So, armed with my trusty can of Cherry Coke (and a complete disregard for the 6 week detox I’ve just been on), I’ve finally conquered most of my hangover and made it into the kitchen today and am about to start this week’s challenge- Apples for Jam’s Meat Lasagna from page 32-33. I’m feeling quite proud of myself and have even gotten my tripod out of the car– where it’s spent most of the last year hibernating. I’ve read several photography tips that says it will come in handy for food photography so it’s finally being put to use!
So let’s start. Step 1 is to start on the meat filling which has to simmer and develop for about an hour. So first I put three onions in the freezer (somehow I don’t cry when they’ve been in the freezer- and it makes them easier for me to chop) and assemble the rest of the ingredients for the meat sauce on the counter- so 3 onions, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 kg minced beef, 2 bay leaves, 1 cinnamon stick, Worcestershire sauce, dried mint, paprika, white wine, and 800g of tinned tomatoes. It’s also about this time that I again start to contemplate whether I should make a dessert but vow to stay strong to my “this is not a dinner party” mantra. I also get totally distracted by iTunes for a good 5 minutes when I realise that I’m going to see Matchbox 20 on Wednesday and have only one song by them on ITunes, then I realise I can’t name more than 3 of their songs, but I digress slightly….
I sauté the onions in a heavy saucepan in half a cup of olive oil, then I add everything else except for the white wine and tomatoes. It all sautés and simmers away for about 10 minutes—pretty easy so far—but I’m not sure that Worcestershire sauce is an “authentic” Italian ingredient so I’m getting a bit sceptical of this one…. But you never know, there could be Italian Nonnas all over Italy who use Worcestershire sauce as their secret ingredient….
Then I add 375ml of wine (actually its 400ml but who’s counting)…I use quality cask wine that I always have on hand for cooking or for once friends are over and too drunk already for the good stuff….wine is another passion/hobby of mine, although possibly not after last night (I do say that every time I have a hangover).
I add two tins of diced tomatoes and let them cook for a few minutes. Finally, I add 750ml of water – whoa, what? Water? Seriously Tessa, couldn’t you have found something a bit more flavoursome than water to add? What about chicken stock or more wine or more Worcestershire sauce FFS! But oh well, this challenge is not WWSC (what would Steph cook) or even HWSC (how would Steph cook), so I’ll keep my mouth shut and add – water….
So the watery, beefy, tomato-y mix needs to come back to the boil and then simmer for an hour uncovered….which gives me time to actually tidy the house, it’s 4pm already and even though I’m not having a “dinner party”, I am having people over, so I should probably make the house look a bit more—tidy and presentable… so I leave my sauce to simmer but promise to write to it and check on it often.
Twenty minutes to go and I’m still not overly impressed with the water addition- it just seems really watery and the flavours are well, flat. I’m not panicking but….. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
The great thing about Lasagna is that it can be made ahead of time- as I’m finding out now. It’s 5pm and I’m about to start the béchamel, then I’ll assemble the lasagne, and pop it in the oven about 7ish…. Too easy—except, have I mentioned that never in life have I made béchamel sauce, and I generally hate making sauces, gravies, etc so this could get interesting very quickly!
But first I finish off the meat sauce by chopping up a small bunch of parsley and throwing it in for the last 10 minutes of cooking time.
The Bechamel wasn’t as hard as I thought- I took a big deep breath and melted 125g of butter. Ok, so far. Then I added flour- 81g to be exact. Whisked that in and watched as it transformed itself. Then I added 1L of milk warmed in the microwave—and yes, I did take it out of the plastic container first. I gradually added the warmed milk, let it cook for a second and then grated some nutmeg and added Celtic salt and freshly ground pepper. I let it cook for 5 minutes, and boom! A sauce is born!
The assembly is pretty easy- béchamel, pasta, meat, cheese- and repeat- and repeat and repeat until…..uh oh. It’s a good thing I bought the emergency back up lasagne sheets because, well I need them. We’re one layer from glory and out of meat sauce and out of lasagne. Normally not an issue, however the recipe says to end with a layer of pasta…. Oh snap! So I get the emergency pasta out which is now the pasta- but oh snap, do I need to boil it???? Hmmmmm dilemma dilemma dilemma….I took a punt and boiled the pasta first which made it a bit harder to handle because it was a bit sticky but it worked well nonetheless! I pushed through and successfully assembled the dish-
It was ready, baked and delicious and out of the oven in about 40 minutes. While it was cooking I made a salad- lettuce, grated carrots, tomato, fennel, etc.
I also popped some garlic bread into the oven (store bought) and voila! That was dinner!
It was quite well received and to be honest, the cinnamon gave the sauce a really different flavour. Everyone must have enjoyed it because there was not a scrap left!