Lasagne, who hasn’t made one?
The difference here is that this lasagne will feed a small army. It’s ideal for gatherings of up to 20 people and along with a side salad and some stuffed breads it’s an easy prep-ahead crowd pleaser. You do ideally need big pots and pans to cope with the volume, but, with patience you can cook in smaller batches.
The end result is a gargantuan lasagne fit for Kings (and Queens of course) .
(serves up to 20)
2.5kg Minced beef
10 slices streaky bacon, cut into lardons
4 sticks celery, finely diced
1 small bunch of basil, stalks and leaves separated (chop stalks, tear leaves)
1 parmesan rind
1 and half large onions, finely diced
6 garlic cloves, crushed to a fine paste
6 semi dried tomatoes, finely chopped
1/2 a bottle of good quality red wine
2 Tbsp tomato puree
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
400ml beef stock
700g smooth passatta
1 tbsp dried oregano
2 x 500g packets dried lasagne sheets
Olive oil for frying
Salt and black pepper
For the Bechamel cheese sauce;
2 litres of whole milk
300g grated cheddar cheese
200g grated parmesan cheese
10 black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
Half an onion, sliced
4 tbsp plain flour
Freshly grated nutmeg
To make this lasagne you’ll need 2 really big cooking pots due to the volume of food. One for the ragu sauce to slowly mature in the oven and one to cook the lasagne a little later. In this picture have used a 60cm deep round pan for the lasagne to bake and a large earthenware casserole to cook the ragu. If you don’t have a large enough dish to bake the lasagne you can still make the same volume but just split it between 2 regular size lasagne dishes, additionally you can split the sauce and bake this between 2 casseroles too.
Preheat your oven to 150°c. In a large non stick frying pan, working in batches, fry the minced beef in olive oil until browned then transfer to a colander to drain the excess fat. Each batch of beef will need a light seasoning of salt and black pepper while frying and will take 5-6 minutes to brown. Once you have finished browning all of the beef, place half of the beef into a food processor. Pulse the cooked beef a few times until it resembles small grains, but don’t overwork it. Return the minced beef to the pulsed beef and mix the two together then set aside. Keep the pan you cooked the beef in to one side for later, don’t wash it.
Place a deep sided heavy saucepan onto a medium heat and add a glug of olive oil along with the bacon lardons. Cook for 5-6 minutes until lightly golden and crisp. Add the onion to the pan and cook for a further 3-4 minutes until turning translucent then add the celery, garlic, finely sliced basil stalks and a little bit extra olive oil if required. Fry this mixture lightly for 4-5 minutes until softened then add the tomato puree and semi dried tomatoes and stir well. Meanwhile heat the pan you cooked the beef in and deglaze with the red wine, heat the wine and scrape up all the sticky flavoursome bits from the pan then pour this to the pan with the onion mixture. Bring back to the boil and allow to simmer for 4-5 minutes before adding the chopped tomatoes, passata, beef stock, parmesan rind, dried oregano and torn basil leaves, mix well, bring to the boil and then turn off the heat.
Take the largest casserole dish with a lid that you have and transfer the beef to the pot, pour on the tomato sauce and then gently mix it all together until you have a rich meaty saucy ragu (divide between 2 pots if necessary). Transfer to the oven and cook for 2 hours stirring halfway through. After 2 hours remove from the oven and taste for seasoning. It should have enough salt from the parmesan rind which you can now remove and discard, but season generously with black pepper.
To make the bechamel sauce place the milk, bay leaves, peppercorns and onion into a large saucepan. Gently bring to the boil then immediately turn off the heat and leave for a few minutes to settle and to infuse, then strain the milk into a clean jug. Heat the butter in a deep sided heavy saucepan and add the flour, use a whisk to whisk the butter and flour into a lightly golden roux before adding a ladel of the hot milk, continuously whisk adding a ladleful of milk at a time before whisking to a smooth paste. Repeat this process until the milk is all used. At this stage season the white sauce with a pinch of salt and some black pepper along with a generous grating of nutmeg. Add the cheeses to the sauce and whisk again, the cheese will melt and further thicken the sauce. Turn off the heat and set aside.
To build the lasagne, lightly grease your lasagne dish and ladel a thin layer of bechamel sauce onto the base before an even layer of the pasta, then the meat sauce. Add another ladel of white sauce to the meat layer, then pasta, then meat sauce. Repeat this process to build the lasagne ensuring you finish with a layer of pasta topped with a final layer of bechamel sauce. Grate extra parmesan cheese over the top and cover the lasagne with a layer of foil.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 150°c for 1.5 hours removing the foil for the final 30 minutes.