Cheese and tomato are a partnership made in gastronomic heaven, but generations of Italians have perfected the union in ways no other nation has.
Whether as a simple pizza, a base for a more adventurous creation, or wrapped around fresh pasta, they appear hand in hand in many delicious guises.
One of the best known dishes is lasagne, a comforting favourite named after the sheets of pasta (lasagna) which separate the taste laden layers of ragu and béchamel sauce.
While we’ve all reached for the convenient jars on the supermarket shelf, making lasagne from scratch isn’t as labour intensive as you might imagine. This versatile meal option becomes a go to favourite, and is worth spending some time on to impress your nearest and dearest.
The basic elements of a lasagne are layers of sauces, pasta, and cheese. To enjoy time and again, follow these steps to create your own signature recipe.
1. Tomato sauce
For a traditional dish, the first layer is ragu- a meat-based tomato sauce made by softening diced onion, celery, and garlic in olive oil, browning minced beef steak, and adding tomato purée, beef stock, red wine, and herbs.
If meat isn’t your thing, you can omit the beef and replace it with vegetables such as courgettes, mushrooms, and peppers to create a tomato sauce which is a suitable vegetarian option.
The next layer is pasta. Purists will have you making your own from plain flour, eggs, and salt (which is easier than you think – you don’t even need a pasta machine) but if necessity demands it, fresh or dried ready made sheets from the supermarket will suffice.
3. White sauce
On top of the first pasta layer is a béchamel or white sauce This is made by melting butter in a pan, stirring in flour until blended, and gradually adding milk before bringing to the boil and continuing to stir until thickened.
Pour this over the sheets of lasagna, and top it with another layer of pasta.
Repeat this layering until the sauces are gone or you run out of room in the dish, preferably ending with the béchamel sauce.
4. Say cheese
The grand finale is a sprinkling of cheese. In its country of origin, this would usually consist of grated Parmesan and chunks of mozzarella scattered through it, but the cheese layer can be personalised to suit your taste and preference.
5. Oven ready
At this stage, the lasagne dish could be covered and stored in the fridge, or stick it straight into preheated oven for around 45 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is browned.
Serve this tasty tower of flavoursome layers with salad and warm garlic bread for a satisfying meal any day of the week, one that can easily be replicated to feed a hungry crowd.
By Janine Cobain, Excalibur Press