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Lasagne al Forno

My first lasagne recipe published in 1978-80 has, I have to admit, been a real winner and stood me in good stead over the years, but at the same time it's clearly now in need of an update and that's simply because we are now able to buy more authentic ingredients. I have also discovered from an Italian friend that the long, slow cooking of the ragù really does develop all the flavours in an absolutely wonderful way. It could be said that lasagne has suffered greatly from being anglicised, factory made and all too often served as cheap nosh so that its authenticity is obliterated. All the more reason to reinvent this great classic dish in all its original glory. 

Because it is so often ideal to serve a large amount of people I've doubled my original quantities so that it will now serve 10-12 people. If, however, you only want to serve 4-5 people, make up the full quantity, divide the mixture between 2 ovenproof dishes – base measurement 9 inch (23 cm) square, 1½ in (4 cm) deep – and freeze half for another time.

 
 

This recipe is taken from Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course, Delia Smith’s Complete Illustrated Cookery Course and How to Cook Book Three. It has also appeared in Sainsbury's Magazine (May 2001).

Method

First of all take the large frying pan, the largest you have, and heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over a medium heat and gently fry the onion for about 10 minutes, moving it around from time to time. While the onion is softening, chop the pancetta: the best way to do this after opening the pack is to roll the contents into a sausage shape, then using a sharp knife, slice it lengthways into 4, then slice the lengths across as finely as possible. After 10 minutes, add this to the pan to join the onion, add the garlic and continue cooking the whole lot for about 5 minutes. Now transfer this mixture to the casserole. 

Then add another tablespoon of oil to the pan, turn up the heat to it highest then add the minced beef and brown it, breaking it up and moving it round in the pan. A wooden fork is really helpful here. When the beef is browned tip it into the casserole to join the onions etc then heat another tablespoon of oil and do exactly the same with the minced pork. While the pork is browning, trim the chicken livers, rinse them under cold running water and dry them thoroughly with kitchen paper. Pull off any skin and snip out any odd bits of fat or tubes with kitchen scissors and chop them minutely small. When the pork is browned, transfer that to the casserole, then finally heat the remaining tablespoon of oil and cook the pieces of chicken liver, adding these to the casserole as soon as they have browned nicely. 

Next you need to remove the pan then place the casserole over the direct heat and give everything a really good stir together, then add the contents of both tins of tomatoes, the tomato purée, red wine and a really good seasoning of salt, pepper and about a quarter of a nutmeg, grated. More stirring now, then allow this to come up to simmering point.

While that happens strip the leaves from half the basil, tear them into small pieces and add them to the pot. Then as soon as everything is simmering, place the casserole on the centre shelf of the oven, pre-heated to gas mark 1, 275°F (140°C), and leave it to cook slowly, without a lid, for exactly 4 hours. It's a good idea to have a look after 3 hours to make sure all is well and have a good stir, but what you should end up with is a thick, reduced concentrated sauce with only a trace of liquid left in it, so when that happens remove it from the oven, taste to check the seasoning then strip the leaves off the remaining basil, tear them small and stir them in.

Now to make the cream sauce, place the milk, butter and flour and some seasoning in a large thick-based saucepan. Place this over a gentle heat and whisk continuously with a balloon whisk until the sauce comes to simmering point and thickens. Then, with the heat as low as possible, continue to cook the sauce for about 10 minutes. After that, sieve the sauce into a bowl, beat in the cream, taste and season if it needs it and grate in another quarter of the whole nutmeg. 

Now spread about a quarter of the ragù over the base of the prepared roasting tin or dish. Cover this with one fifth of the cream sauce, followed by a quarter of the diced mozzarella, then arrange a single layer of the lasagne over the top (about 6 sheets). I find you need four placed side by side lengthways and the other two halved and spread along the gap that's left. Repeat this process, finishing with a final layer of cream sauce. 

Then cover the whole lot with the grated Parmesan cheese – and the lasagne is ready for the oven. 

All this preparation can be done well in advance. Then when you're ready to bake the lasagne pop it into a pre-heated oven, gas mark 4, 350°F (180°C) on the upper shelf for 45-50 minutes or until it's bubbling and turning slightly golden on top.

 

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