I’m quite embarrassed to say that I’ve never cooked a lasagne before. I think it’s because I didn’t eat beef for a while and it just didn’t crop up on my radar. So, I wanted to redress the situation and I saw a lovely-sounding recipe in Rachel Allen’s book, Entertaining at Home for Beef and Wild Mushroom Lasagne. I don’t really like messing with a classic dish, but this combination of lasagne layers really appealed to me. It’s still quite traditional, with a great, meaty-tasting beef ragu. But it also has an additional layer in the middle of wild mushrooms in some béchamel sauce and it has a bacon layer. A BACON LAYER! And everything tastes better with bacon. Fact.
It’s not a dish that’s easy to rustle up mid week – in fact I felt like I spent all day Sunday in the kitchen – but I do think I would be able to make this much quicker next time around now I know what I’m doing. The one thing that took way longer than the recipe stated, and got my anger levels soaring, was the béchamel sauce. I wholly disagree with the delightful Rachel Allen here… she suggests boiling the milk and then adding the roux that you’ve made separately and whisking it in. This method did not work for me – it took over three times as much roux to get the bloody thing to thicken and I found it really hard to properly whisk it into the milk. By the time the sauce thickened, it had reduced further than I’d have liked, so I felt a bit stingy with the top layer on the lasagne! When I make this again I will stick with the traditional way of making the sauce – making a roux first, and then slowly whisking in the milk. And my only other comment would be to keep it in the oven a bit longer, perhaps at a lower temperature, to make sure the pasta sheets are soft. These were, in part, al dente! I actually quite like that, but guess it’s not to everyone’s taste
Anyway, that said, the whole thing came together well at the end and it’s an absolute whopper of a lasagne. I’ll be happily eating this for weeks!
KB rating 8.5/10. PR rating 8.5/10.
Beef and Wild Mushroom Lasagne (serves an army. More specifically 8-10 people)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 onions, peeled and chopped
- 800g minced beef
- 150ml red wine
- 1 tbsp chopped rosemary
- 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
- 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
- 25g butter
- 400g mixed wild mushrooms, sliced (eg. enoki, chanterelles, ceps, shiitake, oyster…but good old button mushrooms would be a good backup if you can’t get more interesting ones)
- 250g streaky bacon (about 12 rashers), cut into 2cm dice
- 500g no-soak lasagne sheets (approx 30 sheets)
- 25g Gruyere, grated
- 25g Parmesan, grated
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
For the béchamel sauce
- 1.2 litres (2 pints) milk
- 1 carrot, peeled
- 1 bay leaf or 1/2 onion, peeled
- 2-3 tbsp roux (made with 1.5 tbsp butter and 1.5 tbsp plain flour)
- 225g Gruyere, grated
- 2-3 tsp Dijon mustard
Lasagne or ovenproof dish about 30 x 25 x 5cm
Pour the oil into a large saucepan on a medium heat, add the onions and cook for 5-8 minutes until softened but not browned. Then add in the beef, red wine and rosemary, cooking for a further 5 minutes. Stir occasionally until the meat starts to brown. Add the tomatoes and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Rinse the tomato tin with a little water and add to the tomatoes. Continue to cook on a medium heat for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened slightly.
Melt the butter in a large frying pan on a high heat and add the mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 7-10 minutes, tossing regularly. When the mushrooms are cooked and turning golden, check the seasoning, then remove from the pan and set aside.
In the same frying pan still on a high heat, add a little oil and add the bacon. Fry until golden and crisp (note that the bacon will crisp up further as it cools). Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 200C (400F or Gas mark 6), then make the béchamel sauce.
Pour the milk into another large saucepan, add the carrots and bay leaf or onion and place on a low heat to bring slowly up to the boil. Allow to gently simmer for 3-4 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse, then remove and discard the carrot and bay leaf or onion. Next bring the milk to the boil and whisk in the roux. Continue whisking for a minute or two (allegedly…see note above about this), whilst the mixture gently boils. The sauce should be thick but pourable.
Remove from the heat and, while the mixture is still hot, stir in the Gruyere and mustard, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Place a quarter of the sauce in a bowl (this will be the lasagne topping), and stir the mushrooms into the remaining sauce.
To assemble your lasagne:
- Spread a little béchamel over the base of the dish to stop your pasta sticking to it
- Arrange a layer of lasagne sheets (approx 5 used per layer, but this depends on the size of your sheet and the size of your dish)
- Place half the bacon on top of the pasta sheets
- Add half of the meat on top of the bacon
- Add another layer of lasagne sheets
- Pour over all the mushroom mixture
- Add another layer of lasagne sheets
- Sprinkle over the rest of the bacon
- And then add the rest of the meat
- Top with another layer of lasagne sheets
- Add the remaining quarter of the béchamel sauce (make sure you don’t leave any pasta sheets uncovered here, otherwise they’ll go dry and hard)
- Scatter over the Gruyere and Parmesan cheese
Cook in the oven for 30-40 minutes until the top is golden brown and bubbling and the pasta is cooked. Buon appetito!