There’s nothing more comforting than a big bowl of pasta, gooey cheese, meat and sauce (except maybe a pile of chicken nuggets after a drunken night out but that’s for another day). I’ve watched my mom and godma make lasagne from young and it’s been one of my favourite childhood foods to have - the typical Sunday family dinner foods if we were doing a western cuisine for that night. Somehow, the lasagne that was made at home seemed to come together fast, and even though I liked it, I knew that much of the sauce came out of the pasta sauce bottle or can, and minced beef was just thrown it and everything went into the oven. It was pretty damn good to a 5 year old fat kid like me.
Fast forward to when I was in my twenties and made my way through a road trip in Italy and there in the middle of the bustling streets of Rome, I had some lasagne for a quick lunch. And that was it. It was the single best lasagne I had ever eaten in my LIFE. The basic elements of pasta, gooey cheese, meat and sauce were there - but something about the sauce and cheese just made it so good. It was creamy and rich. But not in an overpowering cheesy/milky way. The ‘bolognese’/béchamel sauce coated every inch of meat and cheese and pasta and it tasted like it had been cooked for hours. Speaking to the waiter and later the cafe manager, it was exactly what it was - it was a sauce that had been cooked for hours.
It was kind of a revelation because I was never really exposed to true Italian cooking back home in Singapore. Pasta was always kind of a comfort food that was easily thrown together at home. It also never came to my mind to really find out how to really perfect a pasta dish. We do have many wonderful top-notch Italian restaurants here but there’s just something about Italian home cooking that I can’t put a finger on.
Finally, The Boy was craving some lasagne and since one of my best friends Jayne was coming over for lunch, I decided to really test out some lasagne recipes a couple of weeks prior to the lunch. I’ve went through about 8 kinds sauces until Mom hated the smell of the kitchen for a full 2 weeks after. But it was truly worth it.
I can’t describe how good and creamy this sauce is. The richness comes not from the cream / milk, but rather from the added vegetables especially the minced carrot that will eventually simmer and bowl down through the sauce. Tomato paste adds a level of freshness that canned tomato sauce can’t, and simmering down the beef stock really gives the meaty bite in ever mouthful. I personally enjoyed to use approximately 60% beef and 40% pork minced (I love pork. #sorrynotsorry) but using 100% beef mince worked out perfectly too.
Admittedly, this isn’t the fast dish that I grew up with. I simmered my sauce for about 2-3 hours at least over a low-medium heat to really get the flavour out and to thicken it slowly. But I’ve realised what Italian cooking really is all about - it’s a labour of love. And with every bite of pasta, or ragu, or ossobuco, or risotto, it’s a taste of effort, love and passion for putting good food for good people on the table.
This is an adaptation from Munchies by the ever wonderful and mad Matty Matheson. I’ve tweaked it quite a bit after all that trial and error, but it’s pretty damn good.
The Best Lasagne Ever
(makes 1 medium sized casserole dish - approx 6 portions/for 6 people)
2/3 cup vegetable/canola oil
1kg ground beef
500g minced pork
1 cup olive oil
2 to 3 heads of garlic
1 large carrot
1 large onion
6 tablespoons tomato paste / 1 small can
1 dash of dried red chillies (optional)
1 L beef stock
2 cups milk
4 egg yolks
1 bunch of parsley
1 box of lasagne noodles (or oven-ready ones if you swing that way)
A LOT of mozzarella cheese and parmesan cheese
1. Set a large deep case iron or enamel pot onto the stove top. Turn on medium-high heat. Add the canola oil to coat the bottom of the pot. Add the ground beef and pork and mix the 2 meats thoroughly . Once the bottom starts to brown, continue to simmer until it is browned uniformly
2. In the meantime, grate (yes, grate) the garlic and carrots until really minced and paste-like. Finely mince the onion. Add the olive oil onto a separate saucepan and sauté the vegetables until caramelised (mild browning of the onions). Next, add the tomato paste and sauté for another 5 minutes
3. Combine the vegetable-tomato paste mix into the beef/pork mixture. Stir to combine. Add the beef stock and dried chillies (if desired), bringing the entire mix to a boil. Allow the mix to reduce to let the flavour of the beef stock really seep into the ingredients. This should take about 30 mins to 1 hour (depending on how much you’ve got in your pot). Stir every 5 minutes to make sure nothing burns at the bottom of the pot.
4. Once reduced down, add half the milk and reduce it down. Add the other half of the milk and reduce it again. Take the pot off the heat and add the egg yolks. Removing the pot off the heat makes sure that it’s not too hot for the egg yolks. You don’t want random bits of cooked egg yolks in the sauce - you want to let it emulsify in the heat.
5. Add salt and pepper to taste. Try not to finish it all before even making the lasagne.
6. Preheat the oven to 176 degrees C
7. Assemble the lasagne. Ladle the meat sauce onto the bottom of the casserole dish, add a layer of cooked noodles (if oven-ready, just place the uncooked noodles on), add another layer of meat sauce, and then a layer or cheese (a mix of parmesan and mozzarella). Repeat the layers until the whole casserole dish is full
8. Cook for about 30-35 minutes, until golden brown and bubbling on top.
9. Remove from oven and allow to rest for about 15-20 minutes - you kinda want it to set a little so it’s easier to cut and divide, instead of dividing a slobbering pile (actually, that’s not a bad idea as well). Cut into squares, top with chopped parsley and serve with a side salad or any other side dish that you fancy!
10. Lick the plate and the casserole clean.
(I made a fresh strawberry and charred brocolli summer salad as a side)
And now, for the real messy but delicious photos: