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Recipes Section

Italian Style Pasta - Lasagna

Several cultures use pasta, here we'll look only at Italian style pasta meals, specifically lasagna because it's one of those dishes that seem to be universally popular, has dozens of variations and is a cheap meal if you are on a tight budget. You'll find many recipes for pasta dishes with expensive exotic ingredients, like fresh field mushrooms and sauces that require cream to thicken (often written posthumously because the writer died of heart disease!).

A point to be aware of - pasta dishes are high in carbohydrate, so are not dieting food. If you are trying to control your weight, eat pasta seldom and know what's in it. I cringe when I see the popular chefs telling people to make sauces using cream. That's a recipe for disaster because cream is almost pure butterfat in disguise. Because pasta is high in carbohydrates, it is an ideal meal during winter for anyone who is very active.

Lasanga on a plate

Lasagna is probably the universally popular pasta dish

Lasagna pasta is cheap. Usually recipes will say you must use lean beef mince but the truth is any mince will do, beef, lamb, pork, turkey or even chicken - whatever is on special. Here I have used the "regular" mince that was on special for $3.00 for 500gms. It's higher in fat, normally used for barbacue use because it's so greasy when cooked but there's an easy fix for that here, that converts the meal into a lower fat content than if you used the lean mince.

Lasagna comes in a packet of flat sheets of pasta and is either pre cooked or will need cooking first. Try to get the pre-cooked lasagna if you can. The uncooked version is cooked by boiling. I do this by having a pot of boiling water nearby and dip the sheets in it for 2 minutes maximum, just so it's softened.

Lasagna is made using two separate sauces, a meat sauce rich in tomatoes with garlic, onions and a few herbs and a cheese sauce, laid down in alternating layers, (starting with the meat sauce. Never start with a layer of pasta - it will cement itself to your oven dish!). The whole mix is then baked in a deep oven dish and the flavours work through the pasta. The finished lasagna can be served straight away but for best results, let it cool in the dish overnight and cut it up tomorrow and warm it up again to serve. The flavours become stronger with the cooling overnight. It also freezes well too, either the whole dish or as single servings frozen in thos small deli plastic containers.

Ingredients

These are not fussy measurements and will make 4 servings:

  • Lasagne sheets (the amount will vary depending on how many layers and how may servings Here I have only done two layers).

  • 2 tablespoon cooking oil (preferably rice bran oil).

  • 1 large onion, finely chopped.

  • a glass of red wine (for the meat sauce, not the chef!).

  • 1 large carrot grated.

  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed.

  • 500gm mincemeat or finely chopped bacon.

  • 2 400gm cans of tomatoes (mash them if they are whole) or a 6 fresh tomatoes and two teaspoons of tomato paste.

  • Two teaspoons of powdered stock (or two cups of liquid stock).

  • i tablespoon of butter.

  • three tablespoons of flour.

  • two cups of milk.

  • between 25 and 125 gms of grated cheese (supposed to be mozzeralla but I use tasty cheddar).

  • a good pinch of oregano, marjoram and basil.

  • Salt and pepper to taste.

ingredients to make lasagna

Some of the ingredients - all basic items.

Meat and tomato sauce

  1. Make the meat sauce by frying onions and garlic in a pot with the oil until soft.

  2. Add the meat, wine and herbs then leave to simmer. Salt and pepper to taste.

  3. sauce simmering in a pot

    The meat sauce simmering.

    Cheese rue

  4. Melt butter in a pot and add the flour, stirring continuously. Cook for about 2 minutes or untl the mixture changes colour to a biscuit colour

  5. Add the milk slowly, stiring all the time until it turns creamy.

  6. two pots one of red and the other whiite sauce

    Both sauces - I've turned the heat right down and am adding the milk to the white sauce.

  7. Stir in the cheese and keep stirring until all the cheese has dissolved. Take off the heat.

  8. two pots one of red and the other whiite sauce

    I'm stirring in the cheese.

    Assembly

  9. lightly grease the pan and put a layer of the meat sauce in the bottom.

  10. Add a layer of lasagna sheets (my pan is rounded, so I cut my sheets round at the ends with scissors). Do not let the sheets overlap and use only a single thickness of sheets

  11. Add a layer of cheese rue to cover the lasagna sheets completely.

  12. Adding cheese sauce to lasagna layer over meat sauce

    I have a layer of meat sauce, then lasagna and am now adding cheese sauce.

  13. Add a layer of lasagna sheets.

  14. Add another layer of meat sauce (for a real taste blast sprinkle some parmesan cheese on top).

  15. Add another layer of lasagna sheets. Keep adding alternate layers until the pan is full. The top layer cannot be lasagna sheets (they'll bake into plates of leather). If it's meat sauce, sprinkle grated cheese on top to seal in the moisture in the oven.

  16. the lasagna is ready to go in the oven

    The lasagna is ready to go into the oven with 3 bay leaves for decoration.

  17. Place in the oven at 180 degrees (the dial just past half way between off and full on) and leave to cook for at least 40 minutes. I like to leave it covered for at least 30 minutes then remove the lid so the top browns.

  18. the lasagna cooked in the oven

    The lasagna is cooked. I also used the same oven to glaze the tops of two single serve bowls if fettucini

  19. Once cooked, the fats from the meat and the molten cheese will rise and pool on the top. It is orange, stained by the tomatoes. Dab this up with a paper towel while it's still hot from the oven. Because I used low grade mince there's a lot of fat there.

  20. Removing the fat by dabbing witn a paper towel

    Removing the fat while it's still hot, with a paper towel

  21. Leave covered to cool and place in the fridge overnight. Cut and serve tomorrow when the flavour has steeped.

Ancient recipe book - the Apicus

Original Lasagna recipe?

In the Ancient Rome, there was a dish similar to the lasagne called lasana or lasanum (Latin word for "container" or "pot") described in the book De re coquinaria by Marcus Gavius Apicius (shown above) a collection of Roman cookery recipes, thought to have been compiled late 4th or early 5th century AD

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Bar - Gold bar with Granny Smith Apple

Serving Suggestions

Lasagna should not be served within 2 hours of being cooked. The flavours need to steep and combine. To add that really strong flavour, sprinkle a little crumbed parmesan cheese over each layer of meat sauce. Do this very sparingly because the aroma of the parmesan is very strong, especially trapped inside the lasagna.

vegetable lasagna

A serving of vegetarian lasagna

You can make vegetarian lasagna by simply replacing the meat in the meat sauce with zuchini, pumpkin, or sweet potato or almost any other vegetable. If you thinly slice an eggplant and layer it in the lasagna, it makes a nice vegetable substitute. Adding finely chopped silver beet to the cheese sauce also makes an attractive variation. The thicker the layers of sauces, the stronger the flavour. Commercially made lasagnas use up to 4 layers of pasta, to use less on the more expensive sauces.

If you intend to freeze your lasagna, make it in an aluminium foil dish, placed inside an roasting pan. This way you won't risk any accidents trying to pick up a heavy floppy aluminium dish full of scalding hot sauces, topped with boiling hot molten cheese.

Bar - Gold bar with Granny Smith Apple

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