20/03/2006

Lasagne

(serves 4-6)

1 packet lasagne pasta

Meat sauce:
500g/1lb minced beef (or other ground meat)
2 medium onions, chopped
1-2 garlic cloves, crushed, or 1tsp garlic powder
125g/4 oz mushrooms, chopped
1 tsp basil
1 tsp oregano
1 tblsp parsley
1 large can chopped tomatoes in puree
or: 1 medium can chopped tomatoes and 1 medium packet tomato puree or sauce

Cheese sauce:
2 tblsp butter or margarine
1 tblsp flour
about 300ml / 2 cups milk
about 200g / 6 oz cheddar cheese, grated

Method:
If the lasagne pasta require pre-cooking, boil a large pan of slightly salted water and add a few drops of cooking oil. (This stops the pasta sticking). Check the packet for the quantity required for 4-6 people, then add the pasta one sheet at a time, and boil for the time recommended on the packet. Drain.

Meanwhile, fry the meat gently in a large non-stick pan, stirring all the time. You shouldn't need to add any fat as it will produce its own, unless you have very low-fat mince. Add the onions, garlic and mushrooms when the fat starts to appear, and fry with the meat, stirring constantly until softened and the meat is browned all over.

Add the rest of the meat ingredients and heat, stirring, until simmering. Boil gently for about ten minutes, adding a little water if it seems to thicken too fast. Those outside the USA and Canada can add a teaspoon of Marmite or Vegemite at this stage, for added flavour and nutrition. (These products are not generally available in North America).

While the meat is simmering, put the butter in a large microwavable jug, or a non-stick saucepan, and heat until just melted. Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon, and cook for a further 30 seconds. Add the milk very gradually, stirring after each addition, so that no lumps appear. If you are using a saucepan over the stove, keep the pan on the stove on a low heat while you add each bit of milk, and stir all the time as you bring it to the boil. It should thicken to give a pouring sauce. If you are using a microwave, add all the milk gradually, then cook on High for a minute at a time, stirring well after each minute, until the sauce is thickened. Add half of the grated cheese.

Now take a large rectangular lasagne dish or similar, and grease it lightly with a butter wrapper. Spoon a very small amount of the meat sauce into the bottom, then cover with a layer of lasagne pasta, cutting as necessary to fit. Cover with another thin layer of meat, and then another layer of pasta, and continue until both are used up, ending with a layer of pasta. Pour the cheese sauce over the top, and then sprinkle the rest of the grated cheese on top. Place in a medium oven and cook for about half an hour, until the cheese is well melted and the meat bubbling. (If you use pasta which requires no pre-cooking, you may need to cook for longer - check on the packet).

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This is my most basic recipe for lasagne. It sounds complicated but is much easier than it sounds, particularly if you use a microwave for the cheese sauce. You can use any kind of minced meat - or vegetarian mince - and adapt the herbs to suit your family's tastes. For speed, use lasagne pasta that does not require any pre-cooking.

The same meat sauce is good by itself with spaghetti, topped with parmesan or grated cheddar cheese for a quick meal. Either way, it's good served with buttered french bread, or garlic bread, and mixed green salad or cooked vegetables.

If you particularly like cheese sauce, and don't mind the extra fat, make twice as much and then pour half of it over the second layer of meat. If you're cutting down on dairy products, you can use soya milk and goat's cheese, although you might want less of the cheese!

For a low-fat version of this meal, use half-fat cheese, low-fat chicken or vegetarian mince, and low-fat margarine. You can add in finely chopped peppers and/or carrots to increase nutritive value.

For a very quick version (although it won't taste as good), use a large jar of spaghetti sauce, lasagne pasta that does not require pre-cooking, and ready-made cheese sauce. Put together as described and top with grated cheese, then cook in the oven for the time recommended on the pasta packet.

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