Photographing Lasagna just might be the hardest thing in the world

In Cheese, Main meals, Meat, Pasta on February 10, 2012 at 9:22 pm

Lasagna - being very unphotogenic!

I grew up with lasagna – it was one of those dishes that my mum just nailed every time. Plus we usually had homekill mince to make it with, so that probably made it even nicer! In fact, I’m not sure I remember eating lasagna that wasn’t made with homekill mince. Anyway, I probably would have refrained from posting about this (yup, running out of bandwidth again) but a friend of mine was wanting a lasagna recipe and I want to try to keep in the flow of posting fairly regularly.

I learned a few things when undertaking this lasagna – the foremost being, lasagna is REALLLY hard to photograph well. It’s just not a very attractive dish (well, meat lasagna anyway) and I was a tad over eager when I took it out of the oven dish (note: let lasagna stand before cutting!) I also made it in a slightly unorthodox order, having the mince sauce already made quite a bit in advance….and was kind of following the recipe from memory/making it up as I went along. But I shall endeavour to bring everything together coherently. Lasagna is a simple, filling and very cost efficient dish – and this is how us kiwis (or this kiwi, anyway) make it.

Mince sauce:

250-500 g mince (I can’t remember the exact amount as mum just gave me a bag of mince, but I estimate it would be between this weight range. It’s probably better to cook your sauce with more mince, as if you have mince leftover you can always make spag bog with it!)

2 cans crushed tomatoes/tomato puree – whatever you fancy, depending how strong you want the flavour to be – OR you can do a mixture of canned tomatoes or a few tablespoons of tomato paste, be creative. Use what you have around.

onions, to taste (probably about 1-2, but it’s my opinion you can’t overdo it with onions and garlic)

garlic, to taste

oil, for sauteeing

Chop onions and garlic and sautee in the oil. Add mince, breaking it up with wooden spoon to avoid clumping. It should start to brown very quickly; when it is all browned, add the tomato and stir until well combined. Turn heat down to med-low and leave the sauce simmering to reduce down, I probably left mine for about 30-45 mins? You can leave it  on the stove and do something else (like watch food network with a beer) provided you come back and check on it, giving it a little stir every 5-10 mins and keeping the heat on med-low. The last thing you want is the sauce to reduce down too much and for the mince to burn, but you don’t want the sauce to be too liquid either. Once the sauce is done, set aside and leave on the lowest heat setting or put on a an element that isn’t on, so that the sauce is being kept hot, but is no longer really cooking.

Now, for the next bit I diverged from what my mother used to do; I wanted to give lasagna sheets a try instead of lasagna noodles, which are what she always used. I had been all revved up and was going to make some lasagna sheets with my pasta machine but ended up buying some instead (so cheap!). Anyway, next grease your  oven dish, turn the oven on to 180 degrees celsius and get the lasagna sheets all ready and set them aside.

All that is left now is sorting out the cheese! I can’t remember whether my mother used to make a white sauce with cheese, or whether she just added cheese directly to the mince. I decided to make a white sauce.

2 tbsp butter, approx.

2 tbsp flour

1 cup milk

125-200g cheese, you decide! (I used tasty and mozzarella cheese)

Put approx 2 tbsp butter in a saucepan, let it melt and then add 2 tbsp flour. Stir for a minute or so, making sure it doesn’t go lumpy.  Reduce heat, then start slowly adding 1 cup of milk, little by little, stirring as you go so the sauce gets thick and smooth. If the sauce stops thickening, stop adding milk! You don’t want it to be too runny. Add about 125-200 g grated cheese, I used a combination of tasty and mozzarella. Once this has melted and the sauce is smooth, thick and cheesy – season with salt and pepper and set aside. Time for assembling the lasagna!

Make the first layer of mince – around 1/2 cup, depending on how big your dish is. Basically you want to cover the bottom. Then put a layer of lasagna sheets – for me it was about 2 – or use lasagna noodles if preferred. Top with white sauce, then repeat with another mince layer etc. Make as many layers as desired, or possible – which will depend on the size of your dish. Top with additional grated cheese, you could try something with a stronger flavour – like parmesan – if you had it. I just used more mozzarella.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 40 mins, or until it is cooked (you can generally tell when it is cooked, use a skewer if you are unsure). This will depend on your oven; some are much more fierce than others! Leave to cool a little before cutting – trust me! Let the cheese harden a little. This is also a dish that tastes just as good (if not better!) the next day, so you could even set it aside until then.

Obviously, there are endless variations one could try with the basic lasagna – adding more vegetables to the mince sauce (like diced carrot or courgette) or introducing individual vegetable layers. Online, I’ve seen some people put ricotta in theirs, but personally I’m really not sure about the mince and ricotta combo! I would say the most important thing about lasagna is having good mince and not stinting on the cheese. I also think lasagna noodles are probably easier to use than lasagna sheets, but the sheets are more aesthetically pleasing (and no precooking is required, hurray!). Just make sure they are completely covered with sauce so they cook properly.

Ok, Morshed – I hope these instructions are useful 🙂


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