The weeks are really going by so fast. I can’t quite get my head round it. However summer doesn’t seem to want to come to an end here in Malta. The weather is glorious, a little too hot for my liking, but it comes with one perk. If you’re into eating with family and friends on a breezy rooftop, or if you’re lucky enough to own a luscious green garden, this is definitely the perfect weather for you. There is nothing like fresh food and great company, with perhaps a nice bottle of chilled white to share. This simple pasta dish reminds me of all that. I am looking forward to winter cooking, but in the meantime I don’t mind eating this now.
This pasta recipe has practically written itself. I think this has been one of my busiest weeks so far, and one of the most productive, though not in terms of work. I’m really behind on my writing course work, so unfortunately I have to try to remedy that all day tomorrow. I won’t be able to finish everything but I have allotted the whole morning to that. Tough. But now we have aircon units in the office so at least I can continue working even through the afternoon heat. *Pumping fists in the air*
It’s been a fab Friday so far though. There’s a lovely cool breeze around. I spent my morning, taking a mountain of glass jars and bottles to the recycling bins down the road, then I caught up with an old friend of mine whom I haven’t seen in ages, spent more than two hours talking about everything under the sun over a nice meal, squeezed in a little veggie shop while comparing notes on various recipes,
I also bought a new lime coloured dress…Shh and returned home right after lunchtime. Life is good.
During the past few weeks I made quite a number of pizzas, reason being I’m still testing out my oven. I didn’t want to bake before making sure I wasn’t about to burn anything. A couple of friends whom I visited last Saturday are still waiting for a lemon drizzle cake. And this morning, when I actually had some time on my hands, I ran out of sugar, so the cake just has to wait. My mum came over for a short visit though and we made some pizzas for lunch.
One evening I just wanted a simple side, prepared without too much faff for a weeknight supper. I must have had some leftover roast from the weekend before; can’t recall much because it has been a while. Proof? Look at the date. Yikes. J was still the one taking the photos for C&T. What I do remember though was that I had around an hour to spare for the prep and the cooking, and in a panic I just couldn’t think properly. Luckily in the nick of time I assembled an adaptation of an easy recipe by Gennaro Contaldo. I read it a few days before in Two Greedy Italians but with no time to find it from the book I tried to make a rough version of it. I have checked his recipe since then and he obviously gives measurement for every ingredient.
I love a good lasagna. To eat that is. Well, let’s say that unless J is at home and can help me with lifting the heavy pans I don’t enjoy it. What I also don’t enjoy is the washing up of all those pots and pans. Even now as I’m writing this, my wrists are not happy and every time I write one word I have to stop and wish my carpal tunnel away. My frustration could also be a result of taking loads of pictures with this one and in my kitchen cooking and carrying a heavy-ish camera don’t always go together.
Look, not all cooking is a breeze and sometimes a challenge is good for the soul. Not to sound too dramatic, this is an easy dish, but it takes some time to prepare. You might be asking me “is there anything you like here?” Of course there is. I have extra portions for the next day, and it will taste even better tomorrow. Just give yourself a couple of hours for prep time and assembly and you’ll be OK. I admit I don’t make this as often as I would like, but when I do I remind myself that I should, and what better way to welcome the winter months! And the kitchen is smelling lovely! I also have a vegetarian one lurking in my files which I must not forget…
Please be aware there are quite a few photos in this post. I just thought they would be of help. Thank you for being ever so patient with me as always.
For the sauce:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 large onion, chopped
- ¼ teaspoon paprika
- ¼ teaspoon garam masala or mixed spice
- ¼ chilli flakes (optional)
- ¼ curry powder (optional)
- 250g bacon, chopped
- 2 shots red vermouth
- 500g minced beef, preferably lean
- 500g passata di pomodoro
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- around 250ml water
For the ricotta mixture:
- 500g ricotta
- 500g frozen spinach, thawed; you could also steam fresh baby spinach, and set it aside to cool
- 100g fresh parsley or basil, roughly chopped
- around 6 tablespoons milk, or enough just to thin the mixture a little bit
- salt and pepper, to taste*
- 2 large eggs, beaten
For the bechamel sauce:
- 25g butter
- 3 to 4 tablespoons plain flour
- 1 litre semi-skimmed milk
You also need around 700g to 900g lasagna sheets (around 30 sheets), depending on the size of the dish you want to use.
To prepare the sauce place a large pan preferably with a heavy base on medium heat and pour in the olive oil. Chop the onion, crush the garlic and tip in the pan, together with the spices, and stir occasionally. Once the onions have softened and turned opaque add the bacon and the vermouth and let it cook through.
Add the lean minced beef and cook until brown. Pour the passata and sugar in with the beef mixture, stir, add the water, give everything a good stir once more, cover and let it simmer for around 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside.
For the ricotta mixture, I would advise you to remove as much of the spinach water as you can. To do this, simply thaw on a sieve on top of a bowl and squash the spinach downwards with your hands or a spoon.
Place the spinach in a medium mixing bowl, together with the ricotta, fresh parsley, milk, add salt and pepper, give everything a good mix and now is the time to taste. When you’re happy with the seasoning, add the beaten eggs, stir and set aside.
To assemble the lasagne, pour a thin layer of sauce, enough to cover the bottom of the dish. Then build the lasagna alternating as many lasagna sheets as you can fit in one layer (I can fit 6 in mine), then a layer of sauce, another layer of lasagna sheets, a layer of ricotta mixture, a layer of lasagna sheets and start the process again, until you get almost to the top.
Preheat the oven to 180ºC and set everything aside to prepare the bechamel. In a small heavy-based saucepan make a roux, by melting the butter, adding the flour and stir vigorously until you get a golden paste, around 6 minutes will do the trick. As you whisk, gradually add the milk, a little at a time. Whisk to avoid any lumps and once in a while scrape the bottom sides of the pan so that nothing sticks to it. Whisk in all the milk until you get a nice velvety sauce. Add salt and pepper and some grated nutmeg.
Pour over the top of the assembled lasagna and bake for 1 hour.
Leave to stand for 15 minutes and serve to 6-8 hungry people! Enjoy with a glass of red.
I hope you enjoyed the recipe and the photos. If you decide to try this over the holidays let me know! I always appreciate feedback.