Sunday, 4 July 2010

Cooking from scratch: Lasagne, with green salad

One of life's greatest pleasures is making things from scratch. Sewing, painting, beading, anything that involves taking something and making something else. The greatest part is that you can have it exactly the way you want it, all you have to do is know the how, and it's usually very simple. My favourite way to make something from scratch is cooking, after all, what better way to enjoy something than to eat it?

Lasagne is a dear favourite of mine. To make an enormous lasagne, enough to feed 8-10 or so, even more if you team it with other delicious accompaniments, you take 2 brown onions and roughly dice, and crush 4-6 cloves of garlic (to taste). Warm some olive oil in a large saucepan and add the onions followed by the garlic. Add 2 teaspoons of chilli flakes and stir. As a real treat I like to also add in 100 grams of sliced and chopped salami. Continue cooking until the onions are soft and a tiny bit browned.

Roughly slice 300 grams of mushrooms (or approximately 10 medium-large mushrooms) and add into the saucepan. Continue stirring until the mushrooms are soft and coated in the delicious chilli infused olive oil. Add in 1 kilogram of good minced beef and continue stirring so that the meat does not brown in big lumps. As soon as the meat has browned add in 2 tins of tomatoes and 1 jar of pasta sauce and combine. Bring the sauce to a gentle simmer and reduce the heat so it simmers gently. Grate 1 zucchini and add into the sauce, along with 4 frozen spinach cubes. Add 1 tablespoon of sugar (or more if the tomatoes taste too acidic), salt to taste, and any herbs you like. Dried oregano is fabulous, or fresh basil and parsley. Continue to simmer gently, stirring occasionally. In the meantime, heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius and start on the white sauce.

Now people for some reason get a bit nervous with making white sauce in a saucepan, something to do with it going lumpy. Okay so let's address this now to dispel your fears, so we can just get on with it. White sauce is essentially butter, flour, and milk (with cheese for this lasagne recipe). If you follow my instructions it shouldn't go lumpy, but if it does, so what?! It's lumpy, they'll never know. AND if it's really lumpy and gross you can always start again. No biggy.

Take around 50 grams of butter and melt gently in a small pan. Add around the same amount of flour (use plain flour too) - no need to measure, just keep adding flour until there's not butter left on it's own in the pan and the mixture comes together in a big glob. Now here's the first important thing. Make sure you fry the butter and flour mixture for a few minutes. Otherwise your sauce will taste floury and a bit yuk. Just leave it on the heat and keep stirring. Once that is done, add in 2 drops of milk, quite literally 2 drops, this is the second important thing. If you add the milk slowly and incorporate it at each step the sauce will not be lumpy. Incorporate the 2 drops of milk then add a little more and incorporate that. Make sure the milk mixes in and the mixture becomes smooth again before adding the next slosh of milk. Once the sauce becomes saucy (as opposed to globby, as it will look starting out), you can add a larger volume of milk, and stir until it thickens. If it's too thick, just add more milk. Add in some parmesan and some grated tasty cheese, and melt, and there's your white sauce for the top of the lasagne.

To build the lasagne, start with a few ladles of the red sauce (so it's around 1-2 cm thick in a large baking/casserole dish, make sure it's large!). Atop this goes lasagne sheets, then more red sauce, then more lasagne sheets. If you like you can add a layer of white sauce here, but I only do that if I've made too much white sauce, it's not necessary. Continue building until you either run out of room in your large baking/casserole dish or run out of red sauce and then place the final layer of lasagne sheets on top. Cover the top of the lasagne sheets with the white sauce, and then top with more parmesan and more tasty cheese (just enough to make a lovely golden crust on top). Bake the lasagne for 40 minutes in the oven, or slightly longer if you need more goldenness on top.

A really lovely way to serve the lasagne is with a green salad and garlic bread to accompany it. You can make garlic bread from scratch if you like, but I don't think there's anything wrong with buying it. After all, it's bread, butter and garlic. It is lovely to make it, but don't be hard on yourself if you can't be bothered after all the other cooking!

For a great green salad, roughly chop up 1 large or 2 small green coral lettuce. Finely dice (into small cubes) 2 tomatoes, 4 mushrooms, 1/2 a red spanish onion, and 1 ripe avocado. Place into a large salad bowl. To dress combine 1 part olive oil, 1 part white vinegar, 1 dollop of dijon mustard, 1/4 teaspoon sugar, pinch of salt and shake of pepper (all to taste) into a clean jar. Put the lid on the jar and shake until the mixture looks creamy. If the mixture isn't creamy add a little more mustard and shake again. Add a small amount of dressing to the salad bowl and mix all ingredients with your hands (clean hands please). The mushiness of the avocado will add creaminess to the salad.

This really does make a lovely meal, enjoy!

Shopping list

1 kilogram minced beef
100 grams salami (optional)
Olive oil
2 brown onions
4-6 cloves of garlic
Chilli flakes
10 medium-large mushrooms
1 zucchini
Frozen spinach cubes
2 tins of tomatoes
1 jar pasta sauce
Instant lasagne sheets (2 boxes)
Parmesan cheese
Tasty cheese

White sauce
50 grams butter
Plain flour
Parmesan cheese
Tasty cheese

Green salad
1 large coral lettuce (or 2 small)
2 tomatos
1 ripe avocado
4 mushrooms
1/2 red spanish onion

Olive oil
White vinegar
Dijon mustard

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