Thursday, April 19, 2012

Lasagne for beginners

I've made lasagne for years in various forms but rarely used a recipe. Sometimes meatless, sometimes with homemade pasta, sometimes ricotta rather than bechamel and sometimes I'd sling in loads of bits and pieces needing to be used up. End result was always enjoyed, so following discussion on FB re lasagne, was motivated to put together a lasagne lesson for those who haven't got to grips with it as is great family food.

Lasagne as we know it comprises of 3 elements that are layered then baked. the layers are:
A red sauce, tomato based, along the lines of a Bolognaise style sauce.
A white sauce, usually bechamel or cheese sauce, sometimes substituted with ricotta or cottage cheese.
Pasta sheets, these can be fresh pasta, or dried, they are usually uncooked as they'll absorb liquid from the sauces and cook when the dish is being baked. if you use the crinkly type dried pasta I think that needs precooking but the flat sheets definitely don't.

Lasagne is always a bit sloppy when it comes out of the oven, it firms up if left to settle or refrigerated overnight. A sloppy dish isn't a fail, it simply needs time to set.

Lasagne Recipe

Red sauce - I am giving two options here, one using meat and one using red lentils. You can mix and match, alter, add roast or grated vegetables to either; but both versions will yield enough for around 3-4 layers in a standard lasagne.

Meat sauce for lasagne

500 g beef mince
Cooking spray
1 onion chopped
2 cloves garlic crushed
1 can condensed tomato soup
800g or two cans chopped tomatoes
A big pinch of mixed herbs
A bay leaf
A spoonful of pesto - optional

Heat a medium saucepan, spray with cooking spray and add the meat, stirring continuously over the heat until the meat is brown and crumbly. Add the onion and garlic to the pan and continue cooking until soft. Pour in the tomato soup and mix well, then add the herbs and bay leaf and chopped tomatoes, and pesto if using. Simmer for 20 minutes. For a thicker sauce add 1/3 cup cooked red lentils and stir regularly so they don't stick to the bottom of the pan.

Or meatless sauce
For the vegetable sauce
1 cup red lentils
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion chopped
2 cloves garlic crushed
2 cups of left- over cooked vegetables or cooked spinach or a medium aubergine- optional
1 800g can chopped tomatoes
1 ½ tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp mixed herbs
½ tsp oregano
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
Place the lentils in a medium saucepan with plenty of water and bring to the boil. Simmer for around 10 minutes or until lentils have softened and begun to look fluffy. Drain, rinse and set aside.
While the lentils are cooking heat the oil in a pan and gently cook the onion and garlic until soft then add the, then add the tinned tomatoes, lentils, tomato paste, herbs, salt and sugar and simmer gently for 5-10 minutes. Add the cooked vegetables and set aside.
For the white sauce/cheese sauce

2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
2 tablespoons plain flour
2 ½ cups milk
1 cup grated cheese - use more or less if you prefer
Salt and pepper

Lasagne sheets fresh or dried - sufficient for 2-3 layers in your dish
While your red sauce is simmering make a bechamel or white sauce, the amount of cheese is up to you. Sometimes I use a plain bechamel and only sprinkle cheese on the very top as the boy child doesn't like when things are cheesy.

For the White sauce

Heat the oil or butter and whisk in the flour. Add a dash of the milk and whisk to form a lump free paste, add more of the milk and whisk again. Continue until you can add all the milk without lumps forming, then stir with a wooden spoon until the sauce begins to thicken.
Season with salt and pepper, and when thick enough to coat the back of a spoon add ¾ of the grated cheese.
To assemble: Preheat the oven to 200°

Spread ¼ of the red sauce over the base of your dish, drizzle with ¼ of the cheese sauce and a layer of pasta, continue to layer in this manner finishing with a layer of cheese sauce. Scatter on remaining grated cheese and bake for 35 minutes until golden and bubbling.  Let stand for 10 -15 minutes before serving.

Cooks Tips: Cook extra lentils and freeze, they can be added directly into a simmering sauce, soup or casserole.
You can replace the dried herbs with 1/3 cup homemade pesto.
You can thicken and extend the meat red sauce by adding 1/3 cup red lentils while it is simmering
You can add all manner of cooked or grated vegetables either to the red sauces or as a layer in the dish.
Always put red sauce into the dish first to form a base layer. If you start with bechamel or pasta it will stick horribly and the pasta wont have enough liquid in the bottom to absorb and cook properly.


  1. I am going to try this as I have never had any luck with making nice lasagne.

  2. I make a big spag bol one night and then with the left overs make the lasagne the following night. So all I have to do the next day is make the white sauce and get out the pasta sheets and its quick and easy! I have never made a meatless one before so that might be a goer! Thanks :)

  3. Am dedicated follower of dg - since children arrived , some16 + yes now- so firstly Thanks. Was hoping for gluten-free version of the white sauce part of Lasagne due to feeding additional family this week. Their youngest G-free, & loves Lasagne. Dear friends like these v treasured , so am eternally grateful for dg small loaf recipie in "Enjoy" which saves me often when together. Dee

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