One of Meat and Tater Man’s favourite meals is lasagna. My daughter also loves this, and has the capacity to gobble up multiple servings of it, unlike other foods (like certain vegetables), which she nearly never seems to have any room for come supper time. When I ask what they want for supper, they will usually ask for this at least once every other month. I’d say it’s a family favourite, but I’m ashamed to say I haven’t made one from scratch in over a decade, until now.
Indulge me for a moment. While I am embarrassed at not having made one in my kitchen for so long, I do have good (well, legitimate, at least) reasons.
The first one is that I can buy an excellent Italian made one at my beloved local Monastery Bakery. They are made fresh every day, and are very reasonably priced. But most of all, they taste so good! I’ve sampled a few other supermarket made versions, but nothing comes close to this one. This one tastes like your Italian mamma made it for you.
The second reason I haven’t tackled the lasagna route is the recipe. So, you’re wondering why someone with 500 cookbooks doesn’t have a good recipe for a lasagna. Truth be told, I do have to confess that I’ve got quite a few recipes, but we’ve got picky palates in our home. I don’t mean that in a negative way – Meat and Tater Man and my daughter will eat anything I make, but rather, they have very specific tastes when it comes to lasagna, and prefer theirs on the meaty side, not with a cheesy layer in between the pasta. I was raised on homemade lasagnas that had a rich cheesy layer made of ricotta, beaten eggs and mozzarella. This is exactly the kind of lasagna that my family doesn’t like. Rather, they prefer uninterrupted layers of sheet pasta, with some rich meat sauce, and a bit of Parmesan on the top.
I decided to give this recipe a go, because it didn’t have this cheesy layer that true meat lovers would rather avoid. It’s heavy on the meat, light on the cheese, and has the added bonus of not needing to pre-cook the noodles, making it more of an assembly job than an afternoon of cooking over a hot stove.
It’s called quick because it skips the pre-boiling of noodles, the white sauce and the cheese layer, even though it bakes in the oven for an hour. I admit, the deli ham and hard boiled eggs seemed a strange addition, but since the recipe came from Nigella Lawson, I trusted my instincts (or rather, hers, as I love her food) and headed to the kitchen after Meat and Tater Man reminded me that I had never made him a homemade lasagna. Who am I not to rise to this sort of challenge?
This recipe was easy to follow, easy to make, and easy to assemble. Think quick red meat sauce, then layers of good ingredients. Then a slow bake in the oven. You’re then rewarded with a beautiful looking masterpiece, rich in flavour, and incredibly easy to eat. I loved this because it’s more like bolognese than mac and cheese in taste. This is layers of good pasta sheets, with lots of tomato sauce, beef and ham. Everything works here, and this is apparently a common way of making lasagna in Calabria. I’ve never been to Italy, but I very much trust recipes from Italians, ex-pats or not. Here then is one worth making and a recipe worth keeping. I served this with garlic bread and a glass of wine, and I still dream about it.
This is Nigella Lawson's recipe from her Nigellissima cookbook, and it is fabulous. She got the recipe from Italians originally from Calabria, and was reassured that the inclusion of eggs and ham was very much a local tradition.
I used red wine instead of vermouth, as I had an open bottle on my kitchen counter from the night before on my kitchen counter. I buy tomato pasta at my local Italian bakery, but if you're unfamiliar with this, used canned or bottled plain tomato sauce. The sauce will be very watered down - you need this to ensure your dry noodles cook properly. When cooked, there will be very little liquid left in the pan, as the pasta sheets will have absorbed most of the sauce.
I also used a bit more mozzarella than called for in the recipe. The size of mozzarella balls that I'm familiar with are closer to 6 oz, and I had no problem using it all, given the size of this lasagna dish. I bought a club pack of deli ham, and this worked well for this recipe, which calls for quite a bit of it.
Leftovers heat very well in the microwave, or in a low oven at 275F for about 40 minutes. When reheating in the oven, I usually add a few spoonfuls of water to ensure the food doesn't dry out completely.
- 4 eggs
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (plus more for greasing)
- 1 small onion (peeled and chopped)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/2 teaspoon pouring salt, or to taste)
- 1 lb ground beef
- ¼ cup red wine or vermouth
- 1 quart tomato passata (plus 1 litre / 1 quart water)
- 2 balls mozzarella (not buffalo) (each 4 oz drained weight)
- 1 ¼ lb lasagne sheets (dried not fresh)
- 12 oz cooked ham (thinly sliced)
- ¼ cup grated parmesan
- Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
- Put the eggs into a pan of water, bring to the boil and let it boil for 7 minutes, then pour off the water and sit the pan under an abundantly flowing cold tap; turn it off and leave the pan filled with cold water in the sink until the eggs are cool enough to peel.
- Warm the oil in a large, heavy-based pan (that comes with a lid), then add the onion, sprinkle with salt, and let it cook for a few minutes until it begins to soften.
- Add the meat and turn it in the pan just long enough for the raw red colour to turn brown.
- Add the wine or vermouth, then the passata, pouring the water into the empty passata bottle or carton and swilling it out into the pan. Bring to a bubble, then put the lid on the pan and cook at a robust simmer for 5 minutes.
- Peel and finely slice the eggs (which will crumble into a mess), and finely slice the mozzarella; then put a deep, greased lasagne dish, measuring approx 9 x 13 x 2 inches, onto a baking sheet and get ready for the grand assembly.
- First, put a ladleful or so of very runny meat sauce into the bottom of the lasagne dish, to line the base, then arrange a layer of lasagne sheets - using about a quarter of them - on top, to cover the sauce - don't worry about a bit of overlapping.
- Add another ladleful of sauce, just to wet the sheets, then add a layer of ham slices, using up a third of them, before dotting with a third of the egg and of the mozzarella slices.
- Now add a second layer of lasagne sheets, then a couple of ladlefuls of sauce, followed again by a third of the ham, then egg, then mozzarella slices.
- Repeat with a further layer of lasagne sheets, another 2 ladlefuls of meat sauce, then the remaining ham, egg and mozzarella slices, before topping with a final layer of lasagne sheets.
- Pour the remaining sauce over the top, sprinkle with the Parmesan and cover with foil - making sure the edges are sealed - and put in the oven still on the baking sheet, for 1 hour.
- When the hour is up, remove the foil, to reveal the top layer runkled like a Shar Pei made of pasta, and push a knife point through the lasagne to check it is soft - if not, re-cover it and return to the oven for about 10 minutes - then let it stand uncovered, out of the oven, for 15-20 minutes (although I love this barely above room temperature if I can bear, or have time, to wait - for up to 2 hours) before slicing into hearty slabs and serving.