A Rather Good Lasagne, Crisp Green Salad & Tingly Lemon Gelato.
The latch of our front gate can quite often be heard from inside our little weatherboard home heralding the arrival of guests. Beau more often than not will jump up from whatever it is that he has been doing and race to the door, or to our bedroom window to see who it is! Lately, it has been delivery drivers dropping off our groceries and fruit and vegetables from the local farm. But every so often it is our next-door neighbour, Paul, who so generously gifts us a large container of his mouth-watering bolognese sauce...
I have lost count as to how many times we have received this now-famous (in our home) meat sauce and those times have often been on "one of those days" where nothing has quite gone to plan and I feel as if I have been chasing my tail all day long! So it is a welcome relief, to say the least when that container is passed over...Spaghetti bolognese for dinner it is, much to everyone's delight!
I don't know why it took me so long to realise that I could in fact use the sauce between layers of lasagne sheets...perhaps it's because, much to Ben's disappointment, lasagne - the meat variety anyway, just isn't something I generally make. until now!
For lasagne to be truly memorable it absolutely must have the addition of that creamy white bechamel sauce and at least three types of cheese...now let's be honest here, I am a firm believer in enjoying everything in moderation and this particular dish is something that one would not indulge in every second night but, if you are to enjoy a good lasagne then you may as well do it with all the bells and whistles.
All that is needed to accompany it is the torn leaves of a crisp iceberg or cos lettuce; refreshing slices of cucumber dressed in nothing more than a good glug of extra virgin olive oil, pepper and a generous scattering of sea salt flakes to balance the richness of all those comforting flavours. Ben has even gone so far as to say that is the best lasagne he has eaten, and he is my harshest critic.
But this story is not just about lasagne and the many cheesy, meaty layers it involves, it's about more than that. It is about connecting with your neighbours, letting them know that you are there for them. It doesn't require lengthy conversations or even an invitation to sit around your kitchen table, it can be as simple as a quick hello, how are you? or a container of bolognese sauce left at the front door, it doesn't matter what it is, what does matter is the feeling that comes with these acts of kindness, and you really can't put a price on that.
Oh, and the empty containers...they are of course filled with freshly baked treats and then left at Paul's front door...and so the cycle continues.
We recently had this as part of our Sunday lunch and so I wanted to share it here with you in the hope that it may just make it on to your "to Cook" list. Now the sauce does make rather a lot, Paul likes to cook for a crowd! You could halve this recipe (which is the amount that you will need for the lasagne) but why not cook the whole lot and then divide it up and freeze for a quick midweek meal tossed with some pasta. You could, however, pop it into a container and leave it at the front door of a loved one or even your next-door neighbour, you never know you may just get something back in return...
And what better way to end such an indulgent meal than with the refreshingly tingly tang of a scoop of lemon gelato. This recipe comes from the always lovely, always kind and extremely generous Belinda Jeffery. It is from her book, The Country Cookbook, which is one of my favourites, not only for the recipes but for the words that are weaved onto the pages as well. We served ours in vintage glass footed bowls topped with a single strawberry, but we have also enjoyed a scoop or two in waffle cones, which is also equally as lovely. You will ideally need an ice-cream churner, however, Belinda does say that it can be done by hand as well, it just won't be as smooth and it will most definitely require a fair bit of elbow grease, but if you are up for the challenge then the results will be well and truly worth it!
The meat sauce
Recipe kindly shared by Paul, our next-door neighbour
This makes quite a lot of sauce, so feel free to halve it, or cook the whole lot and portion it up to freeze. You will only need 1kg of sauce for the lasagne.
1kg pork mince
1kg veal mince
200g bacon, diced
large punnet of mushrooms, finely diced
2 large brown onions, chopped
large bunch of parsley, remove stalks and chop very finely (Paul states that this is very important to use the stalks)
bunch of fresh basil chopped the same as the parsley
1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and finely diced
1 carrot, finely chopped
4 cans of diced tomatoes (Mutti brand if you can find them)
Ariosto Italian herb mix (or something similar such as Gewhurzhaus Maria's pizza pasta blend)
salt and pepper
In a large pot, heat 4 tbsp olive oil and add the mushrooms, onions, parsley stalks and basil stalks, garlic and carrot and cook over a low heat with the lid on until soft and slightly caramelised, about 40minutes to an hour. Stirring every now and then.
Add the pork, veal and bacon and once again place the lid back on. Once the meat has begun to cook, mix it all in with the vegetables. Add 1 tbsp herb mix along with a pinch of salt and a good grind of black pepper.
Add the tomatoes and mix it all together.
Paul uses a potato masher to break up the meat at this stage. Cook with the lid on for an hour or so over low heat. season to taste.
You can at this point cool to room temperature and store in the fridge. Paul says that the second cook works really well to break the meat down even further. The flavours will also develop if left for a day or two too.
You can also use pancetta instead of bacon, as Paul's son does.
Assembling the Lasagne
1kg meat sauce
250g packet lasagne sheets, I like to use Barilla
200g mozzarella, grated
200g parmesan, grated
200g buffalo mozzarella, torn
For the Bechamel
1 1/2 cups buttermilk or cream
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
salt and pepper
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and then add the flour, stirring together until it starts to smell slightly nutty. Add the warmed cream and milk mixture bit by bit, whisking constantly until thick and luscious. Continue to cook for another minute and then grate in the nutmeg and season with salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius. Oil a lasagne dish, mine measures 30cm x 19cm.
Mis together the grated mozzarella and parmesan. I also should mention that you can add in whatever cheese you have handy, I have also made this with some leftover fets and grated halloumi too.
Cover the base with a layer of meat sauce followed by lasagne sheets. Meat sauce, half of the bechamel, half of the cheese, half of the torn mozzarella, lasagne, rest of the meat sauce, rest of the grated cheese, lasagne, bechamel and finally the rest of the torn mozzarella.
Cover with a sheet of baking paper followed by a sheet of foil and pop into the oven for 40 minutes or until bubbling around the edges. Uncover and continue to cook for a further 15 minutes, until golden.
Crisp Green Salad
Meanwhile, you can prepare your salad...
Tear off as many leaves from a midi cos lettuce (or iceberg, something with a crisp green leaf is good here) place them into a pretty serving bowl along with sliced cucumber and perhaps even some sliced radishes. Drizzle over a good glug of extra virgin olive oil followed by a few grinds of black pepper, salt and a swoosh of white wine vinegar if you so desire.
And now for dessert...
Tingly Lemon Gelato
A recipe by Belinda Jeffery
You can start this recipe a few days in advance as you need time to churn it and rest in the freezer before serving. Or as Belinda puts it "to ripen the flavours"
finely grated zest of 3-4 lemons
2 cups (500ml) of lemon juice, strained
330-440g caster sugar, you can vary the quantity of sugar depending on how sweet you would like it, the sweeter version will result in a slightly softer texture.
1/2 cup (125ml) cold water
1 cup (250ml) thickened cream
Put the lemon zest, lemon juice, caster sugar and water into a large bowl and whisk them together until the sugar has dissolved. Add the cream and whisk it all until it is very well combined.
Make sure you have placed your ice cream churner bowl into the freezer before you start this recipe too. If you have one, pour the mixture in and then churn until frozen. Spoon the mixture into a container, I have an insulated ice cream tub that I use but you can use a loaf tin or recycled ice cream container, cover it tightly and place into the freezer for at least 6 hours or overnight, or even a few days before.
If you don't have an ice-cream churner you can do this by hand...pour the mixture into a large stainless steel bowl and pop into the freezer for 4-5 hours, or until its frozen 5cm in from the edge, remove the bowl from the freezer and give it a really good whisk either by hand or with a handheld electric beater to break up the ice crystals and to smooth it out. Place the bowl back into the freezer, freeze again and follow the same steps as before, repeating the whisking/beating. For an even smoother texture, you can repeat this a few more times. Your muscles will indeed be stronger for it!
The gelato keeps well for up to a fortnight.