I don’t really follow recipes.
Or I vaguely follow them, but substitute ingredients depending on:
A. What I have in my cupboard/freezer
B. What diet I am following; and
C. Whether the kids are dining with me or not.
Now, let’s be honest. Sometimes this approach works, and sometimes, it ends in tears. (With my kids proclaiming they hate my cooking, and why didn’t I cook it like their Dad does? Or can’t we just eat out all the time, like they do with Dad? Sigh).
But lasagne is one of the first dishes I began cooking when still in primary school. And it’s one dish, their Dad has yet to master.
Growing up in a small country town, there were no restaurants, no fast food outlets, and only one takeaway, which specialised in greasy potato scallops and frozen, tasteless fish.
So to try the foreign foods I longed for, I had to make them myself.
Scouring Mum’s recipe books and cutting out recipes from magazines and pasting carefully into an exercise book became my obsession. In fact, I was probably something of a Junior Masterchef.
Weekends and school holidays were times to experiment with making chocolate mousse, éclairs, sweet and sour pork, and other delicacies (like lasagne), for my long-suffering meat-and-three-veg, no-garlic, no-fancy-stuff family. Mum was always pleased to get a night off, though not always happy with the results! (Too much garlic and/or chilli was a constant complaint...)
Anyway, over the years, I’ve honed my lasagne-making, so that whatever I do to it, it works. (Disclaimer: Unless I use chicken mince. The kids hate it with chicken mince.)
So recently, my lovely twitter friend @Motorbikes_Lady wanted me to share my recipe.
Now I admit, once upon a time, I would have delighted in handing over the recipe, but leaving one key ingredient out. (Nothing worse than when people steal your recipe, then make it even better than you do. Remember that Desperate Housewives episode?
But these days, I equate food with love. And if sharing a recipe means even more people get fed (with food, and love), I’m all for it!
Anyway, this is the lasagne that the kids and I, and any visiting kids, love. In fact, I try not to mention ahead of time that I’m making lasagne, because it generally means that half the neighbourhood drops by for dinner!
The recipe does change, depending on when and where I make it, and the reasons mentioned above, but if you follow this it should work. The kids actually claim that NZ meat made better lasagne, but I think perhaps that’s more a wish to return to NZ than anything else.
Anyway, without further ado, I give you:
Fry one chopped-up onion in oil until just translucent, add mushrooms and garlic to taste.
Add about 500 gm of beef mince. If your kids are as picky as mine, don’t try to substitute with chicken or turkey: They will notice.
Add one grated carrot, one grated zucchini, and chopped up spinach, if you have it. (I like to hide vegies when I cook for the kids. Even though they are quite good where eating is concerned, I like to add enough vegies so that my lasagne can be a stand-alone dish if we don’t have salad and/or garlic bread.)
Add a can of chopped-up tomatoes (or a couple of real ones), a jar of ready-made pasta sauce (I like Four Brothers Romano Cheese, or the Aldi brand), some stock (you can use stock powder at a pinch), and allow to simmer. If I’ve got any red wine, I usually add a splash of it into the mix, but it’s okay if I don’t.
While this is simmering, get another pan and throw some butter or margarine into it. Add some plain flour and make a roux. (Basically mix the flour and butter together, and cook for a minute or so.)
If you like a lot of creamy béchamel sauce, cook a huge roux, but reduce it if you don’t.
Add some milk – I use low-fat/skim milk – until you get a nice, creamy sauce to add to the lasagne, along with the meat.
When it bubbles, turn off the heat, and add grated cheese – tasty or mozzarella. Add enough or as little, as you like. I usually sprinkle in some pepper about now.
Finally, assemble the lasagne.
You can make or buy fresh lasagne sheets, but I’ve never had any problems using the instant lasagne sheets you buy at the supermarket. I buy whatever is on special, and the brands seem to work equally well, as long as you have enough time and liquid to soften them.
Put a thin layer of meat sauce on the bottom of the dish. Add lasagne sheets, more meat sauce, then béchamel sauce, then more lasagne sheets. Keep going as you need to.
Finish with a layer of lasagne sheets, meat sauce, and a mix of mozzarella, tasty, and parmesan sauce.
Bake until bubbling and enjoy! (I usually find about 45 minutes at about 180 degrees does the trick).
Does anyone else have a fail-safe family recipe they want to share?