Sunday, October 31, 2010

Lasagne (for a crowd)

There's much debate about Lasagne. Ricotta or bechamel? Ground meat/chili-grind? Cook/no-cook pasta. All beef or beef/pork/veal? Too many variables.

For the Hallow-tini party I made a couple of pans of lasagne - and they seemed to be well received. I am in the bechamel, chili grind, beeef pork veal, 1/2 cook the pasta camp. But there is no one true lasagne. And oh, heresy I put carrots (grated) in there to add some sweetness and even more horrors soy sauce for umami. Not much but enough to add flavour without assertiveness.

This came out a bit wetter than I would have liked, so I suggest using less tomato juice

This makes 2 9x13x3 pans of lasagne

Ingredients - meat sauce
2T vegetable oil
5 lbs beef chuck. I buy it whole and break it down myself.
1 lb pork - I used boneless ribs
1 lb veal - I used shoulder. (You can skip the veal with little flavour loss, it does affect texture though)
3 Spanish (yellow onions, diced)
1/2 head of celery, diced small
6 carrots, grated
6 cloves garlic made into a paste
12 oz Tomato paste
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 bay leaves
3 T fresh thyme
3 large cans of chopped tomatoes (or use whole and break them down). I used all the juice, but 1/2 would have been better
Salt/pepper to taste

Method - meat sauce
Break down the meat into 1/2 - 1" chunks removing the big chunks of fat. Also strip out any silverskin or connective tissue. In 4 or 5 batches, pulse grind the meats in the food processor. You are looking for small chunks not a paste. It's about 10-12 pulses per batch in mine. Your mileage may vary.

In a dutch oven add the oil, brown the meat in 4 or 5 batches, pouring off some of the fat between batches. Set the meat aside. Into the same pan, put the onions, celery, carrot and cook on low until the onion has become translucent. You do not want any browning. When they are translucent, add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more.

Transger the vegetables from the pot and add the tyomato paste. Cook fairly high, stirring constantly antil it thickens and brown a little. This develops extra flavor. Deglaze with soy sauce.

Add the vegetables,meat, some pepper, the thyme leaves and bay leaves back to the pot and stir together.  Cover and simmer for at least an hour, preferably 2. Note this requires longer simmering than it would with ground beef.

Ingredients - bechamel
2 US Quarts whole milk

2 blades mace
1/2 medium onion (spanish) or use a shallot chopped thinly, roughly.
4 oz butter
4 oz flour

Method - bechamel
Put milk, mace, onion in a saucepan and heat sowly until bubbles form on thesurface. Turn heat off, cover and leave to steep for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, melt the butter over medium heat, and when foaming has stopped, add the flour and cook, stirring vigorously for 3 minutes to cook out the floury taste and make a blonde roux. Do not let the butter flour mixture brown.
Strain the hot milk mixture into the roux while whisking constantly to ensure no lumps. Discard the onion/mace from the strainer.
Bring the roux/milk mixture slowly to the boil allowing it to thicken. Boil gently for about 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Set aside.

Ingredients - Lasagne
12 sheets lasagne pasta (I was too chicken to try the noo cook kind)
1 measure meat sauce (above)
1 measure bechamel (above)
1t finely grated fresh nutmeg
1 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese (hardly traditional!)
1 cup coarsley grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 cup coarsely grated mozzarella (shredded low moisture. No point is using fresh ehere)

Method - Lasagne
Spray each pan with non-stick cooking spray. In each pan, lay down a covering of meat sauce. It wants to be about 1/4" (6mm).

1/2 cook the pasta sheets (6 minutes) in a lot of boiling salted water. This is my compromise between no-cook and fully cokked. Less risk than no cook and better texture than fully cooked.

On top of the meat layer, lay three sheets of 1/2 cooked pasta, side by side. Immediately follow with another meat layer. Follow that with a thin layer of bechamel (about 1/4 of the bechamel per addition). Sprinkle 1/2 the nutmeg on each layer of bechamel. Then follow with 1/2 the cheddar on each. Now another layer of pasta (as before) the rest of the meat, the rest of the becahmel and sprinkle on the parmesan/mozzrella mixture.

Refrigerate for a couple of days (if desired) covered with aluminum foil.

When time to cook, bring to room temperature. Cook covered at 375F for 1 hour with the foil on. Turn heat to 425F, uncover and cook for a further 15 minutes - until brown and bubbly. You want the inside to be about 180F on your instant read thermometer. It is a pretty deep dense pan, so it takes a while to come up to speed.

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