As a foodie, you’d think that I’d be spending this Coronavirus lockdown period baking and cooking as much as I possibly could. Surprisingly enough, I’m not! I batch cook two or three times per week right now, choosing to spend as much of my day as possible keeping busy with manual tasks like cleaning (I’ve cleared out the shed, swapped bedrooms with the kids and even washed all the curtains in my house, just to keep busy!).
For my daily permitted exercise, I walk along the coastal banks just in front of my house, filming the otters who live there. There are worse ways to be spending these difficult times, I think, and we each need to do what can to get through it.
One of our family favourite recipes is for beef lasagne, a comfort food classic I’ve been making a lot lately. It’s easy to adapt the recipe to what you’ve got in your fridge needing up – I’ve been known to mix and match my cheeses too. I like a combination of mature cheddar, smoked cheddar and Parmesan cheese.
Sometimes, if I’ve got a little bit of pesto left in the fridge I’ll dot the top of the lasagne with that. If I’ve got a bag of spinach needing used up, I’ll quickly wilt it in a sauté pan, finely chop it and add it, seasoned well with salt and pepper, as a separate layer.
Mushrooms, finely chopped courgette, leeks or even a few finely diced bell peppers can also be hidden in the beef mixture for an extra portion of your five to seven a day.
Leftovers freeze really well too – sometimes I freeze it in individual servings or as enough to feed us all for one meal. Simply defrost and reheat in the microwave for two minutes, or in the oven, covered with foil, for 25-30 minutes until piping hot through.
There’s something quite relaxing and therapeutic about making a lasagne from scratch, I think, and it’s an added bonus too that my kids’ plates are cleaned every time I serve them this.
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tbsp butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely diced
1 stick celery, finely diced
500 grams lean beef mince
2 tbsp tomato puree
200 ml rich beef stock
400 gram tin chopped tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried Italian seasoning
1 handful fresh basil or parsley leaves, optional
40 grams butter
40 grams plain flour
500 ml full fat milk
150 grams mature cheddar cheese, plus extra for the top
¼ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
12-14 lasagna sheets
1. Preheat oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6
2. Heat the butter and sunflower oil in a large, heavy based pot over a medium heat.
3. Gently cook the onion, garlic, carrot and celery for about five minutes, until it begins to soften but does not brown.
4. Add the lean beef mince, season well with salt and pepper, and brown all over.
5. Add the tomato puree, tinned tomatoes and beef stock.
6. Add the bay leaves and Italian seasoning.
7. Reduce the heat to low and leave to simmer for 30 minutes or so, with the lid off.
8. Stir in the fresh basil or parsley at the end, and season again if needed.
9. To make the cheese sauce, heat the butter in a small saucepan over a medium heat until melted and bubbling.
10. Add the flour, and cook, stirring constantly, for one minute.
11. Remove the pan from the heat and pour in the milk, a little at a time, whisking constantly.
12. Return the pan to the heat, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens and starts to bubble.
13. Remove from the heat and add the grated cheese and fresh nutmeg.
14. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
15. To assemble the lasagne, place a ladleful of the tomato sauce in the bottom of a deep 7 x 9-inch casserole dish.
16. Top with a layer of dry lasagne sheets.
17. Add another layer of tomato sauce and 1/3 of the cheese sauce.
18. Repeat with another layer of lasagne sheets, tomato sauce and cheese sauce, finishing with a layer of cheese sauce.
19. Sprinkle the top with some more grated cheddar.
20. Bake in the centre of the oven for 40 minutes, until the top is golden and bubbly.
21. Serve with a side salad and some garlic bread!
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