I recently read Gino D’Acampo’s family recipe for lasagne al forno, and was impressed by the similarity to my grandmother’s recipe which she passed down to me. This is hardly surprising when you consider the lack of variation in traditional recipes in Italy where the correct method is handed down from generation to generation as in the case of the D’Acampo or Marchiori families.
There are a couple of minor differences, mostly based on the fact that his family come from the south of Italy whereas mine come from the North. Northern Italy is sometimes referred to as l’Italia del burro (butter Italy) and the south as l’Italia dell’olio (olive oil Italy) because these ingredients were traditionally used as the fat in recipes. Nowadays, people use olive oil all over Italy for everyday cooking, because of the health benefits. But for special occasions, I use butter as my grandmother did for the ragù alla bolognese, (bolognese sauce) which forms the basis of lasagne al forno. Try it some time and I think you will agree the taste is completely different from when you use olive oil.
You will also notice my grandmother’s secret ingredient that she told only me, and that’s white wine, not red wine in the sauce. Coming from Venice, she used a local pinot grigo, but any medium white such as a chardonnay or sauvignon blanc will do. This is the same recipe that you can use to serve with pasta, only please don’t serve it, as many non-italians do, with spaghetti. It just doesn’t work as it falls off the pasta. Instead try tagliatelle or rigatoni. You will notice a huge difference and will never go back to spaghetti again.
The other essential ingredient of lasagne al forno, is béchamel sauce, a white sauce made from butter, flour, and milk. Technically, after you add parmesan cheese to it, it becomes sauce Mornay, but I won’t tell anyone if you don’t. I was surprised to find in France, where Italian food is very popular, that lasagne is prepared without the béchamel sauce which just isn’t lasagne. If you don’t add the béchamel in the right quantity, the lasagne will slide and slip all over the plate, instead of holding together like a cake, as it should. The other way of ensuring this is to leave it to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving. You should then be able to cut it into square slices showing all the layers.
One final note is about the pasta. Fresh pasta sheets are better if you can find them, as they cook more evenly. However, dried pasta will do as long as you blanch the sheets for a minute or so in boiling water before assembly. I find a large slice of lasagne perfect for those winter evenings, served with a hunk of crusty bread.
- 25g unsalted butter
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
- 1 stick of celery, finely chopped
- 250g beef mince
- 250g pork mince
- fleur de sel
- 350ml dry white wine
- 700g passata or chopped tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon tomato purée
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- 100g unsalted butter
- 100g plain flour
- 1 litre of milk
- 50g parmigiano reggiano, grated
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Lasagne sheets
- 50g parmigiano reggiano, grated
- 50g unsalted butter, cubed
- salt and pepper
- Melt the butter over a medium heat in a large saucepan.
- Add the onion, carrot, and celery and cook stirring occasionally until the onion has softened, about 5 minutes.
- Add the beef and pork mince little by little and stir into the vegetables. Add a large pinch of fleur de sel. Continue to cook until the meat is browned, about 5 minutes.
- Add the white wine, bring to the boil and simmer for about 5 minutes.
- Add the passata, tomato purée, and oregano.
- Turn the heat right down and simmer for at least 1 hour.
- Uncover, turn up the heat and cook until the liquid has reduced, about x minutes.
- Melt the butter over a medium heat in a saucepan.
- Add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until incorporated into the butter. Cook until lightly browned, about 1 minute.
- Add the milk, little by little, whisking all the time to avoid lumps.
- Turn the heat right down and cook until thickened, stirring all the time, about 10 minutes.
- Stir in the parmigiano reggiano, and nutmeg. season with salt and pepper, and leave to cool.
- Take a large, rectangular ovenproof dish. Work out how many sheets of lasagne you will need to create three layers. Cut the sheets to fit the dish if necessary.
- If using dried pasta, blanch the sheets in boiling water for two minutes and drain.
- Place a layer of béchamel sauce in the bottom of the dish. Cover with a layer of pasta.
- Place half of the ragù on top of the pasta. Cover with another layer of béchamel sauce and then cover with a second layer of pasta.
- Place the other half of the ragù on top of the pasta. Again cover with a layer of béchamel sauce and then cover with a final layer of pasta.
- Cover with a final layer of béchamel sauce. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and place the cubes of butter on top. Season with black pepper.
- Bake at 200°C for about 40 mins. Leave to stand for at least 10 minutes before serving.