As a family, we’ve always used this blog as a bit of a recipe resource. If the boys are making brownies or a pasta bake, they’ll look up the recipe on here, and I love that they’ll always have that connection with home. With Charlie just about to go off to university (we’re going to Universal for Halloween Horror Nights – yay! – then he goes practically as soon as we get back – boo) I thought it would be nice to share a few of our family favourite recipes so that he (and any other student looking for decent, great-value recipes for sharing) would be able to recreate them when he’s away from home. I’m starting with this easy, step by step lasagne al forno. If I’m taking my time and making a lasagne at home, I’ll make the sauce with red wine, carrots, celery and tomatoes (hit me up for the recipe, I’ve got a fab one), but there’s no shame in using a jar of tomato sauce, especially not when you’re in a hurry (or on a budget – a 500g jar of Tesco Bolognese pasta sauce is about 75p – also, look out for any that are on offer and stockpile them in a cupboard at home). Likewise with the cheese: Parmesan is lovely, but cheddar is cheaper.
I was initially going to call this recipe ‘quick and easy lasagne al forno’, but of course it’s not really quick – to get a really delicious sauce you need to take the time to slow cook it, so that all the flavours really combine and the meat is soft – chewy mince is nobody’s friend.
Easy, step by step lasagne al forno
Serves around 6
1 large onion
500g minced beef
500g jar bolognese or other tomato pasta sauce
2 beef stock cubes
1 pack dried lasagne sheets
For the béchamel:
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
100g cheddar, grated
1. Make the meat sauce
So first, heat up a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large pan (one that has a well-fitting lid), and add in the onions. Season with a little salt and pepper, then fry them gently until they’re softened (it’s worth adding here that if you add 2 tsp hot chilli powder here, plus a tin of drained kidney beans 10 minutes before the end of cooking time, you’ve got chilli con carne in your repertoire too).
Now, add in the mince. Break it up and stir it around so that it browns all over, then pour over the tomato sauce.
Make up the stock cubes with about 150 – 200ml boiling water and pour that in too. Bring it up to a gentle bubble, then pop on the lid, and either turn the hob right down, or pop it into the oven at about gas 4/180C for about an hour, stirring every so often.
2. Make the béchamel
Wait until the meat sauce is nearly cooked, then set to work on your béchamel. Melt the butter in a saucepan, then mix in the flour. Stir over a low heat with a wooden spoon and watch it until it gets a bit paler and bubbly, then grab a whisk and whisk in the milk. Keep whisking until it’s thickened, then turn the heat off before you stir in the cheese (remember to keep a bit back for the top – or have a little extra to hand).
3. Blanch the lasagne (or don’t)
With the lasagne sheets, you don’t have to pre-cook them, you can just layer them up in their dried form, but I think you get a nicer result if you just pop them a couple at a time into a big pan of salted, boiling water and blanch them until they’re floppy. Drain them, drizzle with a little oil to stop them sticking, then pop them on a plate until you’re ready to assemble.
4. Avengers assemble! (sorry – assemble your lasagne)
When the meat sauce is cooked, heat the oven to gas 6/200C). Grab a big lasagne dish and get layering. Think of it in these terms: you need three layers of the meat mixture and lasagne sheets, but four of the cheese sauce because you want to finish with that, so:
Start with about a third of the meat mixture and spread it in a thin layer across the bottom of the dish, then spoon over about a quarter of the cheese sauce, then patch together a layer of lasagne.
Repeat those layers twice more (meat, cheese sauce, lasagne), then finish with a final layer of the cheese sauce, and sprinkle with a little extra cheese.
Bake for about 45 minutes until deliciously golden and bubbly. Now step away for at least 10 minutes before serving (it’s even better the next day)