Is it possible to be possessive about cheese? To covet cheese?
I guard my best cheeses for the very best recipes, the foolproof ones, the ones I know would work. I then made this Lasagna. Cheese well spent.
A short while back, but for quite a long time I was going crazy. Reading that sentence makes me think I really am.
I really was going nuts.
You know that famous saying “Order Lasagna and you’ll know what the restaurant’s worth!” You didn’t? It is not a saying. But it could be. It should be. Just saying.
Well, I ordered Lasagna everywhere I went but I didn’t get any. I got hybrid, indigenous versions that tasted like baked korma pasta which made me even more determined to have my lasagna.
At “That Mad#$% place” the lady told me that that was how they made Lasagna at their restaurant, it was their signature Lasagna and that was how they’ve been making it since they opened (opened when? 1930?).
Tell me something – When you order oothappam at a restaurant wouldn’t you expect to eat that slightly thick pancake like thing made with slightly sour dosa batter topped with onions, green chillies maybe, maybe a sprinkling of milagai podi, the oothappam we’ve always known?
Would you take a toasted idli topped with onions if it is their signature oothappam, if that is what they call oothappam, if that is how they’ve been making it since they’ve opened?
Would you take idlis dunked in kara kuzhambu as somebody’s signature sambar idli?
Imagine my horror, my disappointment, my misery.
Time to take things into my own hands.
The best way to make lasagna I’ve learnt is to ready the components the previous day. First the Bolognese sauce – It is a cinch to make if you give it the time, if you can wait, if you can resist slurping it all up. It needs to cook slow and long and scents your kitchen. It is quite heady, divine really. With the Bolognese in the fridge, I slept a little more confident that the Lasagna would turn out well. I made the béchamel sauce, grated up the cheese and cooked the pasta sheets.
I cleared the entire dining table to lay out my Lasagana cast – Bolognese sauce, very slightly warmed with a ladle, cooked pasta sheets carefully spaced out on a kitchen towel, béchamel sauce and grated cheese. The assembling part is my favourite part and I wanted to savour it. First some béchamel, then pasta sheets, again some béchamel and then the Bolognese, pasta sheets again..
I took my time building it up.
It was worth all the effort and more. For the price of a single Lasagna portion, I made Lasagna for a family of 4 with leftovers for 3.
The Lasagna was breathtaking. This, my friends is Lasagna as I’ve known it.
Prep time: 40 mins
Baking time: 45 mins
Lasagna sheets – 12
A pot of salted boiling water
Parmesan cheese – 150 gm grated
Ingredients – Bolognese sauce
Chicken mince – ½ kilo
Tomato puree – 200 gm
Carrot – 1 small diced fine
Mushrooms – 100 gm chopped fine
Onion – 1 small chopped fine
Garlic – 1 pod chopped fine
Salt to taste
Black pepper powder – ½ tsp
Oil – 1 tbsp
Water – 1 cup
Ingredients – Bechamel sauce
Butter- ¼ cup
All purpose flour/Maida – ¼ cup
Whole milk – 2 cups
1. Prepare the Bolognese sauce ahead of time as it needs to cook for long and slow. I did it the day before. Heat up a deep pan, add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, on medium-high heat add the chicken mince and spread in a single layer in the pan and let it brown. Once the underside is browned, break it up and flip over to brown evenly all over. This could take about 5 minutes or so. Once done, transfer the browned chicken to a pan. If there’s not enough room in the pan, brown the chicken in batches.
2. Reduce heat to low and to the same pan, add the minced garlic and sauté for a few seconds. Add in finely chopped onion and stir around for a minute. Add in the finely chopped carrot and sauté for a minute or two. Return the browned chicken back to the pan and break with a spoon. Pour in the tomato puree. Add a cup of water to the tomato puree pack, shake and pour in this water into the pan too. Stir well. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low.
3. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Uncover and add in the chopped mushrooms. Add in salt and black pepper powder. Stir well. If the liquid has dried up, add some more water. Cover and simmer for 1 hour or more. Open and check from time to time adding in water if the sauce is too dry. The sauce will thicken to a nice glossy consistency, the oil will separate and float on top. Switch off. The sauce thickens a bit as it cools down. I cooked for just over an hour. Many Bolognese recipes recommend cooking for 2-3 hours. Store in refrigerator until ready to use.
4. Prepare the béchamel sauce. Heat ¼ cup butter in a pan till it is melted. Add in the same amount of flour and whisk for a minute or so but don’t let it brown. Pour in whole milk and whisk continuously till the milk and flour are incorporated and the sauce thickens nicely. Switch off and let cool.
5. To cook the pasta, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add in the pasta sheets and cook till al dente. Drain the water and rinse the pasta sheets in cold water and lay them out a cotton towel spacing them out so they don’t stick to each other.
6. Grate up parmesan cheese and have ready in a bowl.
7. To assemble, place a 9×13 rectangular casserole dish and butter the bottom and sides of the pan. Spoon in some béchamel sauce on the bottom of the pan and spread all over the surface. Lay out 2 pasta sheets horizontally and trim the third and fourth sheet (you can use the trimmings to fill in successive layers) to fit vertically into the remaining space. Spoon on a thin layer of béchamel all over the pasta sheets. Next is the Bolognese. Ladle Bolognese (about 1/3rd) over the béchamel layer but without mixing the two layers. Sprinkle some parmesan over this Bolognese layer. Continue with the next set of layers – pasta sheets, béchamel sauce, Bolognese sauce and grated parmesan. You’ll make 3 such sets of layers. Finish the top with the leftover béchamel and finally the parmesan.
8. Preheat oven to 200 degrees centigrade. Place the casserole in the middle rack of the oven and bake for 40 – 45 minutes or till top is golden and bubbling (you could grill the last 5 minutes for that golden top). Let stand for 10 minutes. Slice and serve. Be ready for the applause!