb (Lamb Ragu) or beef (Beef Ragu with Crusty Polenta) or a mix of lamb and beef, even chicken, turkey or duck all work deliciously well. In this instance, I made a buttery tomato sauce with slightly squashy peeled, chopped tomatoes cooked in a generous amount of butter with salt and pepper, cooking until jammy but concasse (seeding is important otherwise it will be too wet) or passata in a jar works perfectly. The béchamel needs to be thick, but cooked sufficiently long that the flour not to taste raw and seasoning first will noticeably enrich the overall flavours. And be generous, you want plenty, so the top has a good thick layer under the cloak of Parmesan. I use an oblong gratin dish so the lasagne fits neatly, don’t worry if you need to break the sheets to fit gaps; it will merge perfectly as it cooks.

Serves 4
Prep ragu: 25 min, bechamel: 10 min, lasagne: 15 min
Cook ragu: 60 min, bechamel: 15 min lasagne: 30 min

For pork ragu:
1 onion
1 sprig rosemary
2 tbsp olive oil
1 bay leaf
2 tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 carrot
500g pork mince
½ tbsp flour
200ml red wine
250ml chicken stock (cube is fine)
25g flat leaf parsley
béchamel sauce:
600ml milk
1 bay leaf
4 cloves
4 black pepper corns
75g butter
2 tbsp flour
300ml passata
375g egg lasagne sheets
freshly grated Parmesan

If making Pork Ragu, click here to get the recipe. If making Lamb Ragu or Beef Ragu with Crusty Polenta, click here.To make the béchamel, begin by simmering the milk for 5 minutes with the bay leaf, cloves, black peppercorns and generous pinch salt. Leave to go cold – I cover the pan to prevent a skin forming. To complete the sauce, melt 60g butter in a medium pan over a medium heat. Stir in the flour, stirring to make a stiff roux, add the strained, seasoned milk, stirring or using a globe whisk to easily disperse lumps, returning to a wooden spoon once smooth and adjusting the heat so the sauce simmers very gently. Cook, stirring constantly over a low heat, for 5 minutes. Taste to check the sauce has sufficient salt and doesn’t taste floury; if the latter, cook for another couple of minutes. Chose a suitable rectangular gratin dish – mine was 20x30cmx5cm – smear with leftover butter and begin layering up. Begin with a small smear of béchamel followed by a third of the meat and third of the tomato, a more generous layer of béchamel, lasagne sheets to cover and then repeat, twice, ending with béchamel to cover. Allow to cool and set then dust generously with finely grated Parmesan. Place in a shallow roasting tin in case of spillage as it cooks in a hot oven – 180C/gas mark 4 for 30 minutes or until the top is crusty and golden, the sauce bubbling round the edge. Cool for 5 minutes before you attack. Yum.