As I wrote a few weeks ago, I’m struggling to be bothered to cook much at the moment.
As a way of tackling that, I thought I’d write up some of the recipes of the things I do like to cook.
2×2 Lasagne is a meal plan for two people over two days. Lasagne is a total faff to cook, and mucks up pretty much every pan in the kitchen. If you’re cooking for only two, it seems barely worth the effort But spread out over two days, it’s much more manageable. The secret is to do two mince based dishes, only one of which is actually lasagne. Then, the second day, you don’t have much more to do than to preheat the oven and make a cheese sauce.
This isn’t really fast food. Mince benefits from long slow cooking – and will taste even better the following night from having spent a day resting.
One final point – I make no claim to authenticity with this. I don’t know how real Italians make lasagne, and the one time we visited Italy, we didn’t eat much pasta. My mince is no substitute for a real ragù.
Day 1 – the mince
1lb beef mince
1 large onion
1 clove garlic (or more if you and your +1 like it, and aren’t susceptible to heartburn)
1 can tomatoes
herbs to taste
glass good red wine
red wine vinegar
Dice the onion and carrot together and soften in olive oil in a large saucepan with the optional finly sliced bacon.
When the onion is transparent, add the finely chopped garlic and the mince, and cook until the mince is completely grey and nasty with no red bits left. (Mince goes through a horrid phase when you cook it but recovers when you flavour it and cook it.)
If you are being health conscious you could drain the fat off at this stage.
When the mince is fully cooked, add the tin of tomatoes and reserve the tin.
Make up the oxo cube to halfway up the tin and add the herbs and a generous helping of tomato purée. (The tom puree is absolutely essential to the recipe. Tomato sauce is no substitute. The oxo cube also adds tasty tasty MSG) Stir well. Add the red wine to the tin to fill it up and pour over the mince and veggies.
The pan should now be a little too wet. Finely slice the mushrooms (I usually run them through the slice side of a box grater) into the mix, stir well, bring to the boil and reduce the heat.
Simmer for ages. Stir regularly. At least 40 minutes, better an hour. You should end up with a tasty sauce with not too much spare liquid. Use the time to clean the kitchen. Never leave a pan on the stove unattended as unattended cooking pots are a major source of house fires – the single biggest source for non-smoking households.
Reserve half of the mince for tomorrow, the lasagne phase. Cover it and let it cool it quickly to room temperature and put it in the fridge.
The first night, you could use half the mince on its own with rice, with chillis and kidney beans as chilli con carne, in cottage pie, with spaghetti as spag bol or spooned over a baked potato.
Day 2 – the main attraction
So, come night two, you are ready to make the lasagne. You already have your ersatz-ragù, so all you have to do is make a cheese sauce, layer it in a suitable oven dish with sheet pasta, and bake it until it’s brown and lovely.
Half a pint milk
Half an onion
dessert spoon of flour
Cheese – strong cheddar. No, more cheese than that. Add in some parmesan too.
half a spoon of mustard
Even more cheese to top lasagne
Take the peeled half onion and stud it with the cloves. Put the studded onion with the bay leaf, peppercorns and milk in a pan and bring to the boil. Once at the boil, turn off the heat and allow to steep for a good few minutes, then discard all but the milk. The extra ingredients give a real savoury depth of flavour to the milk.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
In another pan, melt the butter and sprinkle over the flour. Mix well. Add the milk a little at a time, whisking vigorously all the time to guard against lumps. This is a basic white sauce – add a pile of breadcrumbs to make bread sauce, or in our case, add the cheese and mustard to make full flavoured cheese sauce. Continue to whisk.
To make the lasagne, spoon yesterday’s mince into the bottom of an oven proof rectangular dish of just the right size. Add a layer of ready lasagne sheets, and a little of the cheese sauce. Continue in layers until you have run out of ingredients and the dish is full (this is how you know whether the dish is the right size or not. Practice makes perfect.) Make sure you finish with a cheese sauce layer, and that the cheese sauce is all you can see when you’re done – no pasta or meat sauce poking out of the edges. You need a good seal all around the edge or the pasta will not cook. Sprinkle more grated cheese – a mix of parmesan and cheddar – on top.
Bake in the oven until the sauce is piping hot and the cheese topping has nicely browned. A good few minutes ought to do it.
Get minion to wash up.